Almost from its inception, the India International Centre has given special attention to specific areas in addition to its normal on-going programmes and activities. For this purpose, distinguished members and Trustees have given their time and energy.
In 1962, IIC set up a Research Council for Cultural Studies, which was recognised as an Associated Institution of UNESCO for carrying out programmes under its Major Project III on ‘Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Cultural Values’. In 1962, the Centre also set up a Council for Social Development, initially as a study group, to focus on issues in social development. As the activities of the Council for Social Development developed, in 1970 it was considered advisable to register it as a separate entity. Now the Council for Social Development is a sister institution of the Centre.
In 1975, the Centre initiated a two-year project entitled ‘The Himalaya’ which was directed by the then Director Shri J. S. Lall. From 1976 to 1985, Shri I. J. Bahadur Singh headed ‘The Other India’ project to examine the status of people of Indian descent abroad and their relations with India. This continued into the Diaspora Project in 2000-2001 under the chairmanship of Dr. L.M. Singhvi. In 1992, Dr.Subhash Kashyap led a Constitution of India Project. All these activities resulted in publications. IIC also gave affiliation to Shri P.C. Chatterjee for his ICSSR Senior Fellowship on ‘Secular Values in Secular India’ and to Professor Ramchandra Gandhi for a UGC Senior Fellowship.
IIC organised another set of structured programmes which ran for several years under the chairmanship of Dr. Malcolm S. Adiseshiah, a Life Trustee, covering a wide range of economic subjects. The seminar on ‘Mid-Year Review of the Economy’, initiated by him in 1975, has been an important annual feature of the Centre ever since. Shri R. C. Dutt, Honorary Treasurer of the Centre for a long time, led the Social Affairs Group. A number of publications resulted in the activities of these groups. A significant project undertaken was the India-Bangladesh Dialogue, in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka, held in two phases from 2005.
IIC - Asia Project (renamed International Research Division from 1 January 2016)
From time immemorial India has had a dialogue with other countries, particularly the geographical area today identified as Asia. In 1997, IIC established a long-term project called the IIC-Asia Project. This project was to focus on the long history of dialogue between India and Asian countries and between and amongst Asian countries. It has been a convention that the demitting President was made in-charge of the project.
Between 1997 and 2003, IIC-Asia Project, under the chairmanship of Dr. Karan Singh, organised international seminars covering India’s relations with South and Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, West Asia and Australasia. These resulted in the following publications, edited by the then Director and now Life Trustee, Shri N. N. Vohra.
l. Religion, Politics and Society in South and Southeast Asia (Konark, 1998)
2. Culture, Society and Politics in Central Asia and India (Shipra, 1999)
3. Culture, Democracy and Development in South Asia (Shipra, 2001)
4. India and East Asia: Culture and Society (Shipra, 2002)
5. History, Culture and Society in India and West Asia (Shipra, 2003)
6. India and Australasia: History, Culture and Society (Shipra, 2002)
In 2003, the Board of Trustees decided that the Project could look at the broad movements which have travelled from one part of Asia to another where there has been a creative reciprocity. The Trust also advised that in the second phase, under the chairmanship of Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, a thematic approach may be adopted. Also, it was felt that an endeavour should be made to hear the voices of a younger generation in Asia, particularly women, through different media, e.g., literature, films, embroidery, among others.
After a heroic effort to identify young women in Asia who have been writing, Malashri Lal and Sukrita Paul Kumar of the Delhi University were requested to compile an anthology of young women’s writing in Asia. Speaking for Myself: Anthology of Asian Women’s Writing (Penguin, 2009) is an exploration of women’s writing as expressed through poetry, fiction, drama, from countries of the Asian continent as far-flung as Mongolia to Macau, the Far East to the West, the South to the North, covering China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.
Film is a modern medium which has the power of communication across borders. IIC-Asia Project reached out to a distinguished member of IIC, late Ms. Jai Chandiram, of the IAWRT (International Association of Women in Radio and Television). Once again there was a concerted effort to bring to the fore the voices of women through documentary films, short and long. An annual festival of documentary films is being held in the Centre since 2005. A publication on the festivals held from 2005-2009 was brought out by the Centre—Asian Women Look through the Lens (2009). This festival has since become a regular feature of IIC.
An interlocked event comprising a seminar, an exhibition and a craft demonstration-cum-workshop was held in 2005 to highlight the role of women who have demonstrated a high degree of creativity, especially through the humble and ordinary needle and thread, in creating bridges of communication between and amongst cultures and across boundaries. The seminar explored the routes of contact between and amongst the countries through specific embroideries. The fascinating and educative exhibition juxtaposed embroideries from different countries of Asia to underscore both similarities as also distinctiveness. The exhibition was enriched by the generous participation of collectors as also women who lent exquisite pieces of embroideries—phulkari, kaantha, chikankari, suzani, sujani and khamak. A volume entitled Sui Dhaga: Crossing Boundaries through Needle and Thread (Wisdom Tree, 2010) has been published.
The evidence of the vibrant dialogue between and amongst Asian countries, particularly between India and Asia, is explicit in their archaeological remains. The Asia Project undertook select programmes to bring out this dialogue. Many seminars and conferences were organised. As a result, a volume entitled Sacred Landscapes in Asia: Shared Traditions, Multiple Histories, edited by Professor Himanshu Prabha Ray (Manohar, 2007) was published.
Flowing from this, a major international conference on ‘Asian Encounters: Networks of Cultural Interaction’ was organised in 2011 which focused attention on the lasting legacy left in various spheres of human experience by the centuries-old exchange of ideas, knowledge systems, resources, skills and materials amongst the people of the Asian continent. The programme was a joint effort of the Asia Project in collaboration with the Department of History, University of Delhi, the Archaeological Survey of India and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Participants included those from Iran, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, USA, UK and Germany, besides India. The Archaeological Survey of India organised an exhibition on the ‘Recent Findings in Epigraphy’ at the Centre.
Arising out of this collaborative programme, a volume entitled Asian Encounters Exploring Connected Histories, edited by Professors Upinder Singh and Parul Pandya Dhar, has been published (OUP, 2015). Two other publications: Asian Aesthetic Theories and Art Forms (IGNCA) and Exploring the Epigraphic Sources (ASI) are in the press.
Asia is known for, or certainly had, its very distinctive educational systems and paradigms of learning. The Asia Project organised a seminar-cum-workshop in association with UNESCO, on the theme ‘Transmissions and Transformations: Learning through the Arts in Asia’, where participants from several Asian countries shared their experience and stressed the need for bringing into the curricula the knowledge systems which lie outside the formal structures. A publication with the same title was brought out (Primus Books, 2011).
The Asia Project has attempted to identify the commonalities at the level of bio-diversity. While the entire spectrum cannot be covered, a composite programme on the theme ‘The Culture of Indigo: Exploring the Asian Panorama: Aspects of Plant, Product and Power’ was organised in 2007. In this programme, comprising a seminar, exhibition and workshop, botanists, archaeologists, socio-political historians, those actively involved in the processing of natural dyes, textile specialists and craft activists came together from India and other parts of the world such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and France. The seminar discussed issues of the plant, its pervasiveness in Asia, methods of extraction and the political history of movements like the Champaran agitation, as also the emergence of synthetic indigo. A volume entitled Indigo in Asia: Plant, Product and Power has been published (Niyogi, 2014).
In 2012, the Asia Project conceived a programme which is of contemporary relevance to Asia as also the developed world. Asia has been the home of many diverse but inter-related systems of medicine. To have an in-depth discussion between specialists in different systems of medicine, such as Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Unani, Siddha, Naturopathy, Yoga, Tibetan and Acupuncture, an international seminar entitled ‘Mind and Body in Health and Harmony in Asian Systems of Medicine’ was organised in December 2012. The seminar brought together specialists from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, besides India. Professor Ranjit Roy Chaudhury, an eminent and senior member of the Centre, coordinated the seminar. The proceedings of this seminar are in the press.
A long period of probing how Chinese scholars view India has culminated in a major publication entitled Across the Himalayan Gap: A Chinese Quest for Understanding India (Konark, 2013). To get the articles in Chinese and translate them in English, with the editors functioning from three different countries, has been an arduous task and we are grateful to the editors of the volume, Professors Tan Chung, Zhang Minqiu and Ravni Thakur. This is the first book of its kind and is a companion volume to an earlier volume entitled Across the Himalayan Gap: An Indian Quest for Understanding China published by IGNCA.
The Asia Project collaborated with the Jawaharlal Nehru University in an international seminar on the theme ‘Reception of Arabian Nights in World Literature’ held in 2010. Arabian Nights is a classic not only in the annals of Arabic literature, but it is looked upon as a literary heritage of the world. Different civilisations have played a vital role in the genesis of Arabian Nights through the ages. By some accounts, the seeds of this narrative lay in India in the stories of the Panchatantra and particularly the Hitopadesa. The narrative spread all over Asia and also permeated Europe. A volume entitled Essays on the Arabian Nights, edited by Professors Rizwanur Rahman and Syed Akhtar Husain of the JNU, has been published (Primus, 2015).
Acutely aware of the crucial role of media as a means for deeper communication between the Asian countries, the Asia Project organized an Asian Media Conference—‘Asia: Speaking to Ourselves’ on October 29-31, 2013. The speakers pointed at the near absence of direct linkages resulting in the Asian media depending on processed news from one or more empowered countries. They stressed the need for establishing direct linkages as also facilitating easy travel of journalists. Shri Suhas Borker coordinated this seminar.
An international conference on ‘The Relevance of Traditional Cultures for the Present and the Future’ was held at the IIC from 24-26 March, 2014, in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. It was attended by delegates from China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Mauritius, Benin, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Mexico, Argentina, Greece, Russia, Germany, Hungary, UK, USA and India. The purpose of the conference was to bring together intellectuals from these countries who have reflected on the fundamental question whether, given their long civilisational histories, their rich and varied knowledge systems and cultural traditions, they still have a meaningful and significant role to play in the contemporary world and, more importantly, in the world of the future. The seminar was inaugurated by Hon’ble M. H. Ansari, Vice-President of India. The proceedings are in the press.
Raimundo Panikkar was an extraordinary person—a philosopher, a theologian and a scholar of comparative religions, who was in India for many years and taught at the universities in Europe and the USA. He explored the many dimensions of dialogue at the level of philosophical and religious discourse, and, more, reflected deeply on the present predicament of humankind. A seminar on ‘Remembering Raimundo Panikkar: A Pilgrim across Worlds’ was held on November 30-December 1, 2013, jointly with Instituto Cervantes and the Kapur Surya Foundation. A volume based on the papers presented at this seminar is in the press.
The Asia Project collaborated with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in a conference on ‘Shared Heritage’ as a New Variable in the Indo-Korean Relations: Historicizing the Legend of Princess of Ayodhya and its Legacy on 14-15 July 2015.
A seminar on Maritime Cultural Heritage of the Western Indian Ocean: Bridging the Gulf was organized by the Asia Project on July 28-29, 2015. The objectives of the seminar were: (1) to highlight the multi-layered meaning of the cultural heritage on the coasts; its context; and its continued relevance to communities; and (2) to shift the emphasis from understanding cultural heritage in its local context to discussing it across the waters of the Arabian Sea. Professor Himanshu Prabha Ray, Chairperson, Monuments Authority of India, coordinated this seminar
IIC-ICCR Senior Fellowship: In 2012, an IIC-ICCR senior fellowship programme was initiated. The first scholar selected for this scholar-in-residence programme was Professor Daryoosh Akbarzadeh, Director, National Museum of Iran. His research project was entitled ‘Encyclopedia of India on the Basis of Persian Texts’ (Pre-Islam, Sanskrit and Islamic). He has submitted a report (2012-2013). The second Senior Fellow selected was Professor Hariyadi Wirawan, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Department of International Relations, University of Indonesia, to work on ‘India-Indonesia Cooperation: The Future for Asia’s Two Tigers.’ Professor Wirawan did not, however, complete his project due to ill health.
Other programmes organized by the Asia Project: