On May 1, IndiaGBnews special correspondent Aline Dobbie listened to HE High Commissioner Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam speaking at Edinburgh University.
Her Excellency Ruchi Ghanashyam was welcomed by the Rt Hon Lord Provost of Edinburgh Frank Ross and the Senior Vice Principal Charles Jeffrey of Edinburgh University and her host was Professor Pankaj Pankaj the Dean of South Asian Studies at the University. The audience included the Provosts of South Ayrshire and city of Stirling and a host of distinguished guests and Alumni of Edinburgh University and some young students currently studying at the university.
HE responded with warmth and friendship to the welcome she had received from us all.
Reflecting on the long-distinguished legacy of Scots in India she specifically named the various alumni of Edinburgh University and then went on to emphasise what is happening in India today. India is the second largest nation for renewable energy globally. She said that air pollution research was so important in India. The University is strong in the study of autism, pollution, solar and wind energy.
She felt there is now a willingness to listen to the concerns of how best to work together for bringing Indians to the UK at UK government level. Until recently Indians were studying in significant numbers throughout Scotland, but this had been severely curtailed by the very rigid visa requirements laid down by Westminster and Scotland has suffered.
HE had met the First Minister Mrs Nicola Sturgeon in the afternoon and spoke of how best to continue to grow the synergy between India and Scotland. There is huge potential for Scotland continuing and increasing to help developing India with so many aspects of Indian lives. That of course is something Scots have been doing in India since the 18th century. At one stage there were two out of every three Scots families with a family member or members living, working, serving and dying in India. The University is a Fountainhead for youth who can be from India or go to India to help a vast developing country. 1876 was the year the first Indian student studied at University of Edinburgh. HE emphasised that fresh ideas often come from the young and thus the university ambience is very important.
But let us briefly consider the great Sir William Robertson who was for thirty years Principal of the University of Edinburgh in a golden age. I quote below how he viewed India with great wisdom and foresight over two centuries ago:
In 1791, the celebrated Scottish historian, William Robertson, published his final work, “An Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge which the Ancients had of India”, in which he explored the commercial and cultural connections of India and the West from ancient times to the end of the fifteenth century. This article considers Robertson’s “Historical Disquisition” within the contexts of the Scottish Enlightenment, the early British ‘orientalist’ movement, and the expansion of British dominion in India. It argues that while the work reflected the assumptions and approaches of the British orientalist school, Robertson went further than many orientalists in his positive portrayal of Indian culture and his opposition to an interventionist imperial policy. Indeed, the work was largely directed to preserving the ancient and sophisticated Indian civilisation from Western cultural imperialism. The article further suggests that Robertson’s favourable view of what he perceived as monotheist beliefs underlying ‘classical’ Hinduism reveals much about his own religious attitudes as a clergyman and leader of the ‘moderate’ party in the Church of Scotland. His history of India would be under-valued in Britain (despite its large sales), However, it had a considerable role in promoting interest in India on the European continent, and it represented one of the more significant achievements of the late Scottish Enlightenment The Scottish Historical Review © 2009 Edinburgh University Press
From the floor we were reminded that Professor John Gilchrist was the first professor of Urdu in 1797 and he was a Scot who had attended George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh and set up Fort William College in Calcutta to study north Indian languages and primarily Urdu – a plaque commemorating him can be found on an Edinburgh Walk.
Today, with India being a 21st century soft super power it is important to realise that £600 million of tax is paid by Indian companies within the UK and £100 million invested in Scotland employing over 2000 people.
The High Commissioner has served with distinction in many other countries and within the Indian Foreign Ministry in Delhi. She has a broad grasp of the global challenges and in this general election period which is happening in India she reassured that whatever the outcome she was confident that good policies will persist such as cleaning the Ganga (the Ganges) and other constructive environmental projects.
She was assured from the floor that the Scottish Development International was keen to help entrepreneurs and business develop in India to the mutual benefit of both India and Scotland.
Aline Dobbie is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on India. Born in India to Scottish parents she spent the first 16 years of her life in the sub-continent. An acclaimed travel writer, Aline is the author of a celebrated trilogy of books on India, including The Peacock’s Call – www.thepeacockscall.co.uk