India/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.7 Intercultural dialogue: actors, strategies, programmes

Major cultural policy document(s) and main public actors responsible for implementing programmes and policies to promote intercultural dialogue in India at national, regional and local policy levels

As mentioned already in Section 3.4, India historically has always had a major policy of intercultural dialogue, covering (a) the Commonwealth, (b) the Non-Aligned national sector following the Bandung Conference, and (c) the ‘Look East Policy’ inaugurated in 1991.

Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR)

In terms of state action, ICCR is the key agency. The ICCR’s founding purpose is ‘to participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes relating to India’s cultural relations with other countries’ and to ‘foster and strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries’, and finally to ‘establish and develop relations with national and international organisations in the field of culture’. Its key instruments are administration of scholarship schemes for overseas students on behalf of the Government of India and other agencies, and to supervise the welfare of international students, grant of scholarships to foreign students to learn Indian dance and music, exchange of exhibitions, organisation of and participation in international seminars and symposia, participation in major cultural festivals abroad, organisation of ‘Festivals of India’ abroad, exchange of groups of performing artistes, organisation of lecture-demonstrations by performing artistes abroad, to maintain a Distinguished Visitors Programme, under which eminent personalities from abroad are invited to India and Indian experts are sent abroad to deliver lectures on issues of mutual interest, and to operate Chairs for Indian Studies in universities abroad. The ICCR’s annual budget (as per its 2010-11 Annual Report) was INR 150.7 crore (USD 30.14 million) as Grant-in-Aid from the Ministry of External Affairs.

The ICCR has regional offices in Mumbai, Cuttack, Kolkata, Chennai, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Thiruvananthapuram, Shillong, Varanasi, Pune, Jaipur, Guwahati, Goa, Bhopal and Jammu.

Public actors responsible for implementing programmes and policies

India has now a growing number of public actors who have set up bilateral and multilateral links with foreign agencies. These are directly civil society initiatives, of which the best and most prominent example is the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), which was set up in September 1994 in Lahore. The objective of this initiative has been to ‘facilitate common people in both the countries to listen to voices that are different from the belligerent voices of the respective Governments’, and comprises rights activists, business people, trade unionist, environmentalists, women’s movements, artists, writers, social workers, professionals, academicians, students, scientists and mass movements. The Forum has organised seven Joint Conventions: Delhi (February 1995), Lahore (November 1995), Kolkata (December 1996), Peshawar (November 1998), Bangalore (April 2000), Karachi (December 2003) and Delhi (February 2005). Each convention was attended by an average of 350 delegates – from both the countries – in historic meetings that discussed five major issues: war, demilitarisation, peace and peace dividends; democratic solution to Kashmir problem; democratic governance; religious intolerance in India and Pakistan; and globalisation and regional co-operation.

A somewhat less visible but active entity is the China-India Forum, set up at Beijing University, China in February 2007 with initial support from the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation for Human Progress (FPH), Paris, France. Its avowed objectives are, apart from cross-cultural dialogue facilitating pluralism, to create a platform for the government, media, religious leaders, local people of both countries, farmers, youth, women, businessmen and other professionals, educational institutions to come together to have a cross-cultural dialogue.

Private actors

In terms of forging diplomatic, cultural and business contacts, Asia Society’s India Centre, Mumbai, and the InKo Centre, Chennai, are both an important new resource, setting up links between India and the rest of Asia. Please refer to section 3.4.4 for detailed list of private players.

Most major countries (UK, USA, France, Germany, China, Japan, etc.) have CEO-level Forums with eminent Indian businessmen and their counterparts.

Good practice: We provide only one instance below; there could be numerous others.

Example: The West Heavens Project: There are few examples from the specific field of the arts, but the one prominent and outstanding instance has been the West Heavens initiative, set up by an art gallery owner from Hong Kong. The initiative for cultural exchange was developed jointly by the Institute of Visual Culture (of China Academy of Art) and Hanart TZ Gallery and supported by the Moonchu Foundation, with the idea of fostering a closer understanding of India in China, through contemporary art and scholarship, and to develop cross-cultural dialogue based on visual culture and notions of Asian modernity. The West Heavens: India China Summit on Social Thought, titled ‘From the West Heavens to the Middle Kingdom: An Exchange between China and India in Contemporary Art and Thoughts’ included an art exhibition and a parallel series of intellectual forums. The organisers claimed that it was ‘the first major artistic engagement between India (historically referred to as the West Heavens in Chinese Buddhist texts) and China’, and was built on two previous projects: ‘EDGES OF THE EARTH: Migration of Asian Art and Regional Politics, An Investigative Journey in Art’, a series of research journeys to Asian countries in 2003, and the Guangzhou Triennial 2008, ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism’, an exhibition with forums that investigated creative possibilities under present predicaments of cultural politics. The SAME-SAME: A Mumbai – Shanghai Research on Urbanity project investigated the use to which the Indian government was putting the so-called ‘Shanghai model’ as a new model for India’s urban development. 

Chapter published: 22-04-2014