On November 19 and 20, Jamia Millia Islamia celebrated a two-day Korean Cultural Festival. This was the second year in a row that such a festival was organized by the students of the Certificate course in Korean language of the University, even though last year the festival was only a one-day event.
The celebrations included a photography exhibition showcasing the beautiful landscapes of South Korea and a dramatized version of a traditional folk romantic love story. However, to give the festival a feel of the contemporary, K-pop songs and K-pop dances were also included.
In September this year, the K-pop sensation BTS addressed the United Nations, marking a huge watershed moment for the Korean music in particular, and new-age pop music in general. For a lot of Jamia students, the festival was a part of this larger fandom of K-pop which has swept the world in the last decade, especially popularised by social media sites like YouTube and Facebook.
While some die-hard K-pop fans expressed dismay at what they termed as misappropriation of K-pop, the festival was largely received with a considerable student presence in the events.
Even though the South Korean government has had a significant role to play in the popularisation of K-pop worldwide, it was only after the Korean Wave had gained significant momentum in different regions of the world that the Korean Cultural Centers and the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs started to organize K-pop events with the help of their consulates in different countries, and also by inviting overseas fans to attend the annual K-pop World Festival in South Korea.
The event in Jamia, however, did not have much, or anything at all, to do with all this.
In August 2017, Jamia Millia Islamia introduced a Certificate course in Korean language with a batch of 30 students, for which it received around 400 applications. At the same time, the course was also made available as a CBCS paper for students pursuing professional courses in Engineering and Management.
Jamia Millia already has a Certificate course in Turkish language, for which it started a Bachelor’s course as well a few years ago.
Like courses in Turkish language, the Certificate course in Korean does not have much to do with the Korean language itself. It is a part of the larger efforts of the two nation states to forge a closer relationship. India initiated the Look East Policy as back in time as 1991. However, the BJP-led government in 2014 revived the policy naming it Act East Policy. As part of the efforts to have closer economic and security ties with Southeast Asian nations, India’s relationship with South Korea has been more significant.
The language course, thus, is a simple market-oriented strategy at one end. If Korean companies are to set up their shops in India, a workforce well acquainted with the Korean language is needed to make the business easier. However, at the same time, similar moves significantly help nations gain soft power throughout the world. This soft power becomes more important at a time when nations like India and South Korea are trying to counter the hard power of China and North Korea. The Indian and South Korean governments have thus consciously been trying to increase their soft power foothold around the world.
In such a scenario, this is the spot where a language course and a festival meets International Relations and Economics.