The basis of all Indian philosophy is the recognition of divinity in the human species and giving respect to all faiths and shades of opinion
Cultural diplomacy, exchange and toleration of diversity will be a long-term but effective strategy to maintain a strong bulwark against the rising tide of polarizing religiosity and radicalism that is sweeping across the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) region.
Extreme postures and growing intolerance by some sections of majority populations and rejection by the ruling class of the common history and heritage of these countries is creating insecurity among long-settled resident minorities.
This process of growing radicalization can be mitigated by the acceptance of national identities as the first identity of a South Asian, followed by those of location, language, community, society and capability. Faith-based identity should be treated as personal.
While external signs of faith must be tolerated and accommodated by all, there can be no discrimination or advantage given to an individual on grounds of faith rather than merit. The freedom to profess and propagate a faith has been guaranteed by the Indian Constitution to all its citizens; so India must continue to set an example of toleration of diversity and the personal faith of all its citizens, according equal protection de facto and de jure to all of them.
Languages and cultures are today shared across all international borders in South Asia. The civilizational and cultural heritage of shared language, literature, arts, music and dance as well as traditional sports and games should be cultivated, exchanged, developed and passed on to younger generations to create a sense of South Asian identity and belonging.
Practitioners need to be supported by corporate entities and, if necessary, by the State as cultural workers in other countries are, to give them adequate income from the practice and propagation of their arts. Corporate entities may be incentivized to support national cultural propagation in other countries to reduce pressure on strained State revenues, but the State must facilitate their travel and ensure they are properly hosted and utilized by the receiving country.
In fact, each State may host a cultural trainer in its national cultural institution or university from every other partner country. In this way, the varied culture of each country will be propagated in every other country, intermingling with and enriching other cultures.
Exchange of books, publications and media in print and digital format is an easy and excellent way to create an understanding of the concerns and aspirations of the people of our region. It is now very difficult to find, even in our cities, books imported from other nations.
The National Book Trust may find it profitable to begin the process of import and sale. Local publishing houses can create a whole new industry by translating and publishing masterworks and popular literature from other lands, meant for all ages.
In India alone, creating a cross-translation industry from the language of each State and UT into those of all the others will make us aware of the lives, concerns and aspirations of other Indians and reinforce our national identity. It will also encourage the study and use of our national languages and create a new avenue of employment for translators, interpreters, dubbing and sub-titling, making each one's cultural output available to all others.
Fading folk arts, crafts and even games can receive a fillip and new lease of life. Exchanges of folk dance and music often reinforce shared civilizational values and practices. Marketing and design experts should be able them to repackage and present them to a young and growing urban audience.
Educational and cultural exchanges
Entertainment, including sports, is after all the second largest industry in the world and helps to uplift moods, spread happiness and promote mutual communication. Artisans and weavers can be encouraged to create items of clothing and home furnishing for use in homes across the world by tailoring their output to the needs of target markets.
The exchange of education ought to be India's major strength. India's deputation of hundreds of school teachers to Ethiopia, for example, is still warmly remembered by their alumni, many of whom have risen to high positions in that country and abroad and still harbour goodwill for us. We should not be parsimonious but also provide return airfare to impecunious foreign students to reach India to study on our existing scholarships.
India should encourage our own universities and schools to set up campuses abroad as education in English is in great demand in many developing Commonwealth and former colonies of France and Portugal. India has great capability in providing education in the English language as well as in Economics, Statistics, Sociology Mathematics, Science, Technology, Engineering, IT Sciences and many other secular disciplines.
We should not try to teach History or subjective disciplines. The syllabi are ready, as are teachers and researchers. An MoU between universities would need only the deputation of a three-person team, comprising a professor, lecturer and a research assistant for 11 months under the ITEC programme of the Ministry of External Affairs, as well as the gifting of basic reading and reference books and documents, to train teachers of the receiving university to start teaching on their own. We should also encourage the full utilization of foreigners' quotas in our universities.
The foreign practitioners of Indian arts overseas need to be recognized and honoured for their contribution to international cultural awareness and understanding. A triennial festival of such foreign artists could be hosted by ICCR to tour different cities, perform and interact with local gurus of the discipline. This will enable them to keep their skill levels high and teach their own disciples accurately.
The marketing of Indian culture has to be professionally planned and efficiently executed to promote our long-term goals of being a "Global Influencer". This requires us to provide maximum international exposure and buildup of our maestros in international fora using a combination of State and corporate support.
Sponsoring companies should be able to promote their brands and export using the focus on India that a cultural event generates, by organizing BSMs with relevant local chambers of commerce and industry associations during the day of the performance, with necessary support of local Indian Missions, Posts, enterprises and community associations, The effort must be to attract the interest and attention of the foreign audience, not just provide cultural support to the local community of Indian origin.
Basis of Indian philosophy
Presentation of the programme and its publicity outreach must be in the dominant local language, not just in English. The performer's portrayal during the show should also be narrated in the local language, or a programme pamphlet distributed beforehand on all seats of the theatre.
The basis of all Indian philosophy is the recognition of divinity in the human species and giving respect to all faiths and shades of opinion. Only if India herself practises this and invests adequate thought, planning, organization, diplomatic effort and funding to use her extensive and diverse cultural assets meaningfully can we help to maintain harmony, social stability and peaceful co-existence in our South Asian neighbourhood and the wider world.
It is not for the State alone to achieve this, but for the whole of our society to show compassion and create an understanding of the great diversity and achievements of civilization in South Asia and beyond.
(The author is a retired Indian ambassador. Views are personal.)