BRIEF ASSESSMENT OF THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF FOSWAL
Ever since its inception, the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature has been working ceaselessly to achieve its objective of establishing cultural connectivity in the SAARC Region. We at the Foundation worked with unremitting passion to complement the messianic zeal of its progenitor, noted writer and cultural activist Ms. Ajeet Cour. We have achieved a lot though, to use a Frostian line, “there are miles to go before we sleep.” The following is a step-by-step account of how we were able to cross numerous milestones :
1. The process of cultural connectivity in the SAARC Region was initiated FOR THE FIRST TIME by Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature in 1987. For the first time since Independence-Partition, we invited ten writers from Pakistan for the first-ever INDIAN-PAKISTANI WRITERS’ CONFERENCE. For the first time we got visas issued for these writers to come to India as honoured WRITERS. Indian and Pakistani writers of the SAARC region had not interacted with each other as contemporary wordsmiths since Partition of the country in 1947. There was no provision for writers to get NOCs and visas.
2. This gradually emerged as the first-ever, unique endeavour by a committed Non-Government Organisation. With encouragement from the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Ford Foundation and UNESCO, FOSWAL organised the FIRST-EVER SAARC WRITERS CONFERENCE in April 2000.
3. FOSWAL was registered with the specific mandate of showcasing the COMMON VOICE IN LITERATURE AND CULTURE OF THE SAARC REGION and fostering an atmosphere charged with eclectic literary and intellectual endeavours for peace and harmony.
4. “We are the mad dreamers of the SAARC region. Let governments do their political and diplomatic work. Let us, the writers and the creative fraternity of the region, endeavour to build bridges of friendship across borders and beyond borders”: declared Ajeet Cour in her first Welcome Address in April 2000.
5. Through its own resources and partial funding from Ministry of External Affairs, Ford Foundation, and the painter Arpana Caur, and collective goodwill which it was able to generate throughout the SAARC Region, FOSWAL was able to establish its CHAPTERS IN ALL THE NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES comprising of eminent writers, scholars and policymakers with passion for peace and tranquility in the region.
6. FOSWAL has emerged as the foremost Non-Governmental Organisation to have stimulated, inspired and motivated cultural and literary initiatives in and among SAARC countries.
7. Culture was not a part of SAARC Charter for almost one and a half decades, from 1985 to late 1999, when FOSWAL launched its First-ever SAARC Writers and Intellectuals Conference.
8. Since we were working in this field since 1987, we were invited by Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, to enliven and rejuvenate the spirit of SAARC through Cultural Initiatives and through People-to-People Contacts, and creative interactions. Consequently, the First-ever SAARC Writers Conference was organized by us in April 2000.
9. The terms which have now become household words in SAARC vocabulary, were initially coined and chiselled by us, like ‘people-to-people contacts’, ‘confidence-building-measures’ and ‘cultural connectivity’.
10. After our Foundation worked for cultural connectivity at micro and macro levels, intensely and passionately, for less than two years, the officials concerned and Heads of States were convinced that the constitution of SAARC should be amended and culture should be included in the area of their activities and their serious deliberations.
11. It was precisely BECAUSE OF THE EFFORTS OF FOSWAL that during the 11th SAARC Summit, in Kathmandu, on January 1-2, 2002, by the unanimous decision of all Heads of States of SAARC Countries and high officials of SAARC Secretariat, CULTURE WAS INCLUDED IN THE SAARC CHARTER and our Foundation was given the status of SAARC RECOGNISED BODY, the first one in the field of culture, and THE ONLY ONE in the SAARC Region which was authorized to organise all culture-related activities under the SAARC Banner and the SAARC Logo.
12. It has been the most significant achievement of FOSWAL : that during the last SAARC Summit held in New Delhi in April 2007, the SAARC Secretariat and SAARC Member Countries unanimously decided to elevate the status of FOSWAL from SAARC Recognised Body to SAARC APEX BODY.
13. The very fact of recognition by the SAARC SECRETARIAT, honouring FOSWAL as the First-ever non-government cultural body which has enlisted and organised regular participation of writers and literary cognoscenti, as also statesmen, diplomats, civil servants, mediamen, academics and others, is a recognition of the need that FOSWAL fulfils in satisfying a common thirst for freedom of speech, knowledge, creativity and peaceful co-existence among the neighbouring SAARC countries.
14. FOSWAL have consistently endeavoured to build Culture of Peace in the South Asian region since 1987, through its numerous initiatives ranging from Regional Literary and Intellectual Conferences, SAARC Cultural Initiatives, Interactions among Writers and Scholars and Peace Activists of the Region, Writers-in-Residence Programmes, a constantly updated Website, Translations of Contemporary Literature from all the SAARC countries, Publications of Translated Literary Works, Colloquiums on Human Rights and Peace, Outreach Programmes : Interactions with students in Universities and Colleges in the Region, Artists Camps, Music Festivals, Folklore Festivals.
15. FOSWAL targeted the innate sensitivities of artists, writers and intellectuals to think and to create, unfettered by political inhibitions and hesitation, bureaucratic prejudices and other established webs of patronage, above fear of any kind, to reach out to the creative fraternity of the neighbouring countries.
16. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER ! FOSWAL WORKED TO CREATE A POSITIVE, SENSITIVE, FORCEFUL VOICE FOR PEACE AND TRANQUILITY IN THE REGION.
17. The Writers’ Conferences, Initiatives of Civilisational and Cultural Connectivity like SAARC Festival of Folklore, Conferences on Buddhism and Sufism, Literary Initiatives of Young Writers from across the borders, and several other cultural initiatives among the creative fraternity of the Region, have fulfilled the urgent need for accelerating the process of cultural connectivity, along with emphasis on su