Preservation and promotion of culture is becoming increasingly difficult in rural Bhutan. While we continue to give special importance to the cardinal pillars of Gross National Happiness, the changing society is grappling with new challenges.

Some communities far from the dazzling lights of the cities are today facing serious shortage of people to perform cultural dances and songs. Last month, in Kamdar in Lhuentse, a family was sued by the community members for refusing to participate in the community’s dance festival.

The festival called Drochhung had faded away quietly. The people of Kamdar, Tangmachu, and Phagedung brought it back. Local leaders argued that preserving and promoting local cultures and traditions is important. But the family that the communities sued did not see it that way. They, the members of the family, felt that they were bullied.

Sherab Dema, the daughter of the-once Dropon (lead dancer), was this week fined Nu 100,000 for refusing to participate in the village festival. The villagers wouldn’t have it that Sherab Dema’s father is now too old and physically challenged to be able to perform at the festival.

Nu 100,000 is no small amount for farmers. Sherab Dema has agreed to pay the fine. What this tells us is that the family really had no option.

If preservation and promotion of culture should come to this, it will be very costly for the people in the future. Young people are increasingly leaving their villages and coming to towns and cities for better life and economic opportunities. Aging parents back home can do only so much. Some cultures are so dying quietly. Many have already vanished.

As our society evolves, cultures will meet and melt. That’s bound to happen. Our unique national dress, language, and some common cultures will be all that will define us in the long run. It’s happening.

Efforts to preserve local cultures are important, but changing times will come with unique demand of their own. Making each member of a community to take equal part even as he or she is unable to is not sustainable. It is not sensible. It is Kamdar today. Tomorrow it could be some other villages.

Community vitality can only be nurtured. It cannot be forced.

What about individual rights then?