Public Diplomacy

India and UNESCO: The dynamics of a historic and time tested friendship

April 08, 2015

By Amb. Bhaswati Mukherjee


  • The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) adopted in London on 16th September, 1945, states that: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” It continues further: "That the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfil in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern.”
  • The above underlines the importance of this Specialised Agency for the maintenance of international peace and security, through the diffusion of education, culture, science and information globally and through the development of international standards to further these mandates. Its aims and objectives coincide with the guiding principle enshrined in our own Constitution. As a Founder Member, having ratified the Constitution on 4th November, 1946, when still under colonial rule, India has played a leadership role in supporting the implementation of the priorities of UNESCO in its different agendas relating to education, science and culture. As a pluralistic, democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural State, the world’s largest democracy, we have been and will continue to be a bridge between differing ideologies, cultures and civilizations as we have demonstrated in different periods of UNESCO’s tumultuous history.
  • Our leadership position is widely acknowledged and has never been challenged. We have been continuously re-elected to the UNESCO Executive Board since 1946, including for the 2014-17 period. We are a large contributor to its budget, despite our developing country status. Government of India’s annual financial contribution amounts to 0.5% of UNESCO’s total budget, and in 2014 stands at INR 14 crores annually, which is approximately US Dollars 2.25 million. The National Commission for India’s Cooperation with UNESCO is headed by Human Resource Minister (HRM), Smt. Smriti Irani. India’s Permanent Delegation to UNESCO is headed by a senior Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador/Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj. Ms. Ruchira Kamboj, India’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to UNESCO
  • India is currently a member of 19 of its UNESCO’s Conventions, including those on natural and cultural heritage, education, and intellectual property rights. Among the more recent ratifications include the Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005 and the Convention Against Doping in Sports in 2005.
  • UNESCO has two Offices in India, the New Delhi cluster office for eleven countries in South and Central Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and most recently the MGIEP – the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, a Category I UNESCO Institute established and fully supported and funded by the Government of India. This is of particular significance since it is the first Category 1 Institute in the Asia-Pacific region and was approved by the Executive Board and General Conference within an unprecedented time frame of six months.
  • A Category II Regional Centre for Biotechnology has also been established. The 37th General Conference has approved a proposal for a second institute on Natural World Heritage located in Dehradun’s Wildlife Institute.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to UNESCO

  • As a reaffirmation of this special relationship and connection, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 10 April, 2015 assumes particular significance. PM will interact with the Organization’s dynamic Director-General, Irina Bokova (from Bulgaria) and is expected to discuss measures to further strengthen the India-UNESCO relationship and widen areas of cooperation. Prime Minister will address a widely attended meeting of members of UNESCO’s Executive Board, the diplomatic community, UNESCO staff, and leading personalities, including UNESCO’s Paris-based Goodwill Ambassadors. He is expected to underline the fundamental parameters of India’s time tested relationship with UNESCO, its continuing support to its core mandates and India’s measures to promote education, science and culture in the new millennium. Prime Minister is also expected to focus on UNESCO’s contribution to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, and to offer a reflection on the ethical and moral values that should guide the Organization’s work.

    The UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will be visiting the UNESCO Headquarters during his forthcoming visit to France.
  • Prime Minister will offer flowers to the statue of Sri Aurobindo, philosopher, poet and freedom fighter, who has a wide following within UNESCO and in France and whose philosophy and ideas are often cited in key interventions in the Executive Board and General Conference. Auroville has also unique linkages with UNESCO. In her first visit as DG, UNESCO, in January, 2010, Ms. Bokova visited Auroville and paid tribute to the spirit of Aurobindo prevalent in India.

    Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will also offer flowers to the bronze statue of Sri Aurobindo at UNESCO's Headquarters premises.UNESCO’s Mission in India: its core mandates and their impact
  • UNESCO’s Mission is to create the conditions for dialogue among cultures, civilizations and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values. Its Mission therefore is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.
  • In India, taking into account its five major programmes, the Mission is to focus on a number of overarching objectives:

    • Attaining quality education for all and lifelong learning
    • Mobilizing science knowledge and policy for sustainable development
    • Addressing emerging social and ethical challenges
    • Fostering cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace
    • Building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication

    UNESCO’s New Delhi Office: A valuable partner in building the Roadmap

  • The Office under its Director Shigeru Aoyagi from Japan is committed to working with other partners in Government and outside to help achieve Government of India's inclusive, sustainable and equitable development priorities by introducing innovative ways of tackling problems, proposing evidence-based policy options and promoting adherence to international norms and standards.This is based upon the United Nations Development Action Framework (UNDAF) 2013-17 which guides the collective work of the United Nations in India.

    The UNDAF has six broad outcomes:

    • Inclusive Growth,
    • Food and Nutrition Security,
    • Gender Equality,
    • Equitable Access to Quality Basic Services,
    • Governance, and
    • Sustainable Development.

    Under UNDAF, collective engagement by the UN in India is intended to focus on nine priority states: Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

    Building tools for education for peace and sustainable development: Establishment of MGEIP (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development)
  • Mahama Gandhi had said "No education is true education unless it is founded in truth and non-violence”. This resonates with UNESCO’s Constitution. DG had recently said "Education is the most basic foundation for building lasting peace and sustainable development.” UNESCO’s global mandate in peace education is widely acknowledged.
  • The Asian Group in UNESCO under India’s leadership had long emphasised that the Asian region, despite its diversity and commitment to promote education lacked an UNESCO Category I Institute in education. India put forward in early 2010, to the Executive Board and General Conference a well structured proposal to locate in New Delhi, India, an UNESCO Category I Institute dedicated to education for peace and sustainable development and named after the Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. The proposal was widely supported and adopted by acclamation by the General Conference in October, 2009. It was formally established in 2012 in a solemn ceremony presided by Rashtrapatiji HE Pranab Mukherjee in the presence of DG, UNESCO. It is extremely generously funded by the Government of India which has committed 40 million USD towards the Institute’s infrastructure and programme activities for the first 5 years. India is therefore the Institute’s most crucial partner and stakeholder in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • MGEIP is seeking to advance peace and sustainable development through education policies, research, curriculums, and innovative pedagogies. Its programme of work is divided into four main areas:

    • Curriculum – Embedding skills, attitudes, and knowledge of peace and sustainable development into school and university curricula and teaching content, as well as through national curriculum frameworks and the training of textbook writers.

    • Innovation in pedagogies – Using innovative tools in particular Information Communication Technology (ICT) and teaching methods to impart education for peace and sustainable development.

    • Youth – Building youth capacity and skills for peace and sustainable development.

    UNESCO MGIEP’s YES Peace Network is the global youth partnership for peace and sustainability education in the post-2015 global development agenda.

    • Research and Futures – Pushing the frontiers of research on transformative education.

    Highlights of implementation of UNESCO’s core mandates in India


  • There has been a history of close and ongoing cooperation between the Government of India and UNESCO in Education on all three focus areas – access, quality, and content. India is part of UNESCO’s efforts towards the Education For All (EFA) goals, the Post-2015 global education agenda, and the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), of which UNESCO is the lead implementing agency. The EFA goals are advanced by UNESCO in India through policy and programme support to the Government of India in Early Childhood Care and Education, Secondary Education, Technical and Vocational Education & Training, Higher Education etc. India currently holds the Chair of the EFA Task Force on Teachers. UNESCO is working to enhance research capabilities through its Chairs programme.
  • Among the recent important UNESCO conferences on Education in India include the Asian Summit on Skills and Education which attracted educationists, ministers and policy-makers from across the Asian region. The Hon’ble Minister of Education from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Dr Farooq Wardaq inaugurated the Summit. The 2nd Meeting of SAARC Ministers of Education was held on 30 - 31 October 2014 in New Delhi, to review the progress on the SAARC Education Development Goals; strengthen cooperation in consolidating the gains and; addressing challenges. HRM chaired the Meeting.

    Culture, Heritage and Information Technology

  • Culture and heritage are one of the most significant of UNESCO’s activities in India and include the safeguarding of India’s cultural and civilisational heritage as reflected in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Indeed, the World Heritage Convention of 1972 and its implementation through the World Heritage Centre, headed by an eminent Indian, Shri Kishore Rao, is a flagship programme of UNESCO and works closely in cooperation with our Ministry of Culture and ASI. As a member of the UN World Heritage Committee, India is currently seeking international recognition of several projects, both cultural and natural.
  • Under Culture and Information Technology, UNESCO is partnering with the Digital Empowerment Foundation. At a recent conference on ‘Use of ICT’s for Artisans and Artists in Rural India’, the session brought together artisans and rural artists, crafts organizations, online craft retailers, and organizations doing innovative work using ICT in the field of art and culture. Presentations were made on varied initiatives including digital archiving, live webcast of folk concerts from rural areas, community based documentation of heritage, and copyrights of performers.
  • In observance of World Radio Day, with an audience of 25 million in India, UNESCO is supporting a national event on ‘Community Radio and Social Inclusion’. It will include an inaugural session with the launch of the "South Asia Network on Community Media” established by UNESCO and the launch of UNESCO training manual titled Internal Migration – A Manual for Community Radios. Science and Technology

  • It is necessary to underline that the `S' for science(s) in UNESCO was given a special place when the Organization was established. Soon after the end of the Second World War, the acronym UNESCO narrowly missed not having the `S' for science. The scientific group in the United Kingdom, led by Sir Julian, Huxley, ensured that `S' was added in November 1945 to create thereafter the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). For the first time, an inter-governmental organization had been given a major responsibility for the development of international relations in science. Activities in this sector include:

    • Strengthening the capabilities in science;
    • Science policy related activities;
    • Information systems for science and technology; and
    • Science, society and development.

  • Among the highlights are India’s natural biosphere reserves, oceanographic resources, and water, which have been the focus of India-UNESCO collaboration in the area of Natural Sciences. India plans to support the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission's plans for the 2nd International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE-2) to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of IIOE in 2015. India is on the Commission’s Executive Council. The Man and Biosphere programme is working to improve the relationship between human beings and their environment through scientific research, and nine of India’s biosphere reserves are on UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

    Concluding Reflections on the India-UNESCO relationship

  • Clearly, UNESCO and India are natural partners in the quest to build a more peaceful and sustainable world through education, science, culture, heritage and information technology. UNESCO’s renewed emphasis on using education as an agent for transformation becomes especially vital in this regard. The Government of India’s focus on the youth and skill development resonates closely with the vision of UNESCO for the country, and the larger education agenda of the future.
  • There is much that India can contribute to strengthen and consolidate UNESCO’s activities. Among India’s most significant global contribution has been the exercise of its soft power drawing on its ancient culture and civilisation. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam was among the first precursors of Global Citizenship as it is understood today – the concept that all individuals are collectively responsible towards each other and their shared future. This is the basis of UNESCO’s dialogue between cultures and civilisations. Prime Minister’s historic visit to UNESCO will help to underscore that continuing and historic Indian global legacy, so much appreciated within UNESCO. Shri Aurobindo has often been quoted in UNESCO from "Who”, underlining the continuing relevance of his philosophy:

    "In the blue of the sky
    in the green of the forest,
    who is the hand
    that has painted the glow?
    It is He in the Sun
    who is ageless and deathless,
    and into the midnight
    His shadow is thrown.
    When darkness was blind
    and engulfed with darkness,
    He was seated within it,
    immense and alone.”
[The author, a former diplomat was Permanent Representative of India to UNESCO (2004-2010). This article has been written exclusively for ‘In Focus” section of Ministry of External Affairs website,]



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