India/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

Independent India has had by no means a coherent or unitary cultural policy. Instead, the policy has covered a range of complex, and often mutually contradictory, definitions. Additionally, given the need to be always alert to the political consequences of cultural policy, India has also had to create a viable and functioning administrative mechanism through practical institutional segregation of responsibilities. These do not necessarily add up to a coherent ‘arm’s length’ policy, or even necessarily to a ‘federal’ policy, but can sometimes resemble aspects of both.

To a very great extent, the question ‘culture’ represents on the one side a colonial legacy (as in ‘traditional culture’), but on the other hand, also represents a kind of forward-looking approach determining say science and technology, communications, etc. and the claim has often been made for how the genius of Indian civilisation will allow India to draw from the former a strategy for the latter.

As already noted in Section 1, India’s Nehruvian phase (which for the purpose of this profile can be stated as from Independence until the declaration of the Emergency[1] in 1975) witnessed major state support for culture, and also saw active state intervention in cultural policy making. ‘Culture’ therefore, in the imagination of the Planning Commissions, administratively fell under the departments covering: Education, Economy, Human Resource, Communications and Science & Technology, and in disciplinary terms included at least the following: History, Anthropology, Political Science, Design, Literature, Economics and Science. This period saw a cluster of 49 cultural institutions (listed in Section 9) in fields such as Archaeology, Anthropology and Ethnography, and included Archives, Libraries, Museums and Akademies, set up for the conservation and promotion of the country’s cultural heritage. The state during this time was perceived as a legitimate body that could and should intervene in culture.

In this time, as many Government documents show, a distinction is increasingly made between the administration of culture as it exists in Education, and culture as it is defined by the Department of Culture. The Fifth Five Year Plan’s Task Force on Culture (‘Culture in the Fifth Plan’, Appendix 2, Central Advisory Board of Education [CABE] Standing Committee Proceedings, 1973, pg 83-87) proposes that while education should relate to ‘the different levels of education and the different types of education, both formal and informal’, culture as present in the Department of Culture should relate ‘only to schemes of archaeology, archives, libraries, expertise, museums and art galleries, Akademis, cultural institutions and the Anthropological Survey of India’. The Report therefore makes a crucial distinction, with lasting impact, between two quite distinct locations of cultural operation. One, drawn from the predominantly colonial disciplines of Indology, Anthropology, Art History and Archaeology, which largely did not address the present, formed the dominant responsibility of the Department of Culture. The second, dealing with the more nationalist disciplines of Economics, History and the Social Sciences, was located within the Department of Education, and included the various Councils, of Historical (ICHR), Philosophical (ICPR) and Social Science Research (ICSSR), along with the many research centres supported by these Councils.[2]

A third, crucial sector involved the various ministries handling the economy of artisanal produce and the most visible sector of that produce, viz. handicrafts. These included the Ministry of Textiles, which runs the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), the Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation (HHEC), the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum; and the Ministry of Small Scale Industries & Agro and Rural Industries, which runs the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, or the many sectors that address the field of craft as Technical Education (All India Council for Technical Education).

Fourth, there was the crucial location for culture linked to ideologies of development: to the presumed link that might be made between traditional craft and advanced technology. Such links have been made in the field of Communication studies, originating with India’s first investments in radio communication, followed by satellite communications, television and several other technologies, under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting as well as the Ministry of Science & Technology, and in the field of Design.



[1] The Indian Emergency is a 21-month period between 26 June 1975 and 21 March 1977.  A state of emergency was declared under Article 352 of the Constitution of India by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Apart from the suspension of elections and civil liberties, it bestowed upon the Prime Minister the power to rule by decree.

[2] The distinction between these two largely independent sectors of cultural administration might perhaps be easily demonstrated by the way that the recent controversy around ideologically slanted school textbooks, or the more recent ‘cartoon’ controversy, was restricted almost entirely to the institutions supported by the Ministry of Education, and appeared to be of no concern to institutions supported by the Ministry of Culture.


Chapter published: 22-04-2014


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