India is the only country where the sublime truth of unity in diversity
has been understood, appreciated and also practiced from time
immemorial. We Indians have done this with regard to the various castes,
communities and religions within India. We have also accepted and
assimilated people from across the borders, whether they came to India
as invaders, traders or refugees. In course of time, all of them have
been accommodated in our national and cultural framework, as Swami
Vivekananda stated: “We have never been a conquering race, and this
blessing is with us.” This is because we never believed that we have to
bulldoze all humanity into one, uniform, monotonous mould. It is only
because we believe in our culture and that follows in our tradition.
In order to break this firm belief of Indian nation,
the external forces are time and again trying to hit this cultural
sentiment of the people, particularly in the Northeast. Under these
circumstances, it is absolutely necessary that all our efforts should be
made to re-discover the fundamental unity of India. With the idea of
preserving art, culture and tradition of the people of the Northeast,
Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture [VKIC] at Guwahati, Assam, came
into existence in the year 1996, primarily with four-fold focus of
exploration, propagation, motivation and execution.
The idea behind this institute is to study, do
research and propagate the national unity of India, which is the crying
need of the time, particularly with regard to the north-eastern region,
where separatist and other forces are extremely active to disrupt the
unity of India. The approach is governed by Swami Vivekananda’s thought:
"Elevation of the masses without injuring their religion.”
But the challenges the region is facing are geographical, demographic,
ideological and intellectual. These challenges include 4,500 km-long
international border with five foreign countries, namely Bangladesh,
Bhutan, Myanmar, China and Nepal; A mere 22-kilometre land corridor
connects it with the rest of India; Sparse population; The Chinese claim
over Arunachal Pradesh, and of late, over Sikkim; Indigenous faith and
culture under siege due to infiltration, anti-national and terrorist
movements; West-centric theories of isolationism and separatism;
Westernisation in the garb of modernization; Diversity/variety
misinterpreted as separateness.
Communities of the Northeast, torn by attack on its
traditional faith and culture, on its land, on its people, on its way of
life, on its family and community bonds, needed the healing touch—a
healing touch to understand itself, to live purposefully with
self-respect and self-worth; in short, a healing touch to intellectually
understand themself as a whole. Against this backdrop, a project of
Vivekananda Kendra with its headquarters in Kanyakumari, the Vivekananda
Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC) was established to nurture roots
through seminars, research, documentation and publications on the
Northeast of India. The objectives of this project are to understand the
richness of our traditional systems, to identify the unifying elements
that bind us, to provide meaningful continuity to these practices in a
fast-changing complex lifestyle, and to be relevant in time, hence
development through culture.
It is needless to state that every part of India—east, west, south or
north—has equally enriched the cultural life of India and each, in its
own distinct way, has contributed to the rich and colorful national
edifice. The picture would have been incomplete without the contribution
of even the smallest among them.
Talking to Uday India, Prof DC Baroowa, Director,
Research Advisory Council, Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture,
Guwahati, said that The VKIC is doing tremendous work in preserving and
documenting the cultural heritage of the northeast region. He also
added: “This Institute provides the necessary research facilities to
scholar doing research on the Northeast. The VKIC has been granted
recognition as a research institute by Dibrugarh University, Assam.”
So far, the VKIC has completed six detailed documentation projects.
These are Heritage of Kamakhya on Nilachala Hills, The Adis of the Siang
Valley, Theravadi Buddhist Monastaries, The Dimasas of North Cachar
Hills, The Sattra Institution of Asom, and Documentation of the Rabha
Culture of Assam.
The VKIC publications too are significant because
they try to communicate culture authentically—through the practitioner’s
perspective. So far, 23 significant books have been brought out and a
regular bi-annual journal, Quest is also being brought out by the
Institute to propagate the cultural depth of the Northeast.
The north-eastern region being surrounded by international border has
always been extremely sensitive from the strategic point of view. It
continues to be so even today. The Partition of India, instead of
solving the issue, has made it more complicated.
Demographic equilibrium has come under strain through external factors
like the influx of refugees, immigrants and infiltrators. Every nation
is worried about the imbalance created by this inflow of human race from
one country to another and takes steps to guard against the threat
posed by them. There is a tolerance level beyond which no nation can
permit alien inflow. If it allows the intolerance, out of indifference,
ignorance or incompetence, the price that has to be paid is
self-extinction in the course of time.
Every state in the north-eastern region is now facing the problem of
people coming in either as refugees, immigrants or infiltrators from
across the border. We have to be constantly alert to see whether the
tolerance level is being crossed and what the impact of the inflow is on
our socio-economic and cultural life. No nation can afford to be
indifferent in this regard.
Swami Vivekananda, after whom the entire
organisation is named, had realised the importance of the Northeast
region with his deep vision. Towards the end of his earthly career,
having almost completed his mission, he visited places like Guwahati and
Shillong on a pilgrimage, taking his mother along with him. His
biographers have pointed out how disturbed he was at the state of
affairs of the region at that time. Things have not improved since then.
Pravin Dabholkar, Joint General Secretary of Vivekananda Kendra,
Kanyakumari, with special responsibility of the Northeast, who is now
stationed at Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, Guwahati, spoke to
Uday India. He said: “The VKIC is an initiative by Vivekananda Kendra,
Kanyakumari, the spiritually-oriented service mission, headquartered at
Kanyakumari. It was founded in 1972 by Eknathji Ranade as a logical
sequel to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, situated off Kanyakumari.
Dedicated to the task of national regeneration as envisaged by the
patriot-saint, Swami Vivekananda, the Kendra currently works in 21
states through 650 branch centres, projects and activity centers.
Although the VKIC was started in the year 1996, the centre was a dream
of Eknathji Ranade, who was deeply concerned about the problems and
developments in the Northeastern region. Ever since its inception, it
has undertaken a number of service activities in the Northeast region. A
splendorous region with a rich cultural heritage, the Northeast, in all
walks of life, always expressed the great truth of Indian culture unity
The VKIC is doing yeoman service for the Northeast.
Knowledgeable elders and educated elites are coming together for the
nourishment of culture; youth are getting involved to preserve culture;
writing and interpreting from the practitioners’ perspective is taking
place; Terminology of West-centric scholars being scrutinised and there
is an increase in inter and intra community understanding and
relationship and with that of India as a whole.