It is enshrined in the constitution of Bhutan that “the state shall endeavor to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the country … language, literature, music” and also “shall recognize culture as an evolving dynamic force and shall endeavor to strengthen and facilitate the continued evolution of traditional values and institutions that are sustainable as a progressive society”. As a late entrant into the process of modernization with exposure to outside world after having remained in the self-imposed isolation, Bhutan was fortunate to inherit intact and rich cultural heritage. The Bhutanese take pride in having the advantage of unique culture and the country had the benefit of learning from the flaws of developed countries.
Gross National Happiness (GNH), as opposed to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the development philosophy of Bhutan. Preservation and promotion is one of the four pillars of this philosophy. GNH is mainstreamed in all the annual and five year plans of socio-economic development. Unlike in other countries, the Planning Commission in Bhutan is named as Gross National Happiness Commission and it is the apex body responsible for coordinating and formulating development policy and programmes.
Bhutan ratified the UNESCO Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) on 12/10/2005. The National Library & Archives, Department of Culture, Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs, has been shouldering the responsibilities of implementation of activities of ICH required as per this convention.
Under the technical support and financial assistance coordinated by the UNESCO-Delhi, three capacity building workshops were conducted in Bhutan from 2012 to 2014 on different themes as follows;
1. Capacity Building Workshop on Implementation of the 2003 Convention at the national level from 14 to 18 May, 2012. It had the participation of a total of 28 participants which comprised of district culture officers, focal points from the National Library & Archives, Department of Culture, Folk Heritage Museum, Institute of Language & Cultural Studies, HELVETAS-Swiss Development organization- an NGO based in Bhutan having ICH mapping as one of their programmes.
2. Capacity Building Workshop on Community-based inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage under the Implementation of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bhutan was held from April 2-9, 2013. There were 20 participants including district culture officers, focal points from the National Library & Archives, Royal Academy for performing arts, Institute of language and Cultural Studies, Institute Traditional Medicine, Institute of Zorig Chusum (13 arts of Bhutan), National Museum of Bhutan, representative from Local government officials and UNESCO Natcom -Bhutan.
3. The third and the final workshop on the Process of Preparing nomination Dossiers under the two lists of the Convention: Representative List of ICH and the List of ICH in Need of Urgent Safeguarding was held from 4 to 8 March 2014. There were participants from all the relevant agencies.
This Capacity Building Workshops were well-timed coinciding with the process of Inventorying ICH undertaken by Bhutan with the assistance and financing provide by the ICHCAP- korea and it facilitated to great extent.
Development of online database on Intangible Cultural Heritage of Bhutan is operational and in in steady progress. The objectives are to keep updating the data as an inventory resource for researchers and academicians, make the information reference depository for future generation of Bhutan.
Recognizing the urgent need to have Intangible Cultural Heritage Act in place, the Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan signed a tri-partite agreement with the Faculty of Law, Kyushu University, Japan and UNESCO in October 2012. As per this agreement, the Department of Culture, Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan is to receive assistance from the Faculty of Law, Kyushu University and UNESCO for drafting the National Archives, Heritage Sites and Intangible Cultural heritage Bills of Bhutan.
Drafting the Intangible Cultural Heritage Bill began in January 2014 with the guidance and assistance from the Kyushu University, Japan and UNESCO. The final Bill is submitted to the Minister, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan for final submission to the Parliament of Bhutan.
The Royal Civil Service Commission of Bhutan is carrying out Organizational Development (OD) of the civil service with the objective of right-sizing the ministries/organizations. Taking advantage of this exercise, the Department of Culture has proposed a major overhaul of the department and one of the proposals is to have a unit for International affairs responsible for overseeing and reporting to International Organizations (UNESCO is one of them) on the activities and programs related to regional and international nature. The National Library & Archives of Bhutan, being one of the Divisions under the Department of Culture, has been executing the ICH programs as an interim responsibility as of now. Upon formalization of the OD, it is optimistic that there will be a legitimate and responsible unit for international programs related to cultural affairs too.