Temporary thaw? Indian culture body ‘arranged travel for authors’ to Karachi lit fest

New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS) At a time when the diplomatic dialogue between India and Pakistan has come to a virtual standstill, a sign of a temporary thaw in the cultural space is visible as Indian governments flagship culture body sponsored the travel of four Indian authors to the Karachi Literature Festival that concluded on Sunday.

Founder and Director of the Karachi lit fest, Ameena Saiyid, is seemingly overwhelmed by ICCR’s support and has said that she regards it as a “friendly and progressive initiative” by India’s flagship culture body.

“I regard it as a friendly and progressive initiative by ICCR and appreciate their support for literary and cultural events. It is precisely because there are some differences between our two countries that such festivals and support of them are necessary.

“I think such people-to-people contacts are of great importance in promoting peace and harmony between India and Pakistan. This is one of the objectives of the Karachi Literature Festival of which I am the founder and director,” Saiyid told IANS in an email from Islamabad.

This development is particularly crucial as it comes at a time when India has undertaken a diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan internationally but on the other hand, Indian Council for Cultural Relations’ (ICCR), which promotes the country’s relations with the external world by executing the foreign ministry’s projects abroad, supported the travel of Indian authors to Karachi Literature Festival.

Primary reports suggested that ICCR was one of the sponsors of the lit fest in Pakistan as the official website of the lit fest lists the culture body in its sponsors page. However, ICCR director general has said that they only sponsored the travel of four Indian authors to the festival.

“We did not sponsor the event. We only sponsored the travel of four Indian authors to the festival. The total amount was less than Rs 1.6 lakh. What happens is that a lot of authors reach out to us for travel assistance during such festivals and we support them. The decision was made in 2016 itself,” ICCR director general Amarendra Khatua told IANS.

Khatua further said that this is in no way responsive of the government’s changing foreign policy as far as Pakistan is concerned.

“We are a small body with an aim to promote Indian culture. We do not take decisions with regards to foreign policy. We try and promote Indian culture,” added Khatua.

Ameena Saiyid also confirmed that ICCR “supported the Karachi Literature Festival in a small way by sponsoring the visit to Karachi of four Indian literary personalities.”

The Karachi Literature Festival has become one of the major cultural events in Pakistan and serves as a melting pot of literature with participants from various countries. Since its inception in 2010, the literary event has grown by leaps and bounds and has served as a platform for discussions, debates, poetry readings and book launches.

Following the Uri attack last year, India had boycotted the SAARC summit in Islamabad, which ultimately led to its postponement as several other members walked out. There was also an “unofficial ban” on Pakistani artists called by Shiv Sena and other extreme-Right groups. Pakistan too had banned Indian films briefly, which has now been lifted.

Although Indian authors appear at the lit fest almost every year, it is for the first time that ICCR has sponsored the travel of Indian authors to Pakistan.

Pakistani author Reema Abbasi also expressed hope at the recent developments.

“I see it as a step in the direction we all want for this region — freedom in the arena of arts and culture and for people to people contact. There was a considerable number of recognised writers from India at the Karachi Literature Festival and there was no dearth of enthusiastic audiences for them.

“Hopefully, at all levels, it is perhaps a sign of new beginnings and positive dialogues in 2017,” Abbasi told IANS in an email.

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) was founded in 1950 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, independent India’s first Education Minister.

Its objectives are to actively participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes pertaining to India’s external cultural relations; to foster and strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries; to promote cultural exchanges with other countries and people; and to develop relations with nations.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)

–IANS

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