India’s museums need more love from its citizens, government

  • Rhea Daulet-Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 03, 2016 15:58 IST
A deserted Child Resource Centre Museum in Delhi. Renamed Nirbhaya Museum, it awaits renovations of its crumbling displays and infrastructure. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

Last week, a devastating fire destroyed 70% of the exhibits at a national museum in New Delhi. This was met with underwhelming reaction from citizens and many were even unaware of the mishap.

The situation brought to light a lack of appreciation for India’s cultural diversity, stemming from the government’s inadequate efforts to preserve museums and heritage sites.

Read more | A lesson from Natural History Museum fire: How to kill our heritage

In most museums, the management is shoddy and the attitude appears callous. Artifacts are mishandled or not represented well. Lack of funds is a major issue delaying much-needed renovations and shows a severely inefficient system. Set up during the 80s-90s, many of these institutions are hosted in buildings that are not covered under the current safety norms, making them vulnerable to tragedies.

The National Museum of Natural History that caught fire is just one example; there are a large number of museums under the government’s purview which host outdated exhibits and monotonous tours.

It is necessary to constantly update the display collections and museum activities. However, the dry response is indicative of an ebbing interest at higher ministry levels.

The Children’s Resource Centre Museum, for instance, was inaugurated in 1987. Apart from being renamed the Nirbhaya Museum in honour of the December 16 gangrape victim, nothing has been done to bring the museum attention. It is falling apart as no conservation efforts are being undertaken either.

Read more | Museum renamed after Dec 16 gangrape victim in shambles, awaits funds

The tragic truth is that the country does have much to offer in terms of architecture, art and artifacts.

There are 27 World Heritage sites in India, ranging from cave paintings in Bimbedka, Madhya Pradesh to the 19th century Nilgiri Mountain Railways in Tamil Nadu, and nothing is being done to protect them, according to the UNESCO.

At its current state, these sites do serve as a magnet for tourists, and does contribute to the country’s GDP growth. Last year, the industry was projected to grow by 7.5%. But a constant complaint is the unsanitary conditions and lack of organisation. This often leads to tourists preferring to travel to other destinations in Asia such as Thailand.

Across the world, cities are proud hosts to museums showcasing their culture and history. It isn’t just about timely restoration and updating the inventory, such sites need to connect with the audience.

If it’s an up-close experience with African mammals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it’s a sleepover at the British Museum in London.

Read more | Pull our museums from the past into the present

As despondent as the situation seems, the government is stirring to better things and engage people in active conservation.

The ‘Swachh Paryatan Mobile App’, launched by the Union Ministry of Tourism, has been made available at 25 heritage monuments, including Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutab Minar and Red Fort among others. The app lets one upload pictures of badly managed sites and the government acts on the information.

The burned down natural history museum is getting a Rs 225-crore makeover while the environment ministry has ordered an energy and fire audit of all its establishments across the country.

If there is an upswing in these measures, it could once again build a healthy interest in India’s cultural brilliance.

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