Building Cultural Competence : An obligation for Manipur University of Culture

Dr. S. Birahari Singh *

 Ibudhou Marongkhong Chingdrensana Pakhangba Haraoba at Govt Dance College, Palace Gate, Imphal  :: 17 June 2019
Ibudhou Marongkhong Chingdrensana Pakhangba Haraoba at Govt Dance College, Imphal in June 2019 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

Manipur, a mini India has witnessed scores of ethnic conflicts in recent years. Besides having a festering conflict between the Government of India and the non-state actors, it has persistent conflicts between ethnic groups. No doubt, such conflicts are built-in characters of a polycultural state or country like Manipur or India. Nevertheless, such conflicts are not to be let loosed unaddressed complacent with temporary measures for containment. A conscious and well-planned education is imperative to manage such societal conflicts.

Conversely, our formal education is turning a blind eye to it. Precisely, cultural competence building course is not accommodated in Manipur University of Culture despite being most appropriate institute for such a mission. The name Manipur University of Culture necessarily entails a comprehensive study of cultures of several ethnic groups of the state of Manipur.

The University ought to open courses of study of plural cultures of the state. Our state is a multilingual state. It does not have a monolithic culture. It is, therefore, imperative to accommodate all the unique cultures of plural societies of the state.

It is true that major courses of study available in the university are:
3 year Graduate Course in
(a) Dance,
(b) Music,
c) Thang-Ta,
d) Umang Lai Haraoba,
e) Theatre and Performance studies,
f) Nat Sankritana and
g) Tribal Studies
along with 4 year Graduate Course in Visual Arts.

Precisely, the university puts more stress on the study of arts, parts of behavioural culture. Nevertheless, major parts of ideological and material cultures of plural societies of Manipur are not available. No doubt, products of some art forms are, undeniably, species of material cultures. In this context, it is worth to be noted that "art is not culture per se and culture is not art per se." We are bound to remember it.

It is emphatically asserted that study of art forms and their products only cannot build cultural competence in students, call of the hour. Suggestion for incorporation of education for cultural competency is put forward for the good of society and state. Study of cultural universals and specifics vis-a-vis study of basic cultural elements and cultural aspects of plural societies of Manipur is mandatory for building cultural competence in students.

It can be hypothesized that objective of cultural competence building is not categorically enshrined in the objectives of the university and course framework is also not designed to achieve such objective. Emphasis on the study of art forms in the university is indicative of the premise that art is construed as culture per se.

Wikipedia writes: "Cultural Competency, also known as intercultural competence, is a continuous and life long journey to increase people's skills in being proficient in intercultural and intra-cultural knowledge which can improve the ability to work with people with different culture". Simply cultural competence refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures. writes: "The term cultural competence refers to the ability to work effectively with individuals from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, or in settings where several cultures coexist. It includes the ability to understand the language, culture, and behaviours of other individuals and groups, and to make appropriate recommendations. Cultural competence exists on a continuum from incompetence to proficiency".

The writer's proposition is even more strengthened in the backdrop of perspectives of father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi who reportedly said: "I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people's houses as an interloper, a beggar, or a slave". (Nehru: The Discovery of India).

The writer's proposition is again strengthened by two Professors, Stella Ting- Toomey and John G. Oetzel who wrote: "At the dawning of the 21st century, it is inevitable that we will encounter people from diverse cultures and ethnicities in our own backyards. Learning to understand such cultural differences and dealing with these differences proactively will serve as a major step toward building a more harmonious multicultural society".

https://cdn/ also writes: "Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures". Here it can be added that nobody can deny the applicability of the propositions in the context of Manipur. With this philosophical underpinning this article is written.

Another unavoidable point is that there is no dearth of formal institutions in Manipur for education of several art forms besides having non-formal centres for promotion of art forms. There are
Imphal Art College, Imphal;
Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal;
Shri Shri Balmukunda Dev Government Music College, Imphal;
Government Music and Dance College, Imphal;
Dance and Music Department, Manipur University;
Kha-Manipur Hinsdustani Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, Kakching;
Manipur Sangeet Natak Academy, Wangjing;
Sangeet Natak Mandir, Nambol;
Lamka Film Academy, Churachandpur;
Film Acadmy Manipur, Imphal;
Kalakshetra Manipur, Imphal;
Chorus Repertory Theatre, Imphal;
NT Theatre, Langjing;
Aryan Theatre, Imphal;
Manipur Dramatic Union, Imphal;
Langmeidong Dramatic Union, Kakching;
Manipur State Film and Television Institute, Imphal;
Liberty Theatre, Kakching;
Cherubim Institute of Music, Imphal;
Manipur State Kala Academy, Imphal;
Echoes School of Music Tuning Arts, Imphal and Ukhrul;
Excel School of Music, Imphal;
Agape Music Academy, Imphal;
Harimati Dance and Music Centre, Imphal;
Shivanita Art Academy, Imphal;
Vidya Dance Class, Imphal;
Meipa Dance and Fitness Studio, Imphal;
In Motion Dance Studio, Imphal;
Maranatha Music and Media Institute, Imphal;
Guru Gulapi Nat Sankritan Academy, Imphal;
and Nat Sankritan Research Centre, Imphal.

Formal course on Tribal Studies is available in Manipur Campus of Indira Gandhi National Tribal University. Formal course on Thang-Ta is available in Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy. It is also available in nearly 10 other formal and non-formal centres also.

Very unfortunately, however, formal course on cultural competency is not available in any one institute of the state despite having rich resources. Manipur University of Culture can become a unique model institute by opening a formal course for building cultural competence, call of the hour.

It is high time to formulate courses to develop Cultural competence comprising four basic components:
a) Awareness of one's own cultural worldviews;
b) Attitude towards cultural differences;
c) Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews; and
d) Cross-cultural skills.

Therefore, it is time to render concerted effort to evolve or design a formal course for building cultural competence in students to be made available in Manipur University of Culture for advanced and specialized education so that unity in diversity concept of Manipur can become a true reality. In this context, it is categorically stated that the writer's mind does not go off at a tangent.

Be aware! This is at stake!

* Dr. S. Birahari Singh wrote this article for
The writer is a Former Principal, Y.K. College, Wangjing
and can be contacted at biraharis(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 04 2021.

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