Sunday, April 27, 2014

Apatani Cultural Landscape

It was the year 2000. My friend, Omak Apang, was the Union Minister of State (Tourism), Government of India. He took the initiative to propose Ziro as a World Heritage Site. A meeting of community leaders was arranged in the Hotel Blue Pine at Ziro to discuss about the proposal. All of us present in the meeting opposed the proposal on the ground that this is a conspiracy to keep Ziro as a 'museum piece'. We were under the impression that recognition as heritage site means full stop to development.

In the following years, a UNESCO-funded research project was carried out in Arunachal Pradesh and the Apatanis, the inhabitants of Ziro was one of the subjects. This created a lot of international attention. A presentation of this project was organized in 2008 in NERIST, Itanagar. One of the recommendations of the project was to enlist Ziro as a World Heritage Site. A renewed interest was created. There was a feeble attempt to initiate the application process, but it never took off.

In late 2012, there was a newspaper report about a workshop in Guwahati in which Ziro was shortlisted as a potential World Heritage Site among many sites in the north-east India. A Facebook discussion on the topic resulted in a loose group of volunteers who took interest in pushing the initiative forward. A hectic follow up of the process ensued. The volunteers prodded a sluggish system to submit the proposal in time. This was followed by a visit of Ziro and Talle Valley by a team from the Department of Cultural Affairs, led by the Secretary and the Director in January 2013.

By late 2013, we came to know for sure that Ziro has been shortlisted for the Tentative List. This finally was confirmed when a team from the Advisory Committee on World Heritage Matters (ACWHM) visited Ziro in February 2014. A presentation of the site was made and they were taken around the area. It was a successful visit. The result was drawing up of a tentative roadmap to take Ziro to the coveted WHS. We reviewed the initial proposal as per the inputs from the ACWHM members and submitted it to the concerned authority in time.

On April 14, 2014, the Apatani Cultural Landscape appeared as a Tentative List of India in the UNESCO's website. Ziro is in the Tentative List now but it is to be seen if the Government of Arunachal Pradesh takes a proactive role in preparing the arduous task of dossier preparation and the volunteers who have been pushing the project till now can hold themselves together. In addition, ACWHM members pointed out to many aspects that need to be reversed and others that need to be taken up to meet the global standard to qualify a place as a heritage site.

Fingers crossed, hoping that developments in the coming days will be positive.