India/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.6 Other relevant issues

Over the years, there have been several positions, some with an impact on planning policy, on the role culture plays in development. Among the most recent of these was the 2006 report submitted by the Planning Commission on the possibility of mobilising culture industries in order to contribute to India’s economy. That document kicked off the current thinking on the subject, which is dominated by the economics of culture and its possible role within the national economy: specifically defining moves by the Indian Planning Commission to make culture a revenue generating resource. Tourism and Entertainment are being seen as new spheres that will contribute to increment in GDP. However, culture industries in the Indian context are still typically seen as means to providing employment. The Tourism industry is being articulated as one such sector. Even the upscaling of handicrafts and textiles to meet global market standards are being seen primarily as central to ensuring the livelihood of craftsmen and the preservation of handicrafts. The focus on the livelihood and development of the artisan/craftsman, as noted earlier, is not new. However, the artisan/craftsman not as the subject of welfare, but instead as a human resource who constitutes a valuable economic asset to the country, marks a shift. 

A new issue not yet discussed on the culture-and-development front is the role the Indian diaspora could play within the new national imagination. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) is a relatively new Ministry dedicated to the multitude of Indians settled abroad. Established in May 2004 as the Ministry of Non-Resident Indians’ Affairs, it was renamed the MOIA in September 2004. The Ministry is engaged in several initiatives with Overseas Indians (OIs) for the promotion of trade and investment, emigration, education, culture, health and science & technology.[1]The ‘Know India Programme’ of the Ministry is a three-week orientation programme for diaspora youth conducted with a view to promote awareness of different facets of life in India and the progress made by the country in various fields, e.g. economic, industrial, education, science & technology, communication & information technology along with culture. These are conducted in partnership with State governments. The participants, Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) in the age group of 18- 26 years, are selected based on recommendations received from Heads of Indian Missions/Posts abroad. Selected participants are provided with full hospitality in India during the duration of the programme. 90% of the total cost of air ticket is refundable to the participants who successfully complete the programme. The content of the programme broadly includes presentations on the country, political process, developments in various sectors, interaction with faculty and students at prestigious universities, colleges and other institutes, presentation on the industrial development and visits to some industries, visit to a village to better understand typical village life, exposure to Indian media, interaction with NGOs and organisations dealing with women affairs etc.[2] The ‘Study India Programme’ is envisaged as a means of enhancing engagement with youth from the diaspora. The objective of the scheme is to enable overseas Indian youth, i.e. foreign citizens of Indian origin in the age group of 18-26 years, to undergo short term courses in the nature of summer schools to familiarize them with the art & culture, heritage, history, economy and development of India. ‘Cultural content which would help the participants to be immersed in the Indian experience with exposure to Indian mythology, history, arts, handicrafts, dance, music, cuisine, languages and age-old traditions.’[3]

International cultural events or sector-specific activities which are particular to India

Among global events of significance for the national-developmental cause, Anheier and Isar (2006) draw attention to major events like pilgrimages, and fairs, e.g. the Kumbh Mela which, they say, attracts participants larger than even Mecca.

Some of the ideology of the spectacular mega-event shading into the concept of a fair has been explored, most prominently by designer Rajeev Sethi, e.g. at ‘Golden Eye’, an international tribute to the artisans of India held in 1985 at the Smithsonian National Museum of Design, conceived to strategically position the subcontinent’s unique traditions of craft skills as capable of supporting a global contemporary imagination of architects and designers. The idea was to give India a creative edge in the competitive field of building arts and trade.

Less spectacular, but more focused, have been events such as the month-long inter-cultural dialogue and festival organised in 2010 by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), in association with North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC) to promote closer ties between northeastern states in India and their neighbouring southeast Asian countries. The festival that began in Guwahati in Assam travelled to Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland, followed by a four-day symposium-cum-cultural show in New Delhi. About 150 artists and performers from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and eight northeast Indian states took part in this festival.

The Union Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) has also been advocating closer cultural and trade ties between northeastern states and neighbouring countries as part of the 'Look East Policy'[4] also referenced in Section 4.2.7.

Ethical and cultural/human rights issues in transnational or bilateral cultural co-operation

Among the major problems India faces in facilitating transnational co-operation is its poor human rights record in the cultural arena. This concerns issues of freedom of speech and expression in particular, and in areas such as dignity of labour, the role of child labour, bonded labour, etc.

Child Labour: The use of child labour for manufacturing cultural goods that are subsequently exported. A study by the International Labour Organisation in 1992 recorded the use of child labour in the making of hand-woven carpets in India among other Asian countries (ILO, World Report at 13, 1992). The US Congress passed a legislation outlawing the importation of such goods. (Child Labor Deterrence Act of 1993, S.613, 103rd Cong., 1st Session, 1993).

Cultural sensitivity and censorship issues: As noted in Section 1, the protection of minority religious and language groups and freedom of expression are mandated. This has sometimes led to boycotts, both of Indian initiatives outside of India (e.g. what would be considered ultra-Right-wing cultural practices) as well as initiatives from elsewhere boycotted in India (e.g. the InCACBI, or the Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel).

Unprovenanced art objects and antiquities: The question of violation of cultural rights has arisen when unprovenanced art objects and antiquities find their way into the Western market, especially through auction houses. In 1997, an exposé, published as ‘Sotheby’s: Inside Story’ by Peter Watson with the help of an erstwhile employee of Sotheby’s, James Hodges, provided a revealing glimpse behind the scenes at an auction house. According to the documents made available by Hodges, material was consigned to Sotheby’s by dealers in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Islamabad in Pakistan. The dealers consigned between 20 and 93 items to any one sale and the combined value of these objects could reach GBP 60,000 in any one auction.

In the wake of the Watson exposé, Sotheby’s stopped their Antiquities auctions in London and now hold them only in New York. After an internal enquiry, in December 1997, they announced a new Code of Conduct and established a Compliance Department to oversee its implementation and operation. An important feature of the new Code is a pledge not to sell an object if it is known to have been exported illegally from its country of origin, regardless of its status under European Commission (EC) or US law.

Import Duties on Art: Until recently, it was commercially unviable for private organisations to bring works of art into the country,given the high import duties on art and antiquities. This was one of the biggest procedural difficulties of organising an international exhibition in India. Only works of art imported for an exhibition in a public museum or national institutions were exempt from customs duties. In 2011, rules regarding the importing of art and antiquities for a public exhibition were liberalised to allow private galleries and art collections to import works of art. The move is expected to make it easier to help bring international exhibitions to India and vice versa and also make it easier for private organsations to set up museums and galleries. The exemption will also help the return of Indian art and antiquity stuck in foreign countries that can now be permanently displayed in India.[5]

However, several other difficulties remain such as lack of a fully developed and prohibitively high-premium insurance market for art objects in India, lack of internationally accepted standards of storage and handling and environmental controls, delay in government approvals, absence of mechanisms for museums in India to loan art objects for exhibitions outside of collaborations with other public institutions, and prohibitions and cumbersome procedures of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act.


Chapter published: 22-04-2014