ROUND TABLE SEMINAR FOR NORWEGIAN PARLIAMENT’S STANDING COMMITTEE ON FAMILY AND CULTURAL AFFAIRS NEW DELHI, MARCH 3, 2007

The Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature and its Parent Organisation the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature organised a Seminar for the visiting Parliamentarians from Norway on March 3, 2007, in Arpana Fine Arts Gallery.

After the introductory address by Ms. Ajeet Cour,Incredible India was screened for the delegates from Norway.

The film was succeeded by presentations on different themes by the Indian panelists.

‘India’s Caste System and Issue of Dalits’ was discussed by Prof. Pushpesh Pant, Dean, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Prof. Pant highlighted the caste distinctions in India, bringing out the traditional role performed by people belonging to each of the different castes. He also referred to the Dalits as being poor, deprived and socially backward. He also traced the origins of the caste system and spoke of the changes that have taken place as a result of intercaste marriages etc.

A presentation on Minorities Participation in Society, with special focus on New India was made by Prof. Riyaz Punjabi, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Prof. Punjabi spoke of the cultural links between Muslims and Hindus who had lived together peacefully in Kashmir for several centuries. He also spoke of the measures taken by the present Government for the protection of the rights of minorities.

Ms. Ajeet Cour responding to one of the questions

view of the participating Indian and Norwegian delegates

Ms. Ajeet Cour, speaking on the subject of Rights of Women and Children in India, stated that the Academy through its Women’s Empowerment Programme had provided opportunities to young girls and women from the slums and urban villages of Delhi for basic education and for acquiring vocational skills. The conventional view of illiteracy, she added, is that it is closely linked to poverty. While that is certainly true, there are numerous other factors responsible for the low levels of literacy, especially among females, and it is only by understanding the impact of these other factors that significant and meaningful increase in literacy can be achieved.

She also spoke of the situation of Dalits, who were considered untouchables. She elaborated on the historical backdrop of 3000 years, when the society was divided according to occupations, but later degenerated into turning the genuine workers into the ‘Scum of Society’. In her opinion, there was a need for concerted efforts to be taken for the improvement in the plight of Dalits, particularly in the remote rural and backward districts of the country.

An overview of India’s Socio-Economic Problems and Budget Highlights was presented byReena Marwah, Coordinator in FOSWAL. She highlighted the magnitude of India’s poverty as well as India’s progress towards achieving higher levels of human development. The Presentations were followed by discussions, in which there was an interactive participation of the Norwegian Parliamentarians, with responses from the panelists.

H. E. Mr. Jon Westborg, Ambassador of Norway in India, in his concluding address, stated that India presented several contrasts and diversities in its cultural and societal makeup. He was of the view that no single response could be uniformly applicable for the entire country, and each micro situation had to be addressed in its own perspective. The Seminar closed with informal discussions over lunch.