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Fourth Edition of New Frontiers in Sanskrit and Indic Knowledge

The international conference on New Frontiers in Sanskrit and Indic Knowledge (NFSI) 2020-21 is a unique, annual event organised by Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth (CVV). This year, the fourth edition of the NFSI was organised by CVV’s School of Ethics, Governance and Cultural Studies in collaboration with the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). It witnessed 57 eminent personalities speaking at 32 events, with over 100 hours of talk-time with 500 plus participants from across the globe.

The theme was ‘Law, Public Policy and Governance: Global Future and Indian Indigenous Perspectives’. NFSI-4 spread its wings into four Working Groups  (WG) each with its sub-theme. The focus of the conference was on enquiring into and understanding Indian indigenous concepts in aiding our stride towards informed policies, refined ideas of justice, and possible applications of Indian Knowledge Traditions (IKT) in problems of the modern world and bringing India back to its rightful position of being the Vishwaguru.

The inaugural session and the first lead up event was organised by Working Group I on 22 October 2020 with a talk on ‘Rāma-Rājya as the Desired Future for the Entire World: Notes from Svāmī Karapātrī-ji's Life and Works’ by Pranav Kumar Vasishta (Independent Researcher at the Purnapramati Centre for Integrated Learning, Bengaluru).

The theme for Working Group I was ‘Indian Episteme in Law and Public Policy’ and its distinguished rapporteur was Prof. Shrinivasa Varakhedi (Vice Chancellor, Kavikulaguru Kalidas Sanskrit University, Ramtek). The Working Group focused on a theoretical and conceptual inquiry into indigenous knowledge and concepts concerning legal and public policy understanding. It systematised the classical understanding of Dharma, Niyama, Achara and Niti, both within and outside the aegis of Dharmashastra texts and had eminent scholars like Prof. Braja Kishore Swain (Former Head and Professor, Department of Dharmashastra, Shri Jagannath Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya, Puri) address the gathering. The discussions organised by WG I ranged from topics such as ‘Valid Cognition According to Tarka Shastra’ and ‘Applied Hermeneutics of Pūrvamīmāṁsā for Jurisprudence’ to an Indic perspective on the idea of morality and relationship between Sathya and Dharma by Prof. Shrinivasa Varakhedi. A review of the life and works of eminent scholars like Swami Karapatri and Patrick Olivelle was also taken up. In the session on ‘Types of Katha According to Nyaya Sutra’, speaker Shri Srinivas Jammalamadaka (Assistant Professor, Department of Darshan, Kavikulaguru Kalidas Sanskrit University, Ramtek) expounded on the nature and distinguished attributes of the three forms of debate, namely vāda, jalpa and vitaṇḍā. He also pointed out how vāda and jalpa are connected with the verbal exchange that takes place in a judicial court. Discussions also centred around how ideas regarding Valid Cognition can be of great help for jurisprudence. In one of the sessions, the scope of further interdisciplinary research between pūrvamīmāṁsā and jurisprudence was identified.

The concluding session saw Shri Megh Kalyanasundaram (Independent Researcher and Scholar of Indian Knowledge Systems) deliver the keynote address on some findings from a critical engagement with aspects of chronology in ‘A New History of Dharmaśāstra’ where he challenged the texts by Indologists like Patrick Olivelle and Donald R. Davis which dates Dharmasastra to the post-Ashokan period and ascertained the existence of Dharmasastra before the Ashokan period. He also observed how looking at Dharmasastra as a response to the social and political developments of the post-Ashokan era would result in a misguided understanding of Dharma and how it was to be followed.

A special address was delivered by Shri Pranav Kumar Vasishta on ’Towards Realising Rama Rajya’ where he argued that Rama Rajya was one that essentially guarantees the Purusharthas, where the Praja is endowed with the necessary resources to realise all the four Purusharthas.

One of the key learning from Working Group I has been that the State must safeguard and transfer the knowledge and expression of our valuable ancient past as a part of the signatory to the UN Convention for Safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage.

This Indian epistemic understanding based on a theoretical and conceptual inquiry led to the discussion on ‘Public Policy, Indian Social Dynamics and the Cultural Underpinnings’ which was the theme for Working Group II. The distinguished rapporteur of this Working Group was Prof. (Dr.) Nandita Chaudhary (Independent Researcher, Retd. Professor, Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi). The focus of the group was to promote research in personal and collective socio-psychological phenomena such that it leads to informed policy choices, made by both governmental and non-governmental actors. The sessions delved into details about the need to go back to our roots.

Each session saw dynamic discussions where the need to look into ancient Indian values, practices and its cultural underpinnings was stressed to promote the holistic development of the individual through education. The need for a fusional integration of principles, policies and practices was noted. One of the key learnings of the Working Group was that education liberates the individual from the bondages of life which was also emphasised by Shri Mukul Kanitkar (National Organising Secretary, Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal) in his talk. Education should also be one where both the Guru and the Shishya engage and benefit equally from the learning process. The influence of Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS) in cultures and literature abroad was ascertained and the need for a Purushartha-driven education system rooted in ancient Indian values was realised. The sessions were handled by eminent speakers from multiple disciplines and specialisation bringing in various perspectives to the topic. The concluding session of Working Group II was a panel discussion on ‘Education in India—Past, Present and Future’ with panellists Smt. Sahana Singh (Author, Editor and Columnist Member of Indian History Awareness and Research (IHAR), USA), Prof. (Dr.) Swati Shirwadkar (Head, Department of Sociology (Retd.), University of Pune) and Dr. Dhanuraj D. (Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi). The need for reforming pedagogy by understanding the root of indigenous cultures to help in crafting more sustainable policies and a robust system of education was observed. Stress was placed on encouraging a thorough research-based approach to learning which would equip and develop the creative and intellectual faculties of the students as well as lead to knowledge production.

This newfound knowledge production when disseminated should only face minimum social and cultural friction. The imperative for the fruitful assimilation of new knowledge and technologies, in turn, pushes forward innovation and creativity. This formed the premise for Working Group III which discussed scientific and technological progress through the incorporation of ideas and principles from IKT thereby attempting to help India articulate its vision and policy goals regarding knowledge diplomacy. The theme for Working Group III was ‘Arenas of New Knowledge Production and Indian Public Policy’ and the distinguished rapporteur of the Working Group was Prof. Nagaraj K. Neerchal (Vice Chancellor, CVV).

The fact that the digital era has brought us both challenges and opportunities was effectively put forward through the United Nations Secretary-General’s Report on Digital Cooperation:  Takeaways for India moderated by Dr. Badri Narayanan (Professor, University of Washington, Seattle). The discussions on global digital public goods were mooted on the lines of existing international trade mechanisms on vaccine technology dissemination. The margins of knowledge sharing are very narrow which took the group’s discussion to align with IKT. The Bhagavad Gita has the solution for all contemporary problems on knowledge production and dissemination where ‘partial appropriation’ of the gains of innovation can be used for reconciliation.

Prof. Nagaraj K. Neerchal initiated the concluding session with a talk on ‘Statistical Perspectives on Innovation, Disruptive Technology and Knowledge Governance’. He spoke on the changing trajectories of statistics along with disruptive technologies which form the basis for evidence-based research of the present.

Following that, Shri Yogesh Pai (Assistant Professor, National Law University, Delhi) spoke about the evolution of knowledge production since ancient times. He elucidated on the four strands of knowledge production in the current scenario, namely competitiveness or business-related arguments, access to knowledge, geopolitical dimension and technological dimension. These strands are very relevant on the lines of the recent ‘Sci-Hub’ litigation and the ‘journal trap’ norm of the scientific community towards high impact commercial publishers and were discussed by Prof. Sridhar Gutam (Convenor, Open Access India).

Contemporary problems can be solved through ancient IKS with a slight modification. In this regard, Shri Apurv Kumar Mishra (Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation) spoke on the pressing four issues of public policy which could be resolved with disruptive technologies, namely the nuances in dealing with risks and uncertainties, the role of the state in the public policy process, the idea of consensus when there is a trade-off between equally important values and the tragedy of the commons. He also hinted on the ancient Indian systems which have a solution for the above issues. This talk entailed the whole panel discussion on digital cooperation by Dr. Badri Narayanan, Dr. Sanjay Bapna (Professor, Morgan State University), Dr. Harsha Singh (Fletcher School of Law, USA), and Ms. Anubha Sinha (Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru).

Prof. Venkat Raghavan (Assistant Professor, School of Philosophy, Psychology & Scientific Heritage, CVV) presented the tentative observations made from all the panel discussions organised by Working Group III. He brought clarity of thought on knowledge governance which needs a balance of both Dharma and Artha. This concept was very relevant in this pandemic era which was elucidated in the panel discussion on ‘TRIPS Waiver Proposal—The State of Play and the Way Forward’ with Shri Mustaqeem De Gama (Principal negotiator for the proposal representing South Africa), Dr. HU Yuan Qiong (Senior Legal and Policy Advisor, Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign (MSF)), and Shri K. M. Gopakumar (Legal Advisor and Senior Researcher, Third World Network). The solutions to problems on Intellectual Property Rights are well expressed in the Bhagavad Gita and these were discussed by Prof. Subha Ghosh (Director, Syracuse Intellectual Property Law Institute (SIPLI), Syracuse University) in a lecture on the topic ‘Making Without Taking’.

Later, in a special session of NFSI-4, Shri Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha (Secretary, Ministry of AYUSH) spoke on ‘Evidence-based Approach to AYUSH’. Shri Kotecha spoke about the activities and the efforts of the Ministry in carrying out research in the areas of Indian indigenous medicine systems and publicising them using digital platforms. He also spoke about the need for synergising the indigenous systems with modern medicine for meeting the challenges of today.

The overarching phenomenon provided by the above three Working Groups necessitates that the State ensures there is orderly production, dissemination and transfer of knowledge systems. It is this which made Working Group IV discuss the global norm-setting processes and therefore discuss how Indian conceptions of normative science and shastric principles can be used as a tool for promoting peace, justice and development in the global order. The theme for Working Group IV was ‘India as Vishwaguru—Indian Knowledge Systems and Preparing for the Global Future’. The distinguished rapporteur was Dr. Aniruddha Rajput (Member, United Nations International Law Commission).

The discussions ranged from topics that tried to understand the idea of statehood in ancient texts, conceptions of the welfare state, the relevance of Indian Knowledge Traditions in policy education and the challenges it faces in a panel discussion on an ‘Indian Approach to International Trade Law and Negotiations’. The highlight of the events of Working Group IV was the session by distinguished Prof. S. R. Bhatt (Chairman, Indian Philosophy Congress) who while expounding on the concept of a welfare state in ancient India said that state was indeed a Sadhana, a path to the realisation of the goal and not Saadhya, the goal. The panel discussion, jointly conducted by Rashtram and CVV, saw a highly engaging session on the lack of currency of IKT ideas amongst those who finance the development and dominate the global economy, how it has hindered effective policy choices in the South and how important it is to incorporate indigenous understanding into the policy process and to have policy decisions that flow out of this indigenous understanding to meet policy objectives. Prof. Nagaraj Paturi (Director, Inter-University Centre for Indic Knowledge Systems, Indic Academy),  rightfully observed how the western understanding of the policy concepts and processes is so ingrained in our minds that even thinking outside the box has become coming out of a smaller box into a bigger one. The concluding session of Working Group IV witnessed a panel discussion by CVV faculty on ’Saptangam Rajyam—A Homage to Bharatiya Political Theory’ and how important the understanding of the theory was for India to reclaim its position as a Vishwaguru. Thus, the group explored the concepts of statehood, global order and international law from the standpoint of what India has to contribute to contemporary global discourse.

The nearly five-months long NFSI was concluded by Prof. Gauri Mahulikar (Conference Convener, Dean of CVV) on 30 January 2021. Thus, NFSI expanded the scope and relevance of Indian indigenous concepts to conversations around Law, Public Policy and Governance and furthered the understanding as well as paved the way for future global research undertakings.

Know more: ‘https://nfsi.cvv.ac.in/

Working Group I: Click here

Working Group II: Click here

Working Group III: Click here

Working Group IV: Click here

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