There is a specific reason as to why we chose to dedicate this issue to the theme cultural heritage and its impacts on the modern society. It seems to me that these two parameters, deeply ingrained in the human brain and memory, a part of the mental makeup of each individual, is like an extremely powerful and potent instrument with creative or destructive powers.

“Culture is what is left when everything else is forgotten”, said Edouard Herriot, the famous French radical politician. “Culture is the cry of men in face of their destiny” opined Albert Camus. In other words, culture is something that no power can take away from us, something that protects us and nurtures our thoughts, ideas and dreams. Equally, culture and cultural heritage can be used to bring a large number of people together, creating a bond and identity across frontiers – economic, social, geographical or political.

Do we then inherit our culture, whether we choose or not? Is our cultural heritage is like our hereditary genetic structure? Or do we choose our culture, mixing and matching elements that correspond to our evolving ideas, ideals, and the societies we live in? I think there is a bit of both. We inherit culture from our parents, from our surroundings as we grow up – customs, rites, rituals, our relationship to nature, our understanding of other humans and that is, I think, a key element of our mental make-up. As children grow up and are exposed more and more to the outside world, other ideas and ideals take root, subtly altering the inherited elements. The heritage is present, but not predominant anymore.

According to the social anthropologists, culture and cultural heritage is made up of a large number of components, starting, of course, with language – the language spoken by the mother to the newborn child, the lullabies, the stories but also the gestures are the very first things that a child imbibes and later reproduces, consciously or unconsciously. These verbal and the non-verbal languages have a direct impact on how we communicate. Family relationships, gender roles within the family, religious beliefs and practices are other major factors that define and shape our cultural heritage. So by the time we are young adults, our cultural make up is firmly in place.

This cultural heritage undergoes certain changes from outside influences. In fact, several other cultures are grafted on top – culture of a particular age group, of educational institutions, of professions, of the workplace. Teenagers across continents today are judged to have a specific culture that transcends national boundaries. Alumni of prestigious institutions have their own culture as do big corporations. Doctors, engineers, lawyers and other professions share a common set of rules and values that can be deemed as a separate culture. Each of these groups, however, is once again subject to the unique or diverse cultures of the countries and societies they live in. Asians living in Europe have a set of cultural traits different from those living in Canada, the USA or Australia, though they share certain cultural values that may be considered inherited.

So although a part of our cultural makeup is indeed hereditary, it is environmental as well, absorbing and transforming extraneous elements. Very often we are not even aware of it. The cultures of our parents or grandparents are not our culture, though a lot of elements are handed down from one generation to the next. Family lore, recipes, remedies to common ailments, artifacts, jewelry are excellent examples of this type of heritage.

Most people are very attached to their cultural heritage and cultural values, much more than other ideologies, including religion. It is a powerful tool that can be used effectively to defend certain ideals or morals or a certain way of life. In India, traditional culture has been used with incredible efficiency by certain groups to perpetuate injustice and inequalities to women, to specific castes, communities and religions. Several countries in Europe are today taking recourse to cultural identity to foment intolerance towards immigrants and the itinerant Romani population. United States, the supposedly cultural melting pot, have successfully stamped out the culture of the Native Americans, substituted by the so called ‘American Dream’ supposedly shared by those living in the USA.

While cultural diversity is indeed an incredible asset for the human society, I believe that the time has come for all of us to go beyond our own cultural identity and heritage which is becoming a potent tool for creating division and divisiveness across the globe. I think we now need to concentrate on upholding and propagating certain universal values like honesty, justice, equality, and peace – universal tenets of all cultures, ancient and modern.

Aparajita Sen



1 comment:

  1. Could not read.lacks visibility.please use some other format.


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