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Rural heritage encompasses many areas that fall outside the artistic and cultural, and needs to be looked at from a more inclusive viewpoint. Rural heritage tourism and cultural industries can accelerate country’s growth by increasing self sufficiency.

The impact that creative use of heritage assets can have on local economies can be clearly observed in many parts of India, especially in regard to heritage tourism and cultural industries (particularly craft development). For example:

  • Rural Heritage Tourism represents an area that can have extraordinary impact on a rural community. In the state of Rajasthan, for instance, 80% of the state's thriving heritage hotels are located in rural areas, and the impact on the local economies, though not yet formally analyzed, is obviously substantial. The Ministry of Tourism of the Government of India has begun to realize the tremendous potential, and in fact commissioned a comprehensive study “Evaluation cum Impact Study of Rural Tourism Projects” throughout India. The final report is produced here.
  • Cultural Industries can be powerful engines for economic development in rural areas. Many traditional art forms and skills remain alive even in areas with the deepest levels of poverty. Recognizing these living art and craft forms as "cultural industries" and encouraging micro-enterprise development, generates income and improves conditions. In rural areas, it also provides part-time employment and supplementary income to agricultural workers and to women.

Cultural industries are currently the second largest employer in rural India and globally represent a US$100 billion market. Linking rural skills and artisans to this massive global market creates opportunities for both local economic growth and poverty reduction; it comes with the bonus of preserving an important part of India's rich cultural heritage.

A World Bank study in 2003, analyzing the impact of just one weaving revival project in Uttaranchal, found substantial social and economic results, not only for the weavers involved, but for the entire community. The World Bank's current JIYO program, launched in 2010, builds on what the Bank terms the "creative capital" of India's estimated 6 million rural artisans, and sees this "creative capital" as a catalyst for poverty reduction through brand development. Since a major cause of rural poverty in India is the lack of access – for both individuals and communities – to productive assets and financial resources, the recognition of traditional skills as a form of capital by the World Bank is extremely important.

International Experience / Indian Context

Looking at a number of relevant activities in other parts of the world (Europe, North America and Asia), it is interesting to note the substantial resources and creativity that these highly developed nations are devoting to preserving their existing rural heritage, and the universal recognition of the role that these activities play in economic sustainability of rural populations.

The Indian context is, of course, unique. Nevertheless, it is useful to observe strategies developed in other parts of the world. It is also instructive to realize the importance that heritage is now routinely being given in the development process.

Rural heritage encompasses many areas that fall outside the artistic and cultural, and needs to be looked at from a more inclusive viewpoint. Given the immense problems faced by our rural residents, it also is reasonable to conclude that initiatives in these areas should take full advantage of the potential for linking heritage preservation with improvement of the lives and livelihoods of the residents and communities who are the custodians of this heritage.

There is also a strong linkage in India between rural heritage and urban populations. Despite our growing urbanization, most Indians regard their rural roots as a crucial element of their identity and psyche. Keeping the base where these roots are grounded strong and healthy has relevance to all Indians, not just to those residing in our rural areas. In addition, there are many areas of inter-connectivity (such as the mohallas in certain cities where rural weavers engage with their markets, or urban heritage structures whose continued viability depends upon the skills of rural artisans, to name just two).