Culture excluded …
I am in Delhi attending a conference entitled “SAARC 14th Summit & Beyond”. On the first day of the conference we deliberated on the physical and economic connectivities that are possible between the SAARC countries … more about that later. Yesterday the sessions were much more interesting because they were about the role of culture and civil society in the development of SAARC. One of the speakers was Ms. Ajeet Cour who is a writer and a social activist. In her presentation she said that in the first SAARC Charter there was no mention of culture at all. There was to be collaboration in other areas but Culture and Art were totally missing. When she saw this, she said she started a one person movement (referring to the saying that one lonely Sikh is equivalent to a ‘sawa lakh’ army). She made the lives of the Ministry of External Affairs in India a living hell. Others from India and Pakistan joined in the struggle and they managed to convince the governments of the SAARC countries that culture was a shortcut to better understanding and integration (one doesn’t know whether they actually understood this or whether she just wore them out with her persistence). SAARC has now added a paragraph in the Charter that refers to Cultural cooperation.
It is amazing that writers, poets, artists and performers were considered so dangerous that visas for them were extremely hard to process in those days. Madeeha Gauhar said that she could only visit India at that time because her grandfather was still alive. It was only years later that it became easier for her and others like her to get visas more easily. Of course NOCs are still required if they are to perform.
Ajeet Cour said that the soul of people living in the SAARC region lies in folklore. She suggested that we should carry out serious translations of all our folklore and literature and thus explore the souls of the peoples of this region. Dance and song will follow. There was a suggestion that there should be a SAARC Cultural Festival, a Theatre Festival, a Film Festival, a Music Festival, … anything and everything that would help remove layers of doubt and mistrust and slowly heal the wounds of history. Only then could we move beyond the borders and view each other as human beings with similar feelings and desires and an appreciation for the beauty that exists in our part of the world.
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