India – Brazil cultural ties can lead India’s Latin American surge

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Sudarshan Ramabadran


With Latin American countries in general and Brazil, in particular, India decisively enjoys a strong and positive image. From the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, Yoga, Ayurveda, Indian street carnivals, Cinema and more, there is much happening in Brazil.

No wonder then that the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, has been mulling the country’s decision to allow visa-free inbound travel for Indians, to enhance people to people contact and for potential investments to flow into Brazil.

Geopolitically speaking it is also worthy to be mentioned here that Brazil has not joined China’s One Belt One Road initiative. It has also appeared in some parts of the media – pending confirmation -that the Brazilian President could be the next chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade and celebrations on January 26, 2020.

As per India’s Ministry of External Affairs, “Brazil is one of the most important trading partners of India in the entire LAC (Latin America and Caribbean) region. India-Brazil bilateral trade has increased substantially in the last two decades.” While Indian trade with Latin American countries grew in the decade 2003-2013 this is notwithstanding the fact that some of China’s bilateral trade numbers with Latin American countries are ten times that of India’s.

From culture to commerce and culture plus commerce, there is so much that unites both India and Brazil. Who cannot remember the famous Filhos de Gandhy or Sons of Gandhi that was founded in 1948. Inspired by the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, the group pays tributes to African as well as Afro Brazilian revolutionaries who fought to enable and ensure social cohesion. Significant and truly remarkable has been the reach of Mahatma Gandhi in faraway places.

Another upcoming street carnival that gives the native population a peep into the expansive culture of Brazil is the ‘Bloco Bollywood’. Started in the year 2016, it had an audience of just 700 but today numbers go into thousands. Shoban Saxena and Florencia Costa, both founders of the Bloco Bollywood, while at an interaction with the India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power described the organic rise of Bloco Bollywood. “Today, in just four years, it has become the biggest Indian event in entire South America. In 2019, we had more than 8,000 people at two Blocos in different locations. It just shows the power of Indian music, dances, and costumes to attract people. The Bloco has also given a big boost to all Indian restaurants in Sao Paulo and all Indian textile traders have benefitted from it, with a hike in sales of Indian dresses close to the carnival.” They have now begun to showcase the annual carnival with the tagline, “Happiness and Peace”, and the carnival is now one of the vital vehicles of Indian culture in Brazil.

Another very important aspect of India’s health science and knowledge system that is permeating various quarters of Brazil quite organically is Ayurveda. So many practitioners and schools have mushroomed in the country that the willing acceptance to learn it from India and practice and spread it in Brazil is truly heart-warming to notice and understand. In fact when this year’s global celebration of Ayurveda Day was planned on October 25 by the India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power and global partner organizations, there was an organic response of credible organisations who pledged their support to participate in it.

Cinema can also play an integral role in bringing the people of both India and Brazil together. The 3rd BRICS Film Festival saw numerous submissions in a multitude of genres, from the five nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. And in the midst of all these, the winner of the best film award was a movie about a polling station in a Naxal stronghold of India. Newton, the film in question, represents the best of Indian cinema of 2017, and its win at the festival shows the immense potential that Indian films have with respect to BRICS nations, especially Brazil.

Appreciation for Indian Cinema in Brazil does not stop there. In May 2014, Brazil came out with a unique way of paying tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema, by releasing two postage stamps designed by Indian graphic designers. The stamps were released to mark a nationwide film festival dedicated to contemporary Indian cinema. Several Brazilian artists who have come to India to act have also gone on to become stars in their country as well. Also, fascinatingly, media reports also suggest that the Brazilian film called Uma: Luz Das Himalaias (Uma: Light of the Himalayas), will be the first Indian production to be screened commercially in Brazil; a collaboration between Perumeen Cinema and Vedanta Life Institute.

In all this, a mention must also be given to the Indian diaspora numbering approximately 5,000 in Brazil, on how they play a constructive role as goodwill ambassadors in enhancing vibrant people to people exchange.

For contemporary civilizational ties of Cinema, Yoga, Ayurveda or even thoughts of incredible Indians like Mahatma Gandhi to enable in concrete and tangible economic and political gains for both countries, there has to be sustained effort and action from a variety of stakeholders. It cannot happen as a one-off effort. Some of the areas mentioned have seen sustained enthusiasm amongst the people of both countries in what truly signifies a facet of public diplomacy.

Whenever a dialogue takes place on understanding India’s civilizational ties with countries, more often than not it is the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Middle East, Russia, and the US and so on and so forth. They are pivotal, no doubt, but here are so many different facets of India’s civilizational prowess that is on an upswing in Brazil, something that does not often figure in the civilizational studies or debates and discussions. In all certainty, it requires deeper analysis and research but the enormous potential is there for all to see.

This is one of the reasons why when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Brazil for the annual BRICS Summit on November 13 and 14, his focus may well be on the all-important ‘B’ for Brazil to further enhanced cooperation and collaboration.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

via TOI Blog

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