UNESCO Creative Cities Network: Can SRINAGAR make to the list

With its rich history, Srinagar is in the race of becoming part of UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). If it manages to get the status, the city’s image as a hub of exquisite art and craft will get a huge boost bringing in a plethora of benefits for years to come.

With just two months remaining for submitting its application, time is running out for Srinagar to make a strong case. The usual government lethargy has already resulted in loss of around six months. The tender for “Consultancy Services For Preparation Of Dossier For Inclusion Of Srinagar City In UNESCO Creative Cities Network” was floated in 10 October 2018 and was to be opened on 27 November 2018. However,  the process got dragged into bureaucratic hurdles and was opened only on 22 April 2019.  The tender was won by joint team of  Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Kashmir chapter, and Gurgaon based firm Dronah.

 “The tender had one condition that the applicant should have prepared at least one dossier for any winning city previously. We collaborated with Dronah that had prepared Jaipur dossier,” said Saleem Beg, convenor INTACH.

Jaipur won its place in UCCN under Crafts and Folk lore category. In India two more cities Chennai and Varanasi are also included in the list both under Music category. If Srinagar is successful in making its case at UNESCO, it will be fourth city in India to bag the honour. Srinagar will be competing under the category Crafts and Folk Art. But for that to happen the work has to be done with double speed as the deadline for submitting the dossier before the global body is June 30.

“We should have bagged the tender last year but it got delayed thus shrinking our working time. Ideally we need six months to prepare a dossier but now we are left only with two months,” said Beg as he spearheads the work ranging from organising workshops, meeting artisans and dashing to New Delhi to meet exporters of Kashmir art and craft.

Right after getting the contract, INTACH and Dronah started massive registration exercise for artisans of the city. For the job they hired 20 persons with Masters in Social Welfare  gave them training and send them to artisans with a questionnaire covering 40 questions. It is a broad based survey covering various aspects of artisans and their livelihood in Srinagar.

Despite the workload, Beg is hopeful of completing the dossier well in time for the competition. “We are putting in our full efforts and the survey is expected to be completed in 10 days and after that we will start preparing the dossier. We are covering from around 30000 registered artisans in seven crafts,” said Beg. The INTACH also organised a day long conference with stakeholders including artisans and concerned departments to prepare the dossier.

However, the crucial part starts once the dossier is completed as it will have to first compete at National level. UNESCO has designated Union Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) as its nodal agency in India. The dossier will be first sent to MHRD, who will scrutinise it and if all goes well, will send it to UNESCO for the competition. Under Crafts and Folk Art, India can only send one application to UNESCO and Srinagar will have to compete with other Indian cities to emerge as the winner.

The dossier being prepared by INTACH and Dronah focusses on seven crafts from Srinagar which include papier-mache, pashmina, khatamband, woodwork, pinjrakari (latticework), ari and metal craft. Besides three other crafts from the outskirts will also be included in the document.

The benefits of getting included in UCCN will be huge both culturally and economically. “It will give global recognition to Srinagar as a creative city in the exquisite art and crafts. UCCN is a big brand and it will give a fillip to the local art and crafts and people will love to source the products from a UCCN city,” said Beg. “It will be a boon for heritage and culture tourism too as people will love to see artisans and the process of making exquisite artefacts.”

The second major benefit will be that the protection of its art and craft will be ensured. “It will become imperative for Central and State government to protect the status. Because it is the commitment that the government of India has to make with the UNESCO that ‘we are satisfied that the city has a potential to grow and we will do all we can do to ensure that protection that status’’ said Beg. “So it becomes a point of prestige for country to ensure that the city develops in the fields of crafts and no harm is done to a UNESCO Creative City in this sector.”

The UCCN was created in 2004 to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The 180 cities which currently make up this network work together towards a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level.

 “While differing geographically, demographically or economically, all Creative Cities commit to develop and exchange innovative best practices to promote creative industries, strengthen participation in cultural life, and integrate culture into sustainable urban development policies. Within the framework of the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda, the Network provides a platform for cities to demonstrate culture’s role as an enabler for building sustainable cities,” UNESCO elaborates on its website.

Despite being abode of one of the oldest inhabited cities and other equally magnificent monuments, J&K has not a a single site or monument registered under the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. According to experts, UNESCO will be more than willing to grant the World Heritage status to some of its famous sites provided state government takes efforts to put forward their case.

For about a decade, the four sites of J&K have been put in the tentative list of UNESCO, with no further progress. The sites include Mughal Gardens in Kashmir, Neolithic Settlement of Burzahom, desert landscape of Ladakh and an ancient monastery and stupa in Harwan, which is among the Silk Route sites in India. For nine years, to be precise, the state government has not started the process of preparing nomination files for these sites so that they could be considered by the world heritage body for granting a full fledged status.

Now with government showing some interest in UCCN work, a hope is generated that the other work to get the due recognition for State monuments and places will also follow. World over the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and cities receive millions of tourists and billions of dollars worth trade annually. Would Srinagar find its place among the next UCCN city and accrue the benefits – we are waiting with a bated breath.