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The Diplomacy Of Language

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By Anshul Kumar Pandey: 

While the more broad minded and vernacular oriented people in India whose preferred domestic language happens not to be Hindi might take offense, the fact is that encouraging the usage of Hindi in other nations has long been on the agenda of India’s foreign policy. With its ideal of projecting its soft power of culture, customs and the way of life, India’s foreign policy places an unusual amount of importance on encouraging the usage of Hindi in other nations.

Raj Kapoor with the students of the Moscow College of Circus and Variety Arts, Moscow, 1967. Source: Itar-Tass

India is not alone in this move. In fact, encouraging the usage of their respective vernaculars in foreign countries has for long been on the to-do lists of nations with a strong vernacular culture. The westerners did not need it, as the necessity of the same was fulfilled by the forceful colonization and subjugation of countries across the globe. In India, to be particular, the famous minute of Lord MaCaulay heralded the arrival of English as the sole medium of imparting education and consequently, as the de facto official language for the rest of her life under the British. However, for the nations which did not have the luxury of expansionist programs or large swathes of colonies under their rule, the process of language diplomacy started only after the process of decolonization had been accomplished to a significant degree in the latter part of the twentieth century.

A Cold War Equation

Nehruvian vision and a particular tilt towards Russia in the cold war and non aligned years ensured that Russian Universities were the first to take up the teaching of Hindi as an optional language. The banning of Hollywood films in the cold war era resulted in Soviet Russia turning to Bollywood films for their entertainment, a phenomenon which made actor Raj Kapoor an instant celebrity in that country. The warm response to such films provided both the countries with an opportunity to further their people to people ties, as a means of furthering their national interest, making the exchange of their respective vernacular languages inevitable.

Indian governments which succeeded Nehru were quick to realize the pragmatism of “exporting” domestic culture to other countries as well as familiarizing themselves with the culture of their counterparts. Jawaharlal Nehru University (which was established in 1969) was one of the first universities to take up the task of dissemination of foreign languages in the country. Following the grand success of festival of India in Soviet Russia in 1988, the Indian Embassy in Moscow embarked on an aggressive program of showcasing the country’s culture through the Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre which was established in 1989.

Apart from Nehru’s experiments of cultural ideas in the laboratory of International relations, India’s reluctance to engage in any kind of third party military adventurism has over the years, strengthened the case for its projection of soft power. In this larger scheme of things, language, undoubtedly, plays the largest role.

In a Globalized World

While a more muscular Cold War age may not have been particularly receptive to such ideas, choosing instead to gain allies with the show off of its arsenal, the case is certainly not so in a globalized and inter connected post cold war era. The immediate agenda now is to shift the study of their respective languages from the drowsy seminar rooms of a few odd universities in a friendly country to a larger audience in the primary and secondary schools with a long term view of creating a fertile field for realizing their goals and interests in foreign relations.

In June this year, China decided to introduce Hindi in South China by setting up a Hindi chair in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou. Several schools and universities in other parts of China are already teaching Hindi as an optional language. This month, India decided to reciprocate this gesture by announcing that Mandarin would be introduced in over a hundred schools as an optional language.

While Sino-Indian reciprocity can be seen in the light of two nations trying to shake off the shackles of their past scarred by a bitter war in 1962, other nations which are warming up to the idea of introducing foreign languages in their school and university curriculum, see it as a result of the fast paced growth of Asia.

Last Monday, Australian Prime Minister Ms. Julia Gillard introduced a white paper on the “Asian Century” which included, among other proposals, a proposal to introduce Hindi, Bhasa Indonesia, Japanese and Mandarin in the country’s primary and secondary schools, with the primary focus being on Hindi. Aimed at maximizing the links with the fast growing economies of Asia, the proposal has already been lauded by various sections of the Australian civil and political society.

A Policy of Necessity

Although the diplomacy of language remains the central scheme of things in India’s soft power, so dear to its foreign policy, it can also not be denied that this is a policy that India badly needs in order to create more jobs for its young population in order to realize the maximum potential of its demographic dividend. India is expected to surpass China in population terms by 2025 with the majority of its population being in the working age category. In order to provide employment to such a large proportion of population, India cannot depend entirely on the public sector. New and unconventional avenues will have to be explored which is only possible if the youth of the country are equipped with the right set of employable skills.

A continuing familiarization with the languages of different countries can not only boost India’s tourism industry and provide it with more translators, interpreters and teachers, but it can also help in adding more value to the already strong Diaspora of Indians which exists abroad.

It is in India’s interest to continue to experiment and explore new avenues in addition to its diplomacy of language, that can not only further its interests abroad, but can also prove beneficial in domestic terms in the long run.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Anshul Kumar Pandey is studying Political Science in University of Delhi. He blogs at http://anshulkumarpandey.blogspot.com. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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