India’s Prime Minister Modi on the importance of UNESCO in a world of change

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, visited UNESCO headquarters to mark its 70th anniversary. Speaking to a cheering, overflow audience on his first official visit, he used the occasion to emphasize the importance of India’s relationship with the Organization. “I am truly honoured to address UNESCO. I feel specially privileged to visit this great institution in its 70th anniversary year. … No organization serves our cause more than this one. The seeds of our collective destiny are sown in human minds. It is nurtured by the light of education and the spirit of enquiry. It makes progress through the marvels of science. And, it draws strength from the basic character of Nature–the harmony and unity in diversity. That is why UNESCO was among the first missions of the United Nations. That is why India values the work of UNESCO so deeply; and, cherishes our partnership so immensely.”

During his visit, Prime Minister Modi visited a statue of Sri Aurobindo to pay homage to the Indian philosopher, guru, and poet. He also held a bilateral meeting with the Director-General.

In his speech, he explained why UNESCO’s mandate is so important to India, and to the world:   “For us, science is driven by the larger purpose of human development; and, for a safe, sustainable, prosperous future for India.  Science also unites people across borders in a shared purpose. And, when we share its fruits with those who don't have it, we connect lives and make our world a better place.  India never forgets the help we have received in our early years; today, we are fulfilling our responsibility to others.  Therefore, science is a key priority of India's international engagement. Culture is a sublime expression of a people; and, the foundations of a society.  UNESCO's initiatives to preserve the world's cultural heritage, including in India, are inspiring.”

India has a particularly strong relationship with UNESCO.  It has inscribed 32 properties on the World Heritage List, including the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort Complex and the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary.  The country has listed seven elements of documentary heritage on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, nine reserves under UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme and supports 10 UNESCO Chairs in a range of educational fields.  Last year it hosted the conference “From Exclusion to Empowerment” that led to the New Delhi Declaration on Inclusive Information and Communication Technology for Persons with Disabilities.  Yesterday UNESCO launched its flagship Global Monitoring Report on Education for All in New Delhi.

“Mr Prime Minister, your presence today is testimony to the depth of our partnership,” stated the Director-General, Irina Bokova.  “This is a partnership of values and a partnership for action.  This is embodied in the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, the first category 1 Institute in the Asia pacific region.  This is embodied in the sites on the World Heritage List, including, most recently, Rani-ki-Vav – the Queen’s Stepwell at Patan, Gujarat.  This is embodied in India’s unique living traditions, testifying to this country’s immense diversity – starting with yoga, an expression of the unity of body and mind, harmony with the world, which, I know, is so important to you -- which the world has recognised, with the declaration of 21 June as International Yoga Day by the United Nations General Assembly, upon your initiative.”

Prime Minister Modi used the occasion to launch a website for International Yoga Day, in order to promote this ancient Indian practice.  “Yoga awakens a sense of oneness and harmony with self, society and Nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change and create a more balanced world,” he told the audience.

This year, UNESCO will celebrate the first International Yoga Day on 19 June with a programme and demonstration of yoga at its headquarters.  Next year, India will propose yoga for inscription on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.