Kautilya Society for Intercultural Dialogue

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Template:Infobox non-profit

Kautilya Society is an Indian Non-governmental organization[1] with an internationally open membership and worldwide operation.[2]

KS was originally founded in Varanasi - India, in 1994, by a group of students and scholars of Indian philosophy to promote Indian studies and interfaith dialogue.[3] From a mainly academic concern, gradually the Society expanded its scope to include social action and media production.[4] KS promotes partnership between people using electronic media platforms for knowledge exchange and manages a study centre cum residency in Varanasi for direct personal interactions.[5]

Kautilya Society Mission and Values

File:Vrinda Dar = Development and conservation.webm In the 1980s, the group, that later created the Society, was composed of scholars that had come to learn and experience in Varanasi, the traditional hub of Indian studies. Initially, it was a group for reciprocal assistance in addressing the challenges of the city (both intellectual and organisational); later on, it became a network amongst those who had gone through "the Banaras" experience.

The first concrete actions of the newly created association was the publication of a book on Indian philosophy[6] and the preparation of a documentary film for the Indian television (Doordarshan).[7]

In 2000, the KS started the "hospitality project", i.e. the utilisation of a building in the Varanasi historical city centre as a meeting ground, study centre and residence. The Kautilya Society centre was neither a hotel, where individuals are isolated and the environment is commercial, nor an ashram, where there is a uniform ideology and a "guru" centred hierarchy, but something in between, with some discipline and some autonomy, some community sentiment and essentially a respect for diversity and reciprocal privacy.[8]

File:Vrinda Dar - Different models of development and how we can learn from others.webm Later on, the Kautilya Society became an NGO acting as an "umbrella institution" under which members can undertake different projects in coherence with the organisational bye laws, each managed autonomously, all coordinated within the "Kautilya programme", with the overall objective of promoting dialogue amongst civilisations and traditions.

At the Varanasi centre, KS members independently carry out their studies, travels and social projects; however all Society members are invited to create occasions for peer-to-peer learning and for dissemination of the knowledge created through dialogue. The frequency and the intensity of such occasions depends on the generosity and brightness of the members who reside in the logistic hub at Varanasi or contribute to the community spaces in the Internet.[9]

The Name "Kautilya"

Chanakya artistic depiction.jpg

Kautilya is the name of a historical figure from the 4th century B.C. (also called "Chanakya", i.e. "the Cunning") and the author of the w:Arthashastra.[10] However it was not the historical figure but the myth around him, that inspired the founders of the Society. The myth narrates that Kautilya was a Brahmin who rebuked a king, declaring in a public assembly that he was behaving without intelligence for the state and without ethical responsibility for the people. The king publicly offended Kautilya as a "talkative impotent" claiming that what gives real political power is the concrete force of the warriors and not the abstract intellectuality of the Brahmins. Kautilya challenged the king and claimed, in the public assembly, that he would have proved that intelligence and discipline are the source of all forms of power. He is generally represented with a long braid because he is believed to have promised not to cut his "choti" (braid) until he removed the king from the throne and put the crown on someone not born in the Kshatriya (warriors) caste, but was ready to learn from Kautilya the art of governance. If Kautilya was really, as is commonly believed in India, the guru of w:Chandragupta Maurya he really did it! And he overthrew the king to reinstate one whom he had taught the art of governance! The founders of the Kautilya Society liked the myth and the idea of knowledge as the real "empowering factor": they wanted a name that referred to the classic culture of India without using the smoky connotations of asceticism and transcendentalism.

Kautilya Society Activities

The Kautilya Society members value traditions but contrast bigotry and ethnocentrism (including the modern Western biases). They value difference and therefore do not accept any form of denigration of the others. They contrast all forms of oppression on other persons, especially when motivated by the desire to disempower certain groups or categories. In all activities, the KS requires that women are respected and empowered at all levels, be they members, guests, employees or friends; and that in all external communication, women rights are promoted and violence against women is contrasted.

In all dialogues and research, KS requires that the authority of opinions is based on the degree to which it is freely accepted by the counterparts and that it leads to reciprocal understanding. We contrast any sort of absolutism and any attempt to undermine the credibility of others.

Promoting Intercultural Dialogue

File:Pietro Cocco - Perché cercare il dialogo a Benares-YouTube sharing.webmsd.webm In the study centre of Ram Bhawan in Varanasi, the Society animates occasions of personal and group interaction, seminars and cultural events; it maintains a library and a support cell for those who want to learn more about Varanasi culture and for newsmakers who want to cover events in India. On the terrace of Ram Bhawan, the KS hosts Filocafè, a space to study, read, network, converse, that has become popular among the younger generations of Varanasi that want to gather in a more international and multicultural context. [11] So, communication now moves through both channels, towards foreigners that want to better understand local India and towards local Indians that want to have a more global horizon of thought.

Promoting Responsible Tourism

The Ghats along the Ganges in Varanasi

Responsible Tourism is tourism that uses, in a responsible manner, the social and environmental assets that travellers are interested in visiting. This kind of tourism minimises negative economic, environmental and social impacts, generates greater economic benefits for local people, enhances the well being of host communities, involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods, and makes positive contributions to the conservation of the local natural and cultural heritage.[12]

Religious tourism in Varanasi has given to the city, for centuries, enormous economic benefits while maintaining the development of spiritual, philosophical and artistic knowledge. Temples, royal palaces, and ashrams have been the focal points for such tourism.[13]

File:Vrinda Dar - The case of Darbhanga palace is an epitome of irresponsible and unsustainable tourist development.webm

Foreign tourism, interested in observing such traditions, was begun by the British and developed outside the cultural and religious centres of towns, usually in the cantonment areas. These have contributed to increasing the wealth of the area and to the success of large chains of hotels like the Clarks, Taj, etc. However, utilising these models to unsettle existing patterns of hospitality and tourism, especially in the old city area, is dangerous for the tourism industry itself.

File:Vrinda Dar - Destroying the ancientness of Varanasi is in fact destroying its potentiality for development.webm KS advocates responsible tourism and opposes the construction of large hotels in the Varanasi heritage zone. "Large chains of hotels usually bring their own personnel, managers, shops, etc. and employ the local labour only as their lower staff. They don’t use the local boatmen, local shops, Brahmins, masseurs, etc. and their luxury tourists don’t venture out to see the tiny and congested alley ways which are the beauty of an old town like Varanasi. This not only has a negative economic impact on the local people but also contributes to killing local jobs and sustained employment patterns: it burdens the carrying capacity of the local infrastructure, traffic, water and electricity usage, pollutes the already congested areas with CFCs from air conditioners and poisonous fumes and noise from generators. Ashrams, maths and small guest houses are undoubtedly much more integrated and in harmony with the existing social, religious and cultural dynamics of the town, the riverfront Ghats and the river Ganges. Tourism development should be managed in such a way that it has a positive impact on the human and physical environment. The construction of tourism infrastructures must not be dictated by large economic interests but must follow de-centralised patterns. This is also what Mahatma Gandhi advocated in his philosophy of khadi and swadeshi: an economic model that preserves local identities."[14]

Protecting the Varanasi Heritage

Hindu culture, have attributed supreme importance to the preservation of tradition

Classical civilizations, and especially the Indian one, have attributed supreme importance to the preservation of tradition. Its central idea was that social institutions, scientific knowledge and technological applications need to use "heritage" as a "resource". Using contemporary language, we would say that ancient Indians considered, as social resources, both economic assets (like natural resources and their exploitation structure) and factors promoting social integration (like institutions for preserving knowledge and maintaining civil order). Ethics considered that what had been inherited should not be consumed, but should be handed over, possibly enriched, to successive generations. This was a moral imperative for all, except in the final life stage of sannyasa

The KS members strongly feel, like many other citizens of the world, that India has a responsibility towards the world and towards herself to develop in harmony with her spiritual and cultural identity. w:Varanasi is a universal heritage city and not just for urban Indian or foreign tourists.[15] Its architectural heritage is the frame of a natural Sun Temple, that rises on the banks of Ganges in the form of an amphitheater, where the Ghats form the platforms, the water the altar and the sun is the epiphany of God. In Varanasi, the river Ganges, that normally flows eastward, takes a sudden turn towards the North; where the sun rises perpendicularly to the river creating, at dawn, a burning line of refracting light that cuts across the river and allows the bathing devotee to pour the Ganges waters directly into the "yoni" of light. To betray Varanasi and allow its environmental and social decadence or unsustained commercial exploitation of its unique heritage would be a betrayal to Indian tradition and to the patrimony of future generations.[16][17]

In 2002, the KS prepared a dossier, commissioned by the Varanasi Development Authority, for proposing the enlistment of the Varanasi riverfront Ghats in the list World Heritage sites of UNESCO.,[18][19][20]

The Indian Government could not forward this proposal to UNESCO because legislations, policies and plans would first need to put in place to protect the site and must be implemented locally. It is not enough that the Varanasi Development Authority declared it a "heritage zone";[21] nor that the UP Government had issued an order (no. 320/9-A-3-2000-127 of February 5, 2000, and 840/9-A-3-2001 of April 11, 2001) prohibiting new constructions within 200 meters from the Ganges river front: because these were not implemented! And there was a widespread pessimism about whether they would ever be really implemented in the near future. As Mr. R Parshuraman, UNESCO Director in New Delhi said in one of his visits to Varanasi in 2009, "people and local bodies need to show determination in seeing the name of their historical city on the Unesco list of world heritage cities.",[22][23][24]

File:Vrinda Dar - Awareness, documentation, legislation, implementation, monitoring are the processes required in order to protect the cultural heritage.webm In order to react against such pessimistic sloth, the KS started conducting an awareness creation campaign to sensitise the population and to advocate with the Public Authorities that they implement existing laws and constitute a Heritage Committee that proposes new laws and adequate management plans.[25]

Vrinda Dar, the General Secretary of KS, had been personally leading the KS activities for heritage protection. She believes that the only way forward for sustainable development is to involve local communities, build their awareness about the cultural and economic value of local resources, build on local resources and hold governments accountable for their policies and actions. She maintains a blog[26] where she informs about the progress on heritage preservation in Varanasi.

File:Vrinda Dar - How we got involved in heritage protection of Varanasi.webm

The PIL

In the Year 2005, some Government officers and local leaders suggested that the KS file a PIL, i.e. Public Interest Litigation suit.[27]

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is an instrument available in India that enables persons and organisations to sue Governments and Public Agencies for not fulfilling their responsibilities and causing damage to the public.,.[28][29]

The KS accepted the invitation and filed a PIL (PIL 31229 of 2005) against the Varanasi Development Authority for negligence in supervising the enforcement of heritage protection laws and for turning a blind eye to illegal constructions that were mushrooming in the prohibited zones (that are within 200 metres from the Ganges and within a 300 metre radius of ASI, i.e. Archaeological Survey of India protected monuments).

File:Vrinda Dar - Why Kautilya Society filed a PIL for protecting the heritage in Varanasi.webm

In order to get information on unauthorised constructions and on the activities sanctioned by the local authorities on the Ganges riverbanks in Varanasi, the KS made extensive use of the Right to Information Act (that came into force on 13 October 2005); a tool by which any citizen or organisation can request information from a public authority that in turn is obliged to give a written reply within thirty days. [30]
This allowed the KS to collect evidence on the negligence of the U.P. Government regarding its activities and local implementation of policies, plans and legislations.

In the Year 2006, the Allahabad High Court issued its first order[31] instructing the (VDA) to make a list of all illegalities carried out in the heritage zone and to inform the Court on the measures being taken by VDA in order to address such irregularities. The newspapers and the Varanasi community supported the KS in its effort to bring the public authorities to task.

Back portion of Darbhanga palace in Varanasi - before demolition (2 floors), during construction (year 2004-2012) and after new construction (4 floors)

After continuous rebukes by the High Court and a period of prolonged hesitation, in 2008, the VDA finally submitted a list of 57 major building irregularities and formally declared its intention to "restore legality" by impeding further constructions and by ordering the demolition of all unauthorised constructions. To achieve this target, the VDA gave precise timelines that they committed to respect.

Meanwhile, the KS presented evidence that, besides unauthorised constructions identified by the VDA, some major new constructions had been irregularly authorised and illegally compounded. The most famous amongst these was the case of the rear portion of the Darbhanga Palace building. The new owners, a Hotel business, first demolished and then reconstructed a much taller building that covered a much wider ground surface and had a much bigger volume. This new building had been compounded by VDA in a heritage zone where, as per the U.P.State Government and VDA building byelaws, neither is compounding permissible nor can a Hotel be built.

In 2011, the High Court nominated an independent inspector to examine and document the status quo of the illegal constructions that had been listed by VDA. The inspection was carried out under pressure from the owners of the illegal buildings and from the VDA officers who had turned a blind eye to these irregularities. The Allahabad High Court discovered gross inconsistencies between the Inspector's statements and the factual on-ground photographic evidence that had been submitted by KS.

In December 2012, the Allahabad High Court nominated another Committee, this time to be headed by the Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi, for measuring and photographing the status quo of unauthorised constructions in the heritage zone. Once again, the report was inconsistent with factual evidence provided by the KS and with written responses provided by the Public Information Officers to queries made by the KS using the Right to Information Act provisions.

The Allahabad High Court responded strongly to being maliciously and purposefully misinformed by the Varanasi Authorities. In the 14th March 2013 judgement, the High Court labeled the report of the Committee as "nothing but an act to protect the illegal constructions";[32] the Court formally admonished the district officers and ordered the implementation of the previous orders that had not been attended. [33]

The Allahabad High Court also instructed the VDA to speed up the resolution on illegal construction cases pending in lower courts and to carry out its declared plan of demolishing the structures that VDA itself listed as illegal.[34]

In a successive judgement, in July 2013, the High Court stalled a pharaonic construction project of the U.P. State Government on making permanent structures in the heritage zone (on and around the Assi Ghat) in Varanasi that was in open contrast with the Government laws and would have permanently disfigured the Varanasi urban landscape and the skyline of the riverfront ghats[35] These proposed constructions included jetties in the river, toilets, shelters, big bathing platforms, parks, kiosks, parking area, greening, a 9 metre wide and 635 metre long promenade.[36]

As the PIL continues, there is undoubtedly a noticeable sharp decline in new illegal constructions in the heritage zone of Varanasi and ample public debate has taken place on the kinds of laws that should be designed and enforced in Varanasi in order to balance heritage protection and economic development. The KS has also appealed that the High Court instruct the local authorities to constitute a Heritage Conservation Committee that develops guidelines and plans for the heritage zone and proposes relevant modifications in existing laws.

The local community is increasingly demanding that it is consulted on programmes and plans for its city and that the VDA, the Varanasi Municipal Authority and other government agencies respect the needs and hopes of local residents and listen to the people's voices brought across by civil society organisations. The press too increasingly demands that existing laws be equally imposed upon all stakeholders and not only on those that don't have enough resources to obtain privileged treatments. And that if there is a need to change existing laws, that these are changed equally for all and that communities are involved in policy making.

See also Wikinews-logo.svg In Wikinews ⇒ Litigation for Varanasi Heritage intensifies

Criticism

File:Responsible development.webm

KS being targeted by anti-foreign sentiments in India

Shiv Sena activists have been holding demonstrations against the KS.[37] [38][39] Although some of these activities might not be genuinely political but sponsored by local businessmen whose illegalities have been exposed by the PIL, there has been criticism, in the town, of the Kautilya Society that it is a "foreign" institution. Actually, the KS is an Indian organization with no bar on multi-national membership. But the very fact that it promotes dialogue and understanding amongst civilizations is opposed by those who promote closed and reciprocally hostile cultural identities.

One of the problems that organizations promoting dialogue face is that sensationalist-media tend to act as a "sounding board" for divisive language. In the desire to gratify the desire for moral superiority of the vastly ignorant public, they tend to disseminate denigration even when the source is only unverified rumors.

Stefano De Santis, one of the founding members of KS says that "It appears that modern societies are becoming less tolerant of the traditional ones and that the "global village" is more divided by global media then the many villages of the classical age. And that is why we are KS felt the duty to promote intercultural dialogue and not limit ourselves to the study of the ancient traditions".

Accusation that KS is a "masked" hotel

The residency of Kautilya Society is neither an hotel, nor an ashram, but something in between, with some discipline and some autonomy, some community sentiment and a respect for reciprocal privacy. The formula has been a wide success but this has also generated hostility amongst competitors and it was widely covered by the Varanasi press that reported accusations on the Society in reality being a hotel "dressed up" as a non-profit organization.[40] [41] [42]

There are many other Societies offering hospitality in their premises; but specific criticism at the Kautilya Society seems to have been louder for traditionalists who do not like to see the Varanasi youth meeting in a more international and less conventional manner. The culture of intellectual segregation manifested here is a request for logistic apartheid among Indian and foreign youth. And those who break these apartheid standards have to cope with widespread denigration.

Fundraising

In India, the Kautilya Society receives only donations made by its members and only in Indian Rupees. The Society also undertakes projects funded in India by the Indian Government or local Authorities. The Kautilya Society also participates in International Cooperation programmes funded by International Donors like the World Bank, the European Union, etc.

Media production

The KS uses extensively new media as a means to interact and communicate. Besides animating a Facebook logo (square).png Facebook group and page, KS has developed a Wikibook-based knowledge management system on development cooperation issues and produces videos that are shared the videos on YouTube icon block.png TVP Channel and on Commons-logo.svg Wikimedia Commons, under a Cc.logo.circle.svg Creative Commons License: in this way, project stakeholders can freely utilise and share the video footage with others or partners.

Video clips

File:Responsible development.webm

Film-Camera.pngKautilya Society - playlist

Testimonials

File:Pietro Cocco - Gli MDGs riguardano tutti e ciascuno di noi.webmsd.webm

File:Pietro Cocco - Dialogo tra religioni - (ostituzionale e non ) progresso in corso-YouTube sharing.webmsd.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - Talking of construction illegalities at the observatory at Man Mandir Ghat.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - A call for international partnership to protect Varanasi, which is a world heritage.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - The PIL was started as a contribution for the candidature of Varanasi.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - How the cooperation with Local Authorities became conflictual.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - In Varanasi there is an unhealthy busness environment.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - The case of Darbhanga palace is an epitome of irresponsible and unsustainable tourist development.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - Why do they want to arrest you.webm

File:Vrinda Dar - Fascinating Varanasi where the old and new co-exist.webm

See also

600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgVaranasi
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgCultural heritage
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgList of heritage registers
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgWorld Heritage Site
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgHeritage tourism
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgInterfaith dialogue
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgSocial dialogue
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgRight to Information Act
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgIndology
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svgBanaras Biradari

Wikinews-logo.svg In Wikinews ⇒ Litigation for Varanasi Heritage intensifies

Wikiversity-logo-en.svg In Wikiversity ⇒ The Varanasi Heritage Dossier

Wikibooks-logo.svg In Wikibooks ⇒ Interviews to Vrinda Dar

References

  1. In India, NGOs can be registered in four ways: Trust, Society, Section-25 Company, Special Licensing. Registration can be done with the Registrar of Companies(RoC). The following laws or Constitutional Articles of the Republic of India are relevant to the NGOs: Articles 19(1)(c) and 30 of the Constitution of India, Income Tax Act, 1961, Public Trusts Acts of various states, Societies Registration Act, 1860, Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act, 1956, Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976
  2. What is Kautilya Society, Banaras Biradari, http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/our-projects/about-us/ .
  3. Estetica dell'incontro, Banaras Biradari, http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/category/intercultural-dialogue/ .
  4. Kautilya Online Resources, Banaras Biradari, http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/our-projects/kautilya-online-resources/ .
  5. Study Centre and Hospitality, Banaras Biradari, http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/our-projects/study-centre-and-hospitality/ .
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  32. "The Court constituted the committee with fond hope that the committee shall identify unauthorised constructions and check those unauthorised constructions which have not yet been demolished and which are coming on very Ghats of Varanasi city for which this public interest litigation has been filed. We are dismay to note that the committee has not done its job and the photographs which have been brought today before us clearly indicate that unauthorised constructions have been ignored and the inspection has ignored several material facts. We are of the view that members of the committee who carried on the inspection, not carried the same with responsibility and the casual manner in which the unauthorised constructions are being ignored is nothing but an act to protect the illegal constructions." Allahabad High Court Judgment - PIL 31229 of 2005 - 14 March 2013
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  39. धर्म नगरी में विदेशियों को हुक्का, काशी में उबाल, LiveVns.com, http://www.livevns.com/?p=2874 .
  40. NGO runs hookah bar, cops pull down smokescreen, Deccan Herals, http://www.deccanherald.com/content/363107/ngo-runs-hookah-bar-cops.html .
  41. Facebook expose: 'Hookah bar' run by NGO in garb of cultural activity, Daily Bhaskar, http://daily.bhaskar.com/article/UP-facebook-expose-hookah-bar-run-by-ngo-in-garb-of-cultural-activity-4407342-PHO.html .
  42. Social organisation booked for running 'hukka bar'; 9 arrested, IBN live, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/social-organisation-booked-for-running-hukka-bar-9-arrested/428266-3-242.html .

External links

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