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The Language Friendship Bridge

  • 11 Apr 2023
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: The Language Friendship Bridge, ICCR, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, shared cultural heritage.

For Mains: Challenges and opportunities in implementing The Language Friendship Bridge Project.

Why in News?

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has envisaged a project called ‘The Language Friendship Bridge’, which aims to expand cultural footprint in neighborhoods with whom India has historical ties.

  • The project aims to enable India to translate its epics and classics, as well as contemporary literature, into these languages so that people in both countries can read them.

What is the Project about?

  • About:
    • The Project will create a pool of experts in languages spoken in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Indonesia to facilitate better people-to-people exchanges.
    • It will train five to 10 people in the official languages of each of these countries.
      • As of now, the ICCR has zeroed in on 10 languages: Kazakh, Uzbek, Bhutanese, Ghoti (spoken in Tibet), Burmese, Khmer (spoken in Cambodia), Thai, Sinhalese and Bahasa (spoken in both Indonesia and Malaysia).
    • Though a number of universities and institutes offer courses in these languages, only a handful teach any of the 10 languages on the ICCR list.
      • Sinhala, for example, is taught at the Banaras Hindu University and the School of Foreign Languages (SFL) under the Ministry of Defence.
  • Significance:
    • The project is significant for India's foreign policy and cultural diplomacy, as it will help deepen India's cultural and economic relations with these countries.
    • By training language experts in the official languages of these countries, India will be able to communicate more effectively and build stronger cultural and economic ties with its neighbors.
    • It is also particularly important in the current geopolitical context, as India is looking to strengthen its relations with its neighboring countries to counter China's growing influence in the region.
    • By promoting cultural exchanges, India can build stronger people-to-people relations with these countries, which can help to counter the negative impact of Chinese economic and strategic initiatives in the region.

What is ICCR?

  • The ICCR is an autonomous organisation of the Government of India under the Ministry of External Affairs.
  • It promotes cultural diplomacy through cultural exchange with other countries.
  • It was founded in 1950 by India's first Education Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
  • ICCR has been assigned the responsibility of facilitating the celebration of the International Day of Yoga by Indian Missions/Posts abroad since 2015.
  • ICCR has instituted several awards, including the Distinguished Indologist Award, World Sanskrit Award, Distinguished Alumni Award, and Gisela Bonn Award, which are conferred upon foreign nationals for their contributions in different fields.

What are the Challenges?

  • One of the major challenges is the lack of infrastructure and trained teachers in India to teach these languages. The project will require significant investment in setting up language centers and training teachers to teach these languages effectively.
  • Additionally, the project will require significant resources to provide scholarships to Indian students to study these languages in the countries where they are spoken.
  • Moreover, the project also faces the challenge of expanding the current list of languages, as there are several neighboring countries where India has significant cultural and economic ties, and whose languages are not currently included in the project.

Way Forward

  • While the project faces several challenges, it also presents an opportunity for India to deepen its cultural and economic ties with its neighbors and counter China's growing influence in the region.
  • Experts believe that the ICCR's list of languages needs to be expanded, as India sees a boom in cultural and economic ties with other neighboring countries as well.
  • For example, with the rise of medical tourism, there is a need for a pool of translators and interpreters to facilitate the visits of people from countries like Turkey, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Maldives.
    • JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) will soon be starting a course in Pashto to address this need.

Source: TH

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