Welcome remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF during the interaction on Cultural Rights by Prof. Alexandra Xanthaki, UN Special Rapporteur , Thursday, 14 July 2022

Dear Friends,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome Prof. Alexandra Xanthaki, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights. She took over this appointment in Oct 2021.

An expert on Human Rights, she has worked closely with several UN mandates and has advised several states on human rights issues. She is also a founder of the Athens Refugee Project, which has won several awards.

She is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies London and a member of the Summer Human Right Faculty at Oxford.

Friends,

It was on 26 Mar 2009, the Human Rights Council, adopted his resolution to establish a special procedure entitled “independent expert in the field of cultural rights”. In Mar 2012, the mandate was upgraded as “Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights”. The mandate hasbeen extended subsequently to various resolution of the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur reports annually the Human Right Council as well as the General Assembly. Therein lies its importance.

The issues addressed by the mandate, include inter alia, promotion and protection of cultural rights at local, national, regional and international level as well as identifying obstacle in the path of promotion and protection of cultural rights. Special Rapporteur works closely with states on these issues.

Friends,

India is an ancient civilisation stretching back to at least five millennia. Home to tremendous linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity, culture plays an extremely important role in Indian social, economic and political milieu. Despite its unparalleled diversity, under Article 51A, it is the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of India’s composite culture. Culture acts as the unifying force. Article 29 in the Indian constitution provides any section of the citizen having distinct language, script or culture of its own right own to conserve the same.

The concept of human rights is generally attributed to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948. However, it may be pointed out, this concept is not new in India. The Mahabharata, written some 5000 years ago, discusses the idea of civil liberty of a person in the state. The various Dharma Shastras provide for a system of justice to enforce the dharma. The ancient philosophy of Dharma or Dhamma talked about rights, duties and freedoms of individuals, community and the rulers.
As regards the place of women in society, it was said that “where women are worshiped there lives the Gods”. Several Indian deities are women. They are worshipped by millions every day.

The spirit of Indian culture is embodied in the Upanishadic verse Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina that may everybody happy. Yogakshema or the welfare of people is the primary duty of the rulers. The republics of ancient India 2500 year ago practiced democracy, consultation and elections of their rulers. The Indians believed in the methodology of Samvad that is discussion, dialogue and debate to further the ideas.

Indian thinking is encapsulated in the Sanskrit aphorism Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam or the ‘World is a family’. This principle has been articulated by Prime Minister Modi at various fora. The Vedic hymns are prayers for ‘peace’ and the ‘welfare’ of all. In Indian thinking, every living and non-living being is divine. It is, therefore, not a surprise that in India nature is worshiped as God. Such thinking is essential for peace and harmony in the world today.

Over the millennia India has produced numerous philosophers, thinkers and statesmen whose message, rooted in ancient Indian thinking, was universal and that of tolerance, and coexistence. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, addressed to the ‘Brother and Sisters’ of America, spoken at the first Parliament of World Religion in 1893 in Chicago,

“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugee of all religions and all nations of the world”.

He went on to point out the crux of Indian thinking, whichis shared by millions:

“As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee”.

Friends,

We are grateful to Prof Xanthaki for accepting our invitation to talk to us about Cultural Rights. Today, we have the opportunity to listen to her about her mandate. We hope that this interaction will enhance the mutual understanding.

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