Charter of the INTERNATIONAL FORUM FOR INDIA’S HERITAGE (IFIH)

1. It is the birthright of every Indian man, woman and child to have full access to and imbibe India’s cultural heritage in complete freedom.

 

2. Making humankind truly human is the foremost function of any genuine culture, and this has been a central preoccupation of India’s heritage. The roots of Indian civilization include certain timeless and universal values without which a human being is incomplete or limited. Among those values are:

 
 

Universality and Oneness: “The whole world is one family” (vasudhaiva kutumbakam) sums up the Indian spirit according to which “humanity is one” (ekaiva manushi jatih) without divisions of colour, religion, belief, sex or social origin. The whole creation is seen as profoundly interconnected.

 

Man’s Divine Potential: Because the whole creation is seen as divine, because the Infinite is present in the finite, every human being has in him or her a divine potentiality, and the purpose of human life is to work out that potentiality to its fullest.

 

Pluralism and Synthesis: There is no single approach to the Truth, no single path to human fulfilment. Any sincere approach is valid so long as it leads to a growth of consciousness, does not seek to impose itself on anyone by any means, and does not claim to be the sole path to the Truth. Starting from the Vedic vision that “The Existent is one, but sages call it by various names,” the ancient heritage of India has promoted assimilation and ever-wider synthesis.

 

3. The above values are part of what India has called dharma, a term which cannot be reduced to a few tenets or dogmas, and cannot be the exclusive property of any clergy or sect. Dharma therefore cannot be regarded as religion, but is a law of growth and evolution of our inner being and power until they rule the whole of life.

 

4. Since Independence, the Western notion of “secularism” has been promoted in Indian life and in education in particular. But instead of developing a vast comprehensiveness in conformity with India’s spiritual genius, the term has come to promote materialism, cultural nihilism, protection of exclusivism, and consequently marginalization and alienation of Indian heritage. Secularism in the West was born as a reaction against dogmatic religions and their hold on political power; though a great step forward in Western history, it has no relevance in the Indian context, where the native concept, largely practised in ancient India, is freedom of belief and religion and equal treatment by the State of different sects or religions. However, the State also has a duty to ensure that any religion practised in India respects the country’s pluralistic ethos.

 

5. The great need of reform and progress of Indian society is acknowledged, but no solution will be durable if it is not in sympathy with the foundations of Indian culture. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “The spirit and ideals of India had come to be confined in a mould which, however beautiful, was too narrow and slender to bear the mighty burden of our future.... Break the mould that the soul may live.” To keep the soul of India alive is the key to all long-lasting reform.

 

6. India's centuries-old influence over other civilizations and cultures — including modern, materialistic Western civilization — has been considerable. It is but natural that an Indian child should know something of the heritage native to his or her land, especially as countless great Indians have declared it to be at the core of India’s genius. No one, therefore, has a right to deny Indian children a basic knowledge of it. As many great Indians such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and others have stressed (some of their thoughts are quoted in Appendix), education in India must seek to include timeless values such as those outlined above, which have to do not with religion, but with culture in the true sense of the term, and belong more to the future than to the past. No excuse of misconceived “secularism” can be allowed to deprive Indian children of access to such values, which have lost none of their power to fashion a better human being and build national character. Excellence in education must go hand in hand with a well-designed teaching of the living elements of Indian culture, which whenever possible should be integrated in the regular subjects rather than taught separately.

 

7. Central to Indian heritage is the spirit of inquiry, which the present system of education has failed to stimulate in Indian children. One effective remedy is to introduce in education some roots of Indian heritage born on the subcontinent, such as:

 
 
 

science of Yoga (theory and practice, experimentation and verification);

 

 

 

stories and ethical teachings from ancient Indian texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata, from Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and from Indian tribal traditions;

 

 

 

emphasis on works like the Bhagavad Gita for their great ethical value;

 

 

 

Indian classics from Kalidasa and other authors;

 

 

 

Tamil epics (especially the Shilappadikaram), classics like the Kural, and some Sangam poetry; elements from early regional literatures;

 

 

 

collections of stories of educational value (such as the Panchatantra), including folk stories from various regions of India;

 

 

 

introduction to the world-view and chief discoveries of ancient Indian science (mathematics, astronomy, etc.), technology and medicine;

 

 

 

Indian art (dance, music, painting, architecture, folk art etc.) with emphasis on the practical aspects of Indian aesthetics.

 

8. As early as 1956, the Sanskrit Commission, calling Sanskrit “the bedrock of Indian speech and literature and the artistic and cultural heritage of the country,” complained that “no positive steps had been taken for helping Sanskrit [… and] Sanskrit has not been allowed to enjoy even the status and facilities it had under the British Raj.” So too the Supreme Court in a 1994 judgement rightly stressed the “importance of Sanskrit for nurturing our cultural heritage.” Yet little has been done to give Sanskrit its due place in education and in national life. Its spread must be encouraged, at least in a simplified form, not only as part of regular studies but through numerous cultural events. Classical Tamil too deserves more encouragement than it has received.

 

9. Archaeology and preservation of monuments, including temples and pilgrimage sites, of traditional crafts and techniques, have also not received adequate attention and development in post-Independence India. A better understanding of India’s past is needed to build her future on a sound foundation, and central elements of her past civilization must be studied and preserved as part of India’s and the world’s heritage. Visits to such heritage sites should be part of regular studies from school level upward.

 

10. India’s natural environment has suffered much in recent decades and its degradation is approaching a point of irreversibility. Although many are trying to limit or reverse the damage, a harmonious material growth will prove sustainable only if it integrates India’s ancient attitude to Nature, viewing it not as a dead mass of “natural resources” to be plundered, but an aspect of our common Mother whose gifts are to be shared. India’s traditional knowledge systems as regards conservation and use of biodiversity, health and medicine, and a humane treatment of animals, also require urgent attention so their neglected potential may be tapped.

 

11. Indian heritage, with its emphasis on universality, is part of world heritage and must be preserved not only for India but for all humanity. In particular, people of Indian origin living abroad should be encouraged to nurture it and transmit it to their children.

 

12. This International Forum for India’s Heritage shall remain strictly apolitical, non-religious, and free from all ideological allegiance. It is open to all individuals or organizations, in India or abroad, that adhere to the above eleven points, understand their importance, and will support efforts to have them spread, accepted and implemented. The Forum shall function by consensus on the basis of the Charter; in case of disagreement as to the practical methods to follow, the final decision will be left to the consensus of the core group of founder members.

 

November 2001

See also the Appendix to IFIH’s Charter:

 
       
 
 
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