With a vision for preserved and accessible cultural heritage, UNIC Bangladesh has observed "Open Heritage Week 2019" from December 6-15, putting focus on creating awareness about cultural heritage. The Business Standard conversed with Professor Shahnaj Husne Jahan, PhD, director of the Centre for Archaeological Studies at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh.
History of Bengal goes back over 3000 years, though the past remains shadowy, since written history had never been the metier of the Bengali-speaking people. Add to that the fact a little trail can be found in today's young minds of whatever has found its way into the history books.
Upon conducting a small survey in a class of 40 students at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh it was found that none of the students knows the exact number of heritage sites in Bangladesh.
Students rarely go to books that provide at least some basic concepts on the region's history, geography as well as how empires, rulers, personae, language shaped the cultural fabric of this delta.
What are the reasons behind today's generation's lack of interest regarding our heritage?
Shahnaj Husne Jahan: As a subject, heritage does not get the prime focus in our country. There are 2,500 archaeological sites in Bangladesh out of which 519 sites are under the supervision of the authority. Due to lack of resources, these sites are not well presented. Say, people visit Egypt because they get to know of its history and the government promotes it accordingly. We promote tourism, but we are not preserving the heritage sites. Why would people be interested in visiting these places? Also, when researchers manage time and money to do something about it, they do not even receive an appreciation of their work.
What steps can we take to preserve our heritage?
Shahnaj Husne Jahan: The government is playing quite a dormant role in heritage preservation, they need to increase facilities in the sites. A sense of awareness has to be built among the people, so that heritage remains a conversation topic. When parents are letting their children browse various YouTube videos, they can include informative and interesting videos on our heritage too. When the young generation feels interested, they will invest time in it.
Who do you think are the prime stakeholders when it comes to preserving our heritage?
Shahnaj Husne Jahan: All the people are the stakeholders; the government is only but a custodian. If we are talking about cultural heritage management and its preservation, the respective communities – the local people, local administrative officers, local elected bodies, the archaeology department, museum authorities of that area, media personnel, researchers who are working on such areas, altogether, are the stakeholders.
Can we still preserve the sites that are decaying day-by-day?
Shahnaj Husne Jahan: We can still preserve the sites that are spread out across the country. We have around 2,500 sites, we need to do an inventory and document all of them. And then we have to select and nominate the sites that we can work on preserving. It is imperative to understand their characteristics, why they are important and how they help us understand our roots.
What is the biggest challenge one faces when it comes to excavating an archaeological site and dealing with the findings?
Shahnaj Husne Jahan: When people understand that they own a part of Bangladesh's heritage, they feel proud and want to hand it over to the authority. Upon finding an antiquity, they have to send an application to the nearest government office. But when people are threatened for trying to contribute, they keep away from it. In worst cases, they destroy or throw the found object away, or it becomes a part of an illicit trade. Also, when it comes to excavating, we need to be sensible towards the local people. In areas like Bhitargarh, people are very sensitive, they need to be informed beforehand before we barge into their homes and start working on their land.