More than 25 years ago, the Indian government decided to put together a National Policy of Culture in keeping with more than a hundred countries that had such policies. In fact, there was, at that time, a special division in Unesco which had already organised two world conferences on the matter. Here too a national colloquium on culture policy was organised in 1992 in Delhi in which nearly a hundred writers, artists, performers, intellectuals and experts debated a white paper, which, as the Joint Secretary of the Deptartment of Culture, I had prepared.
The move, however, evoked controversy and the main issue was that state could not set a policy for culture which is the business of society as distinct from the state. This issue completely ignored the fact that the National Culture Policy document tried to delineate a policy framework for the cultural institutions and activities such as the Archaeological Survey of India, the three national academies, the National Museum, the NGMA, the National Archives, the National Library, et al, which are publicly funded and are run largely either as adjuncts of the Indian government or as autonomous institutions such as the Lalit Kala Akademi, the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts and the Zonal Cultural Centres, among others.
Also, one key element of the National Culture Policy was that the government’s expenditure on culture must, over the years, rise to one per cent of the total budget of from a dismal 0.1 per cent.
The National Culture Policy went through a series of consultations, including by a Parliamentary Standing Committee but was nearly forgotten, if not given up, by 1997. Later attempts were made to revise, review and re-present it, but nothing much happened. In the meanwhile, a government is in place which has been very assiduously and relentlessly trying to cut down allocations to cultural organisations and giving them, if at all, only to those whose loyalty to its ideology it could be sure of.
All arts have been reduced to expensive public spectacles and a lot of public money is being wasted on them without them contributing anything to the enhancement of culture, its dynamic creativity or adding to the broader public awareness of culture.
Increasingly, for instance, the three national akademies have reached the brink of utter irrelevance and have almost no truck or dialogue with excellence.
It is in this context that we have to locate the availability of public resources for culture. They are evidently dwindling and, in any case, the State is well set on withdrawing substantially like in the education and other welfare sectors. One of the more dependable sources could have been the corporate sector whose presence on the map of support for culture is rather minimal and quite disappointing.
A recent survey of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives shows that quite haltingly the mandated CSR has moved in the sector of culture. There too it is presumably spending no more than maybe two percent of its expenditure on culture. The areas which attract the bulk are health, education and environment. Many major firms have already set up trusts or similar “cultural” organisations and they spend whatever little they do on culture through them.
In most advanced countries culture is considered rightly a civic need and activity and civic agencies such as municipal committees and corporations spend on museums, auditoriums and the like. In this area, the performance of these civic bodies in terms of support for culture is abysmally low and marginal. Sadly and most unfortunately, the State, the civic bodies and the corporate sectors are comrades-in-arm in undermining and neglecting culture.
If in this highly deprived and despairing scenario there is a vibrant cultural climate in the country it is largely due to personal interest, commitment and initiatives of the creative community. Private art galleries, publishers, theatre groups, small non-commercial journals, literary organisations, music circles and sabhas, dancing groups, etc., have kept alive the rich, complex, celebrative but equally interrogative cultural creativity and imagination, investing them with energy and courage, commitment and hard work.
There are some either private or corporate initiatives such as the ITC Sangeet Research Academy Kolkata, the Darpana and Kadamb Ahmedabad, the Raza Foundation, the Cholamandal Artists Group, the Mahagami Aurangabad, etc., which have been supporting various aspects of culture. Sadly they are not many and, in any case, far short of the vast needs of a great civilisation.
(In this concluding article in our Shifting Sands of Culture, Ashok Vajpeyi reflects on the role that state plays, or should play, in promoting cultural activities and institutions. Vajpeyi is a well-known writer in Hindi, and has published over 23 books of poetry, criticism and art. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1994 for his poetry collection, “Kahin Nahin Wahin”)