UNESCO Creative Cities Network: Can SRINAGAR make to the list

Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Kashmir chapter, and Gurgaon based firm Dronah are at the job
UNESCO Creative Cities Network: Can SRINAGAR make to the list

With its rich history, Srinagar is in the race of becomingpart 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 boostbringing in a plethora of benefits for years to come.

With just two months remaining for submitting itsapplication, time is running out for Srinagar to make a strong case. The usualgovernment lethargy has already resulted in loss of around six months. Thetender for "Consultancy Services For Preparation Of Dossier For Inclusion OfSrinagar City In UNESCO Creative Cities Network" was floated in 10 October 2018and was to be opened on 27 November 2018. However,  the process got dragged into bureaucratichurdles 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) Kashmirchapter, and Gurgaon based firm Dronah.

 "The tender had onecondition that the applicant should have prepared at least one dossier for anywinning city previously. We collaborated with Dronah that had prepared Jaipurdossier," said Saleem Beg, convenor INTACH.

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

"We should have bagged the tender last year but it gotdelayed thus shrinking our working time. Ideally we need six months to preparea dossier but now we are left only with two months," said Beg as he spearheadsthe work ranging from organising workshops, meeting artisans and dashing to NewDelhi to meet exporters of Kashmir art and craft.

Right after getting the contract, INTACH and Dronah startedmassive registration exercise for artisans of the city. For the job they hired20 persons with Masters in Social Welfare gave them training and send them to artisans with a questionnairecovering 40 questions. It is a broad based survey covering various aspects ofartisans and their livelihood in Srinagar.

Despite the workload, Beg is hopeful of completing thedossier well in time for the competition. "We are putting in our full effortsand the survey is expected to be completed in 10 days and after that we willstart preparing the dossier. We are covering from around 30000 registeredartisans in seven crafts," said Beg. The INTACH also organised a day longconference with stakeholders including artisans and concerned departments toprepare the dossier.

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

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

The benefits of getting included in UCCN will be huge bothculturally and economically. "It will give global recognition to Srinagar as acreative city in the exquisite art and crafts. UCCN is a big brand and it willgive a fillip to the local art and crafts and people will love to source theproducts from a UCCN city," said Beg. "It will be a boon for heritage andculture tourism too as people will love to see artisans and the process ofmaking exquisite artefacts."

The second major benefit will be that the protection of itsart and craft will be ensured. "It will become imperative for Central and Stategovernment to protect the status. Because it is the commitment that thegovernment of India has to make with the UNESCO that 'we are satisfied that thecity has a potential to grow and we will do all we can do to ensure thatprotection that status'' said Beg. "So it becomes a point of prestige forcountry to ensure that the city develops in the fields of crafts and no harm isdone to a UNESCO Creative City in this sector."

The UCCN was created in 2004 to promote cooperation with andamong cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor forsustainable urban development. The 180 cities which currently make up thisnetwork work together towards a common objective: placing creativity andcultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local leveland cooperating actively at the international level.

 "While differinggeographically, demographically or economically, all Creative Cities commit todevelop and exchange innovative best practices to promote creative industries,strengthen participation in cultural life, and integrate culture intosustainable urban development policies. Within the framework of theimplementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentand the New Urban Agenda, the Network provides a platform for cities todemonstrate culture's role as an enabler for building sustainable cities,"UNESCO elaborates on its website.

Despite being abode of one of the oldest inhabited citiesand other equally magnificent monuments, J&K has not a a single site ormonument registered under the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. According toexperts, UNESCO will be more than willing to grant the World Heritage status tosome of its famous sites provided state government takes efforts to put forwardtheir case.

For about a decade, the four sites of J&K have been putin the tentative list of UNESCO, with no further progress. The sites includeMughal Gardens in Kashmir, Neolithic Settlement of Burzahom, desert landscapeof Ladakh and an ancient monastery and stupa in Harwan, which is among the SilkRoute sites in India. For nine years, to be precise, the state government hasnot started the process of preparing nomination files for these sites so thatthey could be considered by the world heritage body for granting a full fledgedstatus.

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

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