By Prasun Sonwalkar, Berlin, June 26 (IANS) A flurry of activities by the Indian embassy here in the field of culture and education in the last two years is helping Germany regain its position as a leading centre of scholarship on India-related subjects.
For decades, German indologists such as Fredrick Max Mueller have conducted in-depth studies on Indian languages and philosophy. The Indian government has honoured many of them, including Heinrich von Stietencron and Lothar Lutze, who were awarded Padma Shri in recent years.
However, Indian studies in Germany received a setback when education authorities here cut down state funding in 2005 and asked universities to generate their own income. Most European countries had earlier adopted such a market-driven approach to education.
In the new education environment, some centres for India-related studies in German universities were closed and their number fell from 25 to 16.
Wilhelm von Schlegel, a Sanskrit scholar, set up the first centre for Indian studies in Germany in 1818 at the University of Bonn. It soon became known as the 'Benares on the Rhine'.
"Centres for Indian studies have come under intense competition from centres focussed on the study of China or Japan, countries with which Germany has stronger economic relations," Sudhanshu Pandey, counsellor (culture) in the Indian embassy here, told IANS.
In the last three years, India's trade relations with Germany have grown exponentially, and Pandey hopes this would have a positive impact on the growth of Indian studies here. From the current bilateral trade worth 7.6 billion euros, it is expected that the figure will increase to 10 billion euros in the next two years.
Pandey added: "As a supportive gesture, the Indian government has launched five rotating chairs in German universities in India-related subjects. Universities here can now request scholars from India to come and teach for six months.
"The Indian government bears the cost of Indian scholars' travel and salary while the German partner offers free accommodation and insurance. Tulsi Patel, a sociologist from Delhi University, has been the first such chair."
For the next academic year, the embassy has so far received requests for Indian scholars from the universities of Heidelberg, Humboldt, Hamburg, Bonn and Wurzburg.
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had announced the first such chair, and his successor Manmohan Singh announced four more during his visit to Hanover in April this year.
"Over the coming years, we hope the earlier number of India-related study centres will be restored. India's growing economic strengths may also encourage German corporate houses to sponsor centres for the study of India-related subjects", Pandey said.
Under the bilateral cultural agreement renewed in 2005, special focus has been placed on establishing partnerships and conducting exchanges between Indian and German schools. These include exchange visits by students and staff, who are given free visas by each country to travel to schools in the other country.
A major memorandum of understanding was recently signed with the board of school education of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg and the Delhi Public School (DPS) Society. This has been followed by visits by representatives of the two sides.
The Max Mueller Bhavan in Delhi is providing German language training to DPS teachers while the Indian embassy here is providing customised CDs 'Hindi Kaise Seekhein' (How to learn Hindi) to German schools. The embassy also facilitates links between schools teaching Hindi and the local Indian communities.
Pandey said that after a two-year process of consultation by students and staff of a local school to choose an international personality of stature, it was decided to rename the school as Tagore School May 2. The Indian embassy gifted a bust of Rabindranath Tagore to the school.
In May 15, principals of leading schools such as Banasthali, Mayo College (Ajmer) and DPS attended the International School Congress in Baden-Wurttemberg.