India/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.3 Cultural policy objectives

As mentioned in earlier sections of this profile, culture was seen in the early years after Independence to be intrinsic to the idea of national development. This period that we will broadly define as the era of Nehruvianisn existed until the mid-1970s, when the Indian Emergency fundamentally transformed the Nehruvian state. And then we will speak of a third phase, more or less existing until the present, and defined as the period of globalisation and neo-liberalism. The three periods shall be defined here as:

(1) The period of ‘Development’;

(2) The period of ‘Autonomy’ when State interference in cultural matters was sought to be curtailed, censorship became a key issue, and cultural rights took centre stage; and

(3) The period of ‘Globalisation’: where the creative economy and the protection of intellectual property has become the central feature.

Part (1) is elaborated here. Part (2) significantly overlaps with section 4.1, and Part 3 with Section 4.2.3.

The period of development

The period that has been broadly described as ‘Nehruvian’, coincides with the introduction of culture as central to development. As already described (in Section 1), this period saw Planning documents address Cultural Policy through mainly three priorities:

  • the management and upgradation of cultural production, and the need to create relevant institutions that can do this efficiently;
  • the protection of cultural practitioners, usually equated with economically disadvantaged groups;
  • the marketing of cultural resources.

Planning policy and national culture as economic resource: The synergy between traditional culture, modern science and industrial development

The First Five-year plan made a general claim for recognising the possible culturally determined basis for the planning mechanism itself:

‘The rapid advances in science and technology over the last few decades have opened out new possibilities in the direction of abolition of want and the restoration of man to a new sense of dignity, but they also carry potentialities of harm and danger. Our knowledge of the socio-economic changes which utilisation of these techniques calls for is neither complete nor certain. In the nature of the case, the problem does not admit of a generalised solution. Conditions vary as between countries, and each country has to evolve a solution in the light not only of contemporary conditions but also of its traditions and culture. In planning for a transformation along the right lines, there are many pitfalls to be avoided, and it is of the utmost importance to strike the appropriate balance between various considerations so as to secure the optimum pattern and rate of progress. Parallels from past history or from contemporary conditions in other countries are useful up to a point, but they cannot provide a complete answer. A nation, like an individual, has to work out its inner potentialities... All that can be said is that there is need, on the one hand, for clarity in regard to basic values and, on the other, for readiness to adapt practical solutions to the concrete problems arising in the process of transition to a different economic and social order.’ (‘Planning: Economic and Social Aspects’, Sec 6, Chapter 1, First Five Year Plan, 1952)


By the Third Plan, this generality had been replaced by a more specific claim for the idea of cultural values as a resource for planning:

‘Each major culture and civilisation has certain distinctive features, rooted in the past, which bear the impress of that culture, India, with thousands of years of history, bears even now the powerful impress of her own distinctive features. They are today covered up by widespread and appalling poverty, the result of a traditional society and a static economy in the past, petrified to some extent by colonial rule. But these essential features, though apparently associated with the traditional structure of society are in no sense an integral part of it. They are in fact a set of moral and ethical values which have governed Indian life for ages past, even though people may not have lived upto them. These values are a part of India's thinking, even as, more and more, that thinking is directed to the impact of the scientific and technological civilisation of the modern world. To some extent, the problem of India is how to bring about a synthesis between these two. Probably, no other country in the modern world would have produced a Gandhi; even Tagore, who was typically modern in his approach to life's problems, was, at the same time, steeped in India's old culture and thinking. His message is thus one of synthesis between these two’. (‘Objectives of Planned Development’, Chapter 1, Third Five Year Plan, 1961)

We reproduce below a series of excerpts relevant to each of these categories:

Management and upgradation of cultural production:

  1. Village industries

One of the first results of an intensive programme for the development of village industries will be to bring to light the problems on which research is most needed. Some of these problems are already known. For instance, in the direction of improved tools, the need has been felt for suitable hand-ginning machines, delinting and decorticating machines for cotton seed, better hand-carding machines, improved spinning machines, a small carbonising machine for removing vegetable matter from indigenous wool etc. Similarly, for paddy husking, improved implements are needed for reducing the proportion of broken rice and for separating unhusked paddy. Some work has already been done on improved types of oil presses. Another field in which, for want of research and adaptation the artisan is being steadily reduced is that of village pottery. In addition to tools and implements which are operated by hand or foot, there is need for evolving machines worked by power which may be suitable for small-scale operations. The prospect of rural electrification in several parts of the country during the next few years emphasises the importance of investigations of this kind. (‘Village Industries’, Sec 15, Chapter 24, First Five Year Plan)

The Central Government is, shortly, constituting a Khadi and Village Industries Development Board for executing programmes of khadi and village industries… The board is intended to be an organisation outside the departmental machinery of the Government and is to be composed of experienced workers in the field of khadi and village industries and a few representatives of the Central Government… The board would be responsible for preparing and organising programmes for the production and development of khadi and village industries, including training of personnel, manufacture and supply of equipment, supply of raw materials and marketing, research and study of the economic problems of different industries. The board would also be in executive charge of village industries schemes suggested later in this chapter. New schemes for village industries, for which assistance may be needed from the Central Government would also be considered by the board. The board is expected also to function as a clearing house of information and experience relating to the progress of cottage industries. Training programmes too would be within the purview of the board (‘Village Industries’, Sec 8, Chapter 24, First Five Year Plan)

  1. Reorganisation of village economies

The exact pattern of the village organisation can only evolve after a series of experiments, but with assistance from the Government, the village should become capable to a large extent of discharging the obligation of providing employment to all the workers in the village, whether they are farmers, landless labourers or artisans. It is in this context that village industries become all-important in village development. They have, therefore, to become the concern of the village community functioning as an organised group. While artisans may form associations on the basis of single craft or multi-craft cooperatives, preferably the latter, carrying on operations connected with their crafts, they are likely to derive the maximum benefits in respect of finance, raw materials and demand for the finished goods if the village organisation takes upon itself the principal responsibility of developing village industries. (‘Village Industries’, Sec 5, Chapter 24, First Five Year Plan)

  1. Links between cottage industry and handicrafts with large industry and research

Programmes for small industries and handicrafts call for a comprehensive approach in which, on the one hand, there is adequate co-ordination with large-scale industries and research institutions and, on the other, the State Governments ensure that the artisans are sufficiently organised to be able to avail of technical and financial assistance and to provide as far as may be possible co-operatively for their essential requirements. (‘Small Industries and Handicrafts’, Sec 6, Chapter 25, First Five Year Plan)

Research in handicrafts involves study of art, skill and tradition as well as the study of materials. The former have necessarily a local colour. For this and other reasons it is necessary to develop in different parts of the country a number of institutions in which research in some aspect or other of handicraft production is undertaken. The Central Government might also consider the possibility of establishing a central institute for the study and preparation of designs. Such an institution could work in co-operation with art industries departments in several States, arts and crafts schools, institutions like Shantiniketan and industries departments in several States. (‘Village Industries’, Sec 14, Ch 25, First Five Year Plan)

The training and research programme for handicrafts includes, the establishment of Central Handicrafts Development Centre, assistance to technical research institutes, training of managerial, cooperative, and other personnel and grant of scholarships to working artisans for training. (‘Personnel Requirements and Training Programmes’, Sec 14, Ch 8, Second Five Year Plan)

Protection of Cultural Practitioners and Economically Disadvantaged Communities:

This period saw an extraordinary commitment to developing the conditions of various categories of the economically disadvantaged, as purveyors of cultural resources. For example, welfare services for scheduled castes are included in the special programme for the welfare of the backward classes (see ‘Welfare of Backward Classes’, Sec 5, Ch 37, First Five Year Plan). Support for small farmers, landless tenants, agricultural labourers and artisans, was given a high priority during the second five year plan (Chapter 20, ‘Village and Small Industries’, Second Five Year Plan). And, lastly, a crucial area of support was towards the tribal people of India who needed to be enabled to develop along the lines of their own genius, with genuine respect and support for their own traditional arts and culture and without pressure or imposition from outside. (Chapter 34, ‘Development of Backward Classes’, Third Five Year Plan)

Welfare services for scheduled castes are included in the special programme for the welfare of the backward classes. Education is the most urgent need of these communities, and extensive measures for increasing educational facilities have been taken by the State. In some of the Part A and B States[1], these concessions extend right up to the university stage. Emphasis is placed in almost all cases on vocational or technical training. The concessions usually take the form of free tuition, stipends, scholarships, provision of books, stationery and other equipment (‘Welfare of Backward Classes’, Sec 5, Ch 37, First Five Year Plan)

In national extension and community project areas, the organisation of programmes designed to assist the weaker sections of the community, especially small farmers, landless tenants, agricultural labourers and artisans, has been given a high priority during the second five year plan (Chapter 20, ‘Village and Small Industries’, Second Five Year Plan)

Apart from the provision of adequate technical advice and guidance, the organisations work in a State falls into two broad categories, namely, (a) work in urban areas or at developed centres in co-operation with associations of artisans and small entrepreneurs, and (b) work in close association with rural development programmes so as to reduce under-employment. Both these tasks require trained extension workers who can draw upon specialists and are at the same time numerous enough to reach individual artisans and cooperatives and give them the assistance they require. At a later stage some part of the work of the organisation of artisans will be taken over by cooperative associations and the role of official agencies may diminish, but a great deal of building up has to take place before this situation comes about (Chapter 20, ‘Village and Small Industries’, Second Five Year Plan).

Assistance will also be given to technical research institutes to undertake specialised research in handicraft techniques. To enable artisans to use better techniques, improved equipment will be supplied. (Chapter 20, ‘Village and Small Industries’, Second Five Year Plan)

The tribal people should be enabled to develop along the lines of their own genius, with genuine respect and support for their own traditional arts and culture and without pressure or imposition from outside. (Chapter 34, ‘Development of Backward Classes’, Third Five Year Plan)

Promotion of linguistic, dalit[2] and minority cultures have been important concerns for the Kannada and Culture Department as is manifested in publication of Ambedkar’s writings and organising tribal programmes. Some of the questions addressed include: what gets counted as marginal practices, whether they need to speak in a given format and whether cultural activities that are in contention with the state are seen as illegitimate political forms. In fact, the Haksar report of the 1990s criticises the Akademies for their neglect and apathy to India’s diverse cultures in their functioning and reprimands the upholding of majority over minority cultures, in fact its very division (1990, pg 27).

Marketing of Cultural Resources:

In this period, the State attempted mainly to harness its cultural resources, but with some key assumptions: firstly, that such resources could not be found in the cities, but were available only in villages; secondly, that they existed primarily as a revival of ancient traditions, such traditions being a national cultural heritage, putting Indian modernism on very different ground than its usual (European) position of defining itself in conflict with tradition.

This period additionally saw a major focus on village industries, where culture came to be equated with the conservation and reorganisation of village economies, linking cottage industry and handicrafts with large industry and research.

Among the key issues that emerged, in terms of actual practice, were how to overcome the urban-rural divide, as we see in the following quotation:

‘All our policies today are urban-oriented. Even for culture we have such a policy, but implicitly. In the performing arts, it leads to many styles which ape the West and appear to be rootless. While the occasional dark areas in our rural cultural traditions can be overcome easily, to my mind the influence of the ultra-modern obscurantism of the urban elite is far more pernicious. To fight it we have to nurture our rural art forms. These would gain from exposure to the urban cultural milieu but, more important, the latter needs the revitalising influence of rural art forms.’ Theatre director Habib Tanvir (in Saberwal, 1975, pg 144)

Or how to abolish the modernist distinction between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’, as we see in the following statement:

‘Education in various forms of culture such as fine arts, music, dance, theatre, literature etc., needs to be critically reviewed and substantially re-organised with a clear annunciation of aims and objects and teaching methods, etc. The time tested system of Guru Shishya Parampara[3] should be strengthened, widened and strongly supported.’ Section 3.7, in Approach Paper on the National Policy on Culture (1992)

Excerpts from planning documents on marketing:

In improving the quality of handicraft products and in increasing the demand for them, emporia can also play an important part, provided they are efficiently organised. Emporia should not only increase the sale of cottage industry products but should, in turn, be the means of conveying to artisans information and guidance concerning new demands and new designs. A direction in which useful results are likely to be secured is the linking up of consumers’ co-operatives with producers' co-operatives. To the extent such a development can take place, a stable internal demand can be created for the products of small industries and handicrafts. Similarly, in the sphere of foreign trade, the Central and State governments could attempt increasingly to promote links between the producers in India and large buyers abroad. (Chapter 25, Sec 1, ‘Small Industries and Handicrafts’, First Five Year Plan)

Recent experience of village and small industry programmes has pointed to the need for an extension service which can be in touch with village artisans, provide the necessary guidance and assistance, organise them in co-operatives and help them market their products both within and outside the rural area. A beginning in this direction has been made with 26 pilot projects. (Chapter 11, ‘Community Development and National Extension’, Second Five Year Plan)


Handicrafts appeal to consumers principally through their distinctive and artistic designs. Recent efforts to develop this rich heritage have yielded encouraging results. During the second five year plan it is proposed to undertake schemes for the improvement of designs and to organise regional designing centres. In addition, art schools will be assisted in setting up design development sections, and scholarships will be given to working artisans for training in improved craft designing (Chapter 20, ‘Village and Small Industries’, Second Five Year Plan).

The period of autonomy

See Section 4.1

The period of globalisation

See Section 4.2.3

[1] Part A states were former governor's provinces in British India. Part B states were the former princely states.

[2] Dalit is a designation for people traditionally regarded as ‘untouchable’.

[3] The tradition of spiritual relationship and mentoring where teachings are transmitted from a teacher (guru) to a disciple (shishya).

Chapter published: 22-04-2014