Revisiting India’s reservoir of knowledge traditions: The creative sector seen as as an organic agency for human development and sustainability

Sharada Ramanathan, The Hindu, June 5, 2012

India must pay more attention to its creative industries not just for the profits they generate but as enablers of sustainable human development

The Copyright Act (Amendment) Bill, 2012 passed recently by Parliament, is a landmark beginning for the Indian creative sector. In an era that is overwhelmed by global commercial interests for short-term gains, the collective consciousness of a mighty heritage, perhaps involuntarily, heard the voice of the individual artist who has been central to the ethos of its civilization. The very fact that this Amendment got passed reflects a larger need to focus on the creative sector not merely as a tool for profitability but as an organic agency for human development and sustainability.

The General Conference of the UNESCO, recognising the role of soft power in human development as early as its fourteenth session in 1966, proclaimed in Article I that: 1. Each culture has a dignity and value which must be respected and preserved; 2. Every people has the right and the duty to develop its culture; 3. In their rich variety and diversity, and in the reciprocal influences they exert on one another, all cultures form part of the common heritage belonging to all mankind. […]

The Indian arts and cultural sector has the inherent capacity to create the desirable models of development. Indian crafts alone can potentially employ about 25 per cent of India’s population. For example, the north-eastern hilly state of Manipur is being industrialised at a heavy cost due to its topography. The crafts sector could be revitalised as a nerve centre of Manipur’s development as its soil is congenial to growing bamboo, and since it has traditionally produced master craftsmen of bamboo products. While this rehabilitation is integral to peace and development in the State, it equally calls for radical transformation in governance. […]

The power of cultural and creative expressions has been skilfully hijacked and exploited by commercial superpowers to sell themselves successfully. […]

Within the globalisation agenda itself, the Creative Industries bring back to the table, the natural human urge to explore one’s own creativity. This is perhaps becoming less possible in other sectors, which are far more institutionalised and corporatised than the creative industry sector.

But this trend has also created a new hierarchy where the dominant commercial forces appropriate and exploit human creativity, exploit intellectual property of the less advantaged and generate a business sector that excludes the very sources of its business. Yoga, ayurveda and ancient philosophical, spiritual and knowledge traditions are some of the biggest commercial money-spinners in the western world, which even claims patent rights over some of these traditions.

At the other end of the spectrum, creative models have emerged in India, seeking to synergise lifestyle, the environment and the aesthetic. Islands of excellence, small-scale entrepreneurial enterprises, and performing arts movements, such as DakshinaChitra, Dastkar, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the Prakriti Foundation and Rupayan Sansthan have mushroomed around the country to nurture traditional arts and crafts while enabling their innovation, livelihoods, business and trade in these sectors. […]

India is crying itself hoarse for the state to veer away from the ugliest twin-manifestations of its corporatisation agenda — corruption and environmental destruction — and to waste no time in engaging with the Indian creative industries sector, in a trailblazing long-term sustainable way. […]

For example, although there are potentially 50 million people who are employable in the Indian crafts sector, a fast-diminishing number of less than 25 million people are sub-optimally employed, and Indian crafts constitute only two per cent of the world trade. This sector suffers from underemployment, a lack of organisation, and is preyed upon by a few big players with short-term market targets that eclipse long-term sustenance. Therefore, institutions like the Crafts Council of India and the Zonal Cultural Centres have their work cut out. […]

Recognition of the individual artist by these institutions churned out artistic excellence and set standards in India’s sustainable soft power sectors. India also needs to revisit its cultural history with renewed imagination to rediscover its reservoir of knowledge traditions. And the artist and artist-driven cultural movements must be central to chartering these new pathways not for tourists or for travellers but for seekers.

(Sharada Ramanathan is Director, Golden Square Films Pvt. Ltd. and Magnus Media, Chennai.)

Source: The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Taking a hard look at soft power
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