This month of August has been a month of fire and water, heat waves in France and torrential rains in India; but August is also an intermediate, pivotal month: the academic year has ended, and before starting a new one, a review is necessary.
It is a positive review on multiple fronts, thanks to the work of the teams, thanks to the trust of the students, and thanks to the excellent governance of our Board of Governors.
In a previous blog, I used a maritime metaphor to pay tribute to the courage of the teams who managed to stay on course in the face of the adverse currents of the coronavirus waves, with teachers maintaining the same high quality of teaching online as they had in the classroom, an administrative department entirely dedicated to students, and a cultural programme that was the envy of the best cultural centres in the capital.
This year, we have favourable winds: the number of students opting for the Alliance française out of a desire and need to learn French has exceeded 5,000, and there have never been more cultural events, excluding film programming, that offer everyone a moment of pleasure, learning, escape and discovery.
On the cinematic front, our auditorium is becoming a benchmark for film buffs in Delhi: in addition to the regular Cine Club shows organised in collaboration with the Institut français de Paris and aimed at showcasing French film production, we have established collaborations with different partners to find an audience outside the commercial theatre circuit for independent cinema, be it French, Indian, or international; our ambition is to become THE arthouse cinema in Delhi. Help us achieve this goal by joining our AFD Cine Club WhatsApp group.
Another promise made last year was to undertake an extensive renovation of our much-loved building (synonymous in French with … ship: we’re continuing with the metaphor!); After 20 years of successive monsoons, heatwaves and winters, it was time to give the building a facelift by improving the waterproofing of the walls, modernising the fire security system and renovating the outside walkways and garden. An investment of around 4 crores was required for this first phase, and a second phase will involve improving the windows of the building. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff and students who had to put up with the noise, dust and congestion: I promise you, your Alliance will be all more beautiful and safer for it.
There is another project related to the building which concerns the environment, in particular energy, paper and water conservation, as it is the responsibility of everyone, institutions and individuals alike, to act for the world of tomorrow. Solar panels have been installed on our roof, better use has been made of air-conditioning and heating, and improved management of photocopying and printing, in particular through the use of chlorine-free paper, has led to a drastic reduction in paper consumption (although, as an educational institution, this remains an area in need of constant improvement…). I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved, including the Alliance staff, students and visitors.
I would also like to highlight an important feature of the management of Alliance staff members: their ongoing professionalisation through an ambitious continuous training policy. Face-to-face and online group training courses on personal and property safety (first aid, fire safety, anti-intrusion, etc.) alternate with individual training (cultural mediation in the “digital age”, virtual reality for FLE, digital cinema projection, etc.), in India or in France.
For the past year, the Alliance française cafeteria has been run by Nikhil and Jasmine. The menus have evolved according to tastes and needs, particularly those of the students, and in the evenings, the Alliance française de Delhi now hosts the “Bistrot français” which offers dishes from various French regions, from duck confit from the South-West to ratatouille from the South-East: feel free to start your gastronomic Tour de France at the Alliance française.
We should never forget that all the activities and services the Alliance offers would not be possible without the support functions of our institution: I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank the maintenance and cleaning teams, the security guards, our educational advisors at the reception desk, our IT and technical departments, our accounts and translation services, not to forget our vibrant media library, which is regularly updated to bring you the very best of French culture.
Last but not least, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Governing Body of the Alliance française, who work alongside the management to steer our ship to increasingly ambitious destinations. Many thanks to all of them for the time and energy they devote to the Alliance. Their generously offered technical and practical skills, and their unwavering confidence in all our projects, whether educational, technical or cultural in nature, are the “cardinal and lateral buoys” essential to our navigation.
Let’s wish each other fair winds and good luck for the months ahead!
Ce mois d’août aura été un mois un peu de feu et d’eau, de fortes chaleurs en France et de pluie diluvienne en Inde ; mais août est aussi un mois intermédiaire, charnière : l’année universitaire s’est achevée, et avant d’en débuter une nouvelle, un bilan s’impose.
Un bilan positif pour l’Alliance française sur de multiples fronts, grâce au travail des équipes, grâce à la confiance des étudiants et grâce à l’excellente gouvernance de notre Conseil d’Administration.
Dans le précédent rapport, j’ai utilisé pour la première fois une métaphore maritime pour saluer le courage des équipes qui face aux courants contraires des vagues de coronavirus ont su garder le cap, consistant pour l’Alliance à conserver une qualité d’enseignement équivalente en ligne comme en présentiel, un service administratif entièrement dédié aux étudiants et une programmation culturelle qu’envient les meilleurs Centres culturels de la Capitale.
Cette année, les vents nous sont redevenus favorables : le nombre d’étudiants optant pour l’Alliance française dans leur désir et leur besoin de langue française a dépassé 5 000, le nombre d’évènements culturels, hors programmation cinéma, n’a jamais été aussi élevé et a pour ambition d’offrir à chacun un moment de plaisir, de connaissance, d’évasion et de découverte.
Du côté cinéma, notre auditorium est en train de devenir une référence pour les cinéphiles de Delhi : en plus du traditionnel cinéclub organisé en collaboration avec l’Institut français de Paris et destiné à faire connaître la production cinématographique française, nous avons développé des collaborations avec plusieurs partenaires pour aider les cinémas indépendants, français et indiens, voire de pays tiers, à trouver un public en dehors des salles commerciales ; notre ambition : devenir LA salle Art et Essai de Delhi. Aidez-nous à atteindre cet objectif, notamment en rejoignant notre groupe WhatsApp AFD Ciné-Club.
Une autre promesse faite l’an dernier était de lancer un important chantier de rénovation de notre cher bâtiment (synonyme en français de … navire : nous continuons de filer la métaphore !) ; après 20 ans de moussons, de canicules et d’hivers successifs, il était temps de lui offrir un lifting en améliorant l’étanchéité des murs, en modernisant le système anti-incendie et en rénovant les allées extérieures et le jardin. Un investissement de près de 4 crores a été nécessaire pour cette première phase, auquel devra se rajouter une seconde étape consistant à améliorer les nombreuses ouvertures.
L’Alliance est devenue au fil du temps un bâtiment iconique dans le paysage architectural de la Capitale indienne, il nous appartient de l’entretenir à sa juste valeur.
Je tiens ici à remercier les équipes et surtout les étudiants qui face aux nuisances sonores, à la poussière et à la circulation entravées ont pris leur mal en patience : promis, votre Alliance n’en sera que plus belle et plus sûre.
Un autre chantier est en lien avec le bâtiment et concerne l’environnement et notamment les économies d’énergie, de papier, d’eau que chacun, institution ou individu, se doit de mettre en place pour le Monde de demain. Des panneaux solaires sont installés sur notre toit, une meilleure utilisation de la climatisation et du chauffage a été mise en place, une gestion des photocopies et des impressions, notamment par la mise en place d’un papier non chloré, a permis de diminuer drastiquement la consommation de papier (même si pour une institution éducative, ce secteur reste un point à améliorer constamment…). Je tiens à remercier ici la collaboration de tout un chacun, personnel de l’Alliance, étudiant et visiteur.
Je voudrais aussi mettre en avant une caractéristique importante de la gestion des personnels de l’Alliance : leur professionnalisation permanente grâce à une politique de formation continue et ambitieuse.
Plus que jamais, dans un monde en mutation constante, où les innovations technologiques nourrissent les attentes toujours plus importantes des étudiants et des visiteurs, il est primordial de permettre à nos personnels de s’informer et de former ; ainsi des formations collectives sur la sécurité des personnes et des biens (Premiers Secours, anti-incendie, anti-intrusion, etc.) alternent avec des formations individuelles (médiation culturelle à l’heure du numérique, réalité virtuelle pour le FLE, projection cinéma digitale, …), en présentiel ou en ligne, en Inde ou en France.
La cafétéria de l’Alliance française est depuis un an confié à Nikhil et Jasmine. Les menus ont évolué en fonction des goûts et des besoins, notamment des étudiants en journée, et le soir venu, l’Alliance française de Delhi accueille à présent le « Bistrot français » qui propose des spécialités culinaires des régions françaises, du confis de canard du Sud-Ouest à la ratatouille du Sud-Est : n’hésitez pas à débuter votre Tour de France gastronomique à l’Alliance française.
Par ailleurs, il ne faut jamais oublier que toutes les activités et services proposés par l’Alliance ne pourraient se faire sans les fonctions supports de notre institution : je tiens à remercier ici les équipes de maintenance et de nettoyage, les gardes de sécurités, nos Conseillers éducatifs de l’Accueil, nos départements informatique, technique, nos services de comptabilité et de traduction sans oublier bien entendu notre vibrante médiathèque qui s’enrichit régulièrement pour vous offrir le meilleur de la culture française.
Enfin, je désire ici saluer les membres du Conseil d’Administration de l’Alliance française, qui sont présents aux côtés de la Direction pour piloter notre navire vers des destinations toujours plus ambitieuses. Merci à elles toutes et à eux tous, pour le temps et l’énergie qu’elles et ils consacrent à l’Alliance. Leurs compétences techniques et pratiques gracieusement mises à disposition et leur confiance indéfectible envers tous les projets, qu’ils soient pédagogiques, techniques ou culturels constituent les « bouées cardinales et latérales » indispensables à notre navigation.
Souhaitons-nous tous bon vent et bonne chance pour les mois à venir !
May at Alliance française de Delhi
As was the case with March, the Alliance Française May calendar was centred around a pivotal date, the 17th: International Day Against Homophobia, Lesphobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).
Just as the fight against discrimination against women is obviously not limited to March, the 8th but must be the subject of permanent vigilance, so too must we work to achieve a more tolerant and more inclusive world for the LGBTQiA+ community: ensuring that the rights of sex and gender pluralities are not violated under any circumstances is a daily challenge, especially in the world of work.
More… because less
“More tolerant and more inclusive”: here, the word “more” should not be interpreted as a demand for a higher status, above that of “others”: sexual pluralities do not desire more rights than the majority, they just want to experience the same justice and visibility as everyone else.
This word “more” will disappear when the concept “equal” takes its full place, its legitimacy and becomes a reality.
“LGBT+”: and here is another “plus” sign, but there too we should not see a negative interpretation, as I have heard a few times, of “each letter of the alphabet being claimed by sexual inclinations…”
This sign does not therefore signify stigmatization, even laziness; on the contrary, it represents all the inclusiveness of a movement which aims to be universal: this “plus” sign will undoubtedly disappear by itself when it is no longer be necessary to list and distinguish each identity: the acronym will then become a piece of history, that will recall the struggle, and represent the stages of a historical movement… in all the senses of the word
What would history be without a few dates…
The date of May 17th was chosen to commemorate the decision of the World Health Organization to no longer consider homosexuality as a mental illness, on May 17… 1990.
In France, although homosexuality was decriminalized in… 1980, with the election of President François Mitterrand, it was not until 1992 that it was no longer considered a medical diagnosis… Yes: therefore, less than 35 years ago, homosexuality was considered to be a psychiatric pathology in France, and could be diagnosed in the same way as paranoia or depression. Today homosexual activists in too many countries are still fighting for the right to marry and adopt, but three decades earlier, their demands concerned the decriminalization and de-medicalization of their sexuality, not only “condemned by morality and the law” but stigmatized by medicine.
It was to commemorate and celebrate this victory that in 2005, the first IDAHO day was born, in particular thanks to the initiative and efforts of Louis-Georges Tin, a French academic and activist.
And at the Alliance Française?
On May 17th 2023, the Alliance Française organized a day of screenings and a discussion of ideas, from morning to nightfall. Five films were presented, each telling a story, a fight, a hope…
Then a debate entitled “Visibility for Equality: building a path against homophobia”, moderated by Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Director of the French Institute in India, allowed to a full house to listen to the testimonies of committed personalities: Keshav Suri, Simran Shaikh, Anish Gawande and Shruti Dutt, before interacting on the importance of “role models”, particularly in India, of support during of a “coming out” and the need to continue to fight on all fronts: legislative, cultural and social.
The Alliance Française has extended its engagement beyond this exciting day of activism, and is offering visitors to its library an LGBT section, with novels, essays, comics, etc.
On the occasion of Pride Month, the Alliance will fly a rainbow flag with pride and organized a series of inclusive events, including concerts (because in June; we also celebrate Music!).
This day was therefore an opportunity for the Alliance française de Delhi to measure the efforts that have been made and to discuss the struggles that remain to be fought in order to achieve equality; one day, this date of May 17 will only serve as a reminder of the path we had to travel to reach it, like another July 14…
Joli Mai in Alliance française de Delhi
Comme pour mars, le mois de mai s’articule dans le calendrier de l’Alliance française autour d’une date charnière, celle du 17, à laquelle est célébrée la journée internationale contre l’homophobie, la lesphobie, la biphobie et la transphobie (IDAHOBIT).
Si la lutte contre la discrimination à l’égard des femmes ne se limite bien évidemment pas au 08 mars mais doit faire l’objet d’une vigilance permanente, il en va de même quant à la réalisation d’un monde plus tolérant et plus inclusif pour les personnes LGBTQiA+ : s’assurer que les droits des pluralités sexuelles et de genre ne sont bafoués en aucune circonstance est un défi quotidien, notamment dans le monde du travail.
Plus… parce que moins
« Plus tolérant et plus inclusif » : ici, le mot « plus » ne doit pas être interprété comme l’exigence d’un statut supérieur, au-dessus de celui des « autres » : les pluralités sexuelles ne désirent pas plus de droits ou de lumière que les autres, elles réclament juste la possibilité de disposer de la même équité et d’une visibilité identique à celle de « Monsieur et Madame tout le monde ».
Ce mot « plus » disparaîtra lorsque le concept « égal » prendra toute sa place, sa légitimité et deviendra une réalité.
« LGBT+ » : et voici un autre signe « plus », mais là aussi il ne faut en aucun cas y rechercher une mauvaise interprétation, qui consisterait, comme je l’ai entendu quelque fois à « ne tout de même pas déclamer l’alphabet de toutes les inclinations sexuelles » …
Ce signe n’est donc présent ni par stigmatisation, ni même par paresse, il représente au contraire toute l’inclusivité d’un mouvement qui se veut universel : ce signe « plus » disparaîtra sans aucun doute de lui-même lorsqu’il ne sera plus nécessaire de lister, distinguer telle ou telle identité : le sigle se figera alors de lui-même pour rappeler la lutte et pour représenter les étapes d’un mouvement de libération, historique… dans tous les sens de ce dernier terme.
Que serait justement l’Histoire sans quelques dates…
La date du 17 mai a été choisie pour célébrer de façon symbolique et militante la décision de l’Organisation Mondiale de la Santé de ne plus considérer l’homosexualité comme une maladie mentale, le 17 mai… 1990.
En France, si l’homosexualité est dépénalisée en … 1982, avec l’élection du Président François Mitterrand, il faudra attendre 1992 pour qu’elle ne soit plus considérée comme un diagnostic médical … Oui : il y a donc moins de 35 ans, l’homosexualité était en France considérée comme une pathologie psychiatrique, et pouvait être diagnostiquée au même titre que la paranoïa ou la dépression. Si aujourd’hui les militants homosexuels, encore dans de trop nombreux pays, se battent pour le droit au mariage et à l’adoption, trois décennies plus tôt, leurs revendications concernaient la dépénalisation et la démédicalisation de leur sexualité, non seulement « condamnée par la morale et la loi » mais stigmatisée par la médecine.
C’est pour commémorer et célébrer cette victoire qu’en 2005, la première journée IDAHO voit le jour, notamment grâce à l’initiative et aux efforts de Louis-Georges Tin, universitaire et militant français.
Et l’Alliance française dans tout cela ?
Le 17 mai, l’Alliance française a organisé une journée de projections et de débats d’idées, du matin à la tombée de la nuit. Cinq films ont d’abord été proposés, chacun racontant une histoire, un combat, un espoir…
Puis un débat intitulé « La Visibilité pour l’Égalité : bâtir une voie contre l’homophobie » (Visibility for equality! Forging a path against LGBTphobia), animé par Emmanuel Lebruns-Damien, Directeur de l’Institut français en Inde, a permis à une salle comble d’écouter les témoignages de personnalités engagées : Keshav Suri, Simran Skaikh, Anish Gawande et Shruti Dutt, avant d’interagir sur l’importance d’un « role models », notamment en Inde, d’un soutien lors d’un « coming out » et de la nécessité de continuer à se battre sur tous les fronts : législatif, culturel et social.
Au-delà de cette journée passionnante et militante, l’Alliance se projette dans l’action et a décidé de proposer dans les mois qui viennent à ses lecteurs un fonds LGBT au sein de sa médiathèque : romans, essais, BD, …
A l’occasion du Mois des Fiertés, l’Alliance arborera fièrement un drapeau arc-en-ciel et organisera une série d’évènements inclusifs, notamment parce qu’en juin nous fêtons aussi la Musique
Cette journée a donc été l’occasion pour l’Alliance française de Delhi de mesurer les efforts qui ont été faits et de discuter des luttes qui restent à mener pour atteindre l’Égalité ; un jour, cette date du 17 mai ne servira qu’à se rappeler du chemin qu’il a fallu parcourir pour l’atteindre, comme un autre 14 juillet…
 Voir l’excellent ouvrage Psychiatrie et homosexualité de Malick Briki & Florence Tamagne, aux Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté.
Diversité linguistique et Universalité des Droits
Le mois de mars à l’Alliance est traditionnellement articulé autour de deux dates majeures : la Journée Internationale des Droits des Femmes, le 8, et la Journée Internationale de la Francophonie, le 20.
Nous n’avons pas cette année dérogé à la règle, et avons décidé de célébrer ces deux dates pendant tout le mois. Pour une simple raison : le combat pour l’égalité entre hommes et femmes et plus généralement entre les genres est un combat de tous les jours, de tous les instants. La date du 8 mars est symbolique, et nous voulons la marquer, mais l’action de l’Alliance française sur ce thème s’inscrit au quotidien et dans la continuité.
Il en va de même pour la Francophonie et plus généralement du plurilinguisme : si la défense de la langue française est une constante de notre institution, et quelque part sa raison d’être, la date du 20 mars rappelle que cette langue appartient à plus de 320 millions de personnes, répartis sur tous les continents, dans plus de 110 pays. Il est important de célébrer ce dialogue de cultures tellement différentes, mais qui ont en commun et en partage une même langue, bien souvent intégrée dans un plurilinguisme qui renforce leur cohésion nationale et peut en même temps leur offrir une dimension internationale supplémentaire.
On peut donc dire que grâce aux valeurs qu’elles défendent au quotidien, les Alliances françaises continuent 140 ans plus tard d’œuvrer pour devenir un lieu plus inclusif et un espace de liberté
Si presque partout dans le monde, être femme est synonyme de défi au quotidien, être femme en Inde, pauvre, peu ou prou éduquée et issue d’une zone tribale fortement impactée par le changement climatique est un combat permanent contre les stéréotypes et contre des conditions de vie de plus en plus ardues.
C’est donc naturellement que l’Alliance française s’est associée à l’Association Internationale des Femmes de Radio et de Télévision (IAWRT) pour organiser un atelier de trois jours intitulé « Genre, Changement climatique et Intersectionnalité » destiné à des jeunes femmes toutes issues de zones marginalisées et sous-développées. L’objectif étant ici de les former à la réalisation, à l’aide de leur téléphone portable, de très courts films pour documenter leur vie quotidienne et les impacts de l’évolution du climat sur cette dernière.
Les films réalisés seront diffusés à l’Alliance française à l’occasion de la journée Internationale de l’Environnement.
Comme chaque année, c’est la Mela Francophone qui s’est révélée le point d’orgue de notre mois de la Francophonie, ponctué par des concours à destination des étudiants et des écoliers, par la diffusion de films africains, européens, canadiens (et même sud-américains !), et cette année par une opération spéciale consistant dans la vente de centaines d’ouvrages d’occasion, en faveur pour l’Association Main Tendue.
La Mela 2023 a vu ainsi passé plus de 500 personnes sur les stands de nos partenaires pour discuter littérature, cinéma, bande-dessinée, etc., pour déguster poulet à la congolaise et frites belges, pour chanter et danser au son des musiques du Monde. Cinq ambassadeurs de l’Univers francophone se sont succédés sur scène pour démontrer que la langue française reste un bien commun et un atout dans un monde de plus en plus uniformisé.
Linguistic Diversity and Universal Rights
The month of March at the Alliance is traditionally arranged around two major dates: International Women’s Day, on the 8th, and International Francophonie Day, on the 20th.
This year is no exception, and we have decided to celebrate these two dates throughout the month, for a simple reason: the fight for equality between men and women, and more generally between genders is a constant daily struggle. The date of March 8 is symbolic, and we want to mark it, but the action of the Alliance française on this subject is part of daily life .
The same goes for the Francophonie and more generally for multilingualism: the defence of the French language is the mission of our institution, and its raison d’être, and March 20 reminds us that this language belongs to more than 320 million people, spread over all continents, in more than 110 countries. It is important to celebrate this dialogue between cultures that are so different, but which have a language in common a language that very often provides a means of international communication to countries that are already multilingual.
We can therefore proudly claim that thanks to the values they defend on a daily basis, the Alliances Françaises are continuing the work of 140 years, in becoming more inclusive places for free expression.
Almost everywhere in the world, being a woman is synonymous with daily challenges, and being a woman in India is certainly no exception, particularly poor, less educated women and women from tribal areas that are strongly impacted by climate change who face a never-ending fight against stereotypes and against increasingly difficult living conditions.
It is therefore natural that the Alliance française has joined forces with the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) in organizing a three-day workshop entitled “Gender, Climate Change and Intersectionality” for young women, all from marginalized and underdeveloped areas. The objective here was to train them to make very short films to document their daily life and the impacts of climate change on it, using their mobile phones. The films will be shown at the Alliance française on International Environment Day.
As every year, the highlight of our Francophonie month was the Mela Francophone, which showcased o African, European, Canadian and even South American francophonie cultures, punctuated by competitions for students and schoolchildren. La Mela 2023 saw more than 500 people, who visited our partners’ stands to discuss literature, cinema, comics, etc., to taste Congolese chicken and Belgian fries, to sing and dance to the sound of World Music.
Five ambassadors from the French-speaking world took turns on stage to demonstrate that the French language remains a common good and an asset in an increasingly standardized world.
 Rapport de l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) de 2022
 Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) ; 2022
Bruit, poussière et stratégie culturelle
Février à l’Alliance française a été placé sous le signe du bruit et de la poussière, et avant toute chose je me dois de remercier les employés de l’Alliance et surtout, surtout les étudiants pour leur patience et leur compréhension.
En effet, nous avons entamé des travaux longtemps attendus pour la maintenance (étanchéité du bâtiment), pour la sécurité (modernisation du système anti-incendie), pour l’amélioration des équipement (une galerie mieux équipée pour accueillir encore plus de diversité) et bien sûr pour l’embellissement (nouvelles allées et espaces extérieurs). Il est toujours aisé de retarder ce genre de travaux pour un tas de raisons, et notamment le risque de gêner les apprenants, les utilisateurs de la médiathèque, les spectateurs des évènements culturels. Mais il faut aussi tenir compte des conditions météorologiques comme la mousson et la chaleur extrême et les restrictions liées notamment à la pollution. Alors, prendre une décision n’est jamais aisé dans ces conditions, car il est évident que cette dernière va mécontenter beaucoup de gens ! Alors à toutes et à tous : merci encore pour votre généreuse et indulgente patience.
Pour compenser le bruit strident des scies électriques, les coups sourds des marteaux, la poussière qui s’insinue partout, les échafaudages qui transforme l’espace en puzzles aléatoires, les professeurs ont dû bien souvent ajuster leur cours à l’environnement sonore et faire preuve d’imagination pour créer des activités adaptées à un espace de travail temporairement dégradé.
Parallèlement, l’équipe Culture de l’Alliance a quant à elle redoublé d’énergie et de créativité pour tenter de faire oublier ces nuisances en vous offrant une grande variété d’évènements culturels : un spectacle franco-indien de fables traditionnelles, avec des chants lyriques et des marionnettes, un concert d’un musicien suisse décoiffant, une semaine de défilés de mode mêlant des designers reconnus et des étudiants, une journée dédiée à la philosophie de Paul Ricoeur, des rencontres cinémas et littératures dans le cadre du Salon International du Livre à New Delhi.
La diversité de ces évènements rime avec leur qualité et démontre encore une fois le caractère unique de notre Centre culturel, qui a pour objectif de faire la part belle à la création en offrant des espaces dédiés à l’innovation et à la coopération.
Un exemple concret est le succès extraordinaire du spectacle monté entièrement par la Neemrana Music Foundation : je tiens à saluer ici le courage, l’ambition et la quantité de travail qu’il a fallu à l’équipe d’Aude Priya Wacziarg pour parvenir à un tel résultat : La Vie Parisienne est l’exemple le plus abouti et le plus symbolique de la coopération artistique entre la France et l’Inde depuis ces dernières années. Et quelque chose me dit, que ce projet ne restera pas sans conséquence sur notre propre stratégie culturelle, notamment pour l’évolution de l’un de nos projets phare, InChorus… Mais je vous en donnerai des nouvelles dans quelques temps…
En effet, la politique culturelle de l’Alliance s’articule autour deux axes, que l ‘on peut résumer ainsi : diffusion et création.
Diffusion tout d’abord d’œuvres françaises, soit sous forme de spectacles vivants mettant en valeur l’excellence de la scène nationale (danse contemporaine, musique classique, etc.), soit via le cinéma (peu diffusé en direction du grand public dans les salles commerciales, mais largement apprécié par l’importante communauté cinéphile de la Capitale indienne) ; ensuite de l’actualité de la pensée française, à travers des débats d’idée sur des sujets (environnement, égalité des genres, laïcité, démocratie, etc.). Cette diffusion est bien entendue très souvent mise en place en partenariat avec l’Institut Français en Inde, et participe donc, d’une façon revendiquée, à l’image que l’Alliance française désire donner du pays qui l’a fait naître.
Le volet de la création est quant à lui ancré à 100% dans l’environnement de notre institution : il est destiné à mettre en valeur la coopération artistique entre les artistes français et indiens (voire d’une nationalité tierce) à travers des résidences, des rencontres, des espaces de travail collaboratif. C’est un volet que nous voulons le plus large possible, le plus inclusif possible, le plus facilement déclinable.
A bientôt, pour un mois de mars décapant, avec au programme : du DELF, de la Francophonie, du Débat (et du concret !) sur l’égalité, l’intersectionnalité, et bien entendu de la beauté et du plaisir.
Noise, Dust and Cultural Strategy
February at the Alliance Française was placed under the sign of noise and dust, and before anything else, I must thank the employees of the Alliance and above all, especially the students for their patience and their understanding.
Indeed, we have started long-awaited works for maintenance (watertightness of the building), for security (modernization of the fire prevention system), for the improvement of equipment (a gallery better equipped to accommodate even more diverse projects) and of course for the beautification (new alleys and outdoor spaces). It is always easy to delay this kind of work for a lot of reasons, and in particular the risk of disturbing students, users of the media library, spectators of cultural events. But we must also take into account weather conditions such as the monsoon and extreme heat and restrictions, linked in particular to pollution.
So, making a decision is never easy in these conditions, because it is obvious that it will upset a lot of people! So to all of you: thank you again for your generous and indulgent patience.
To compensate for the shrill noise of electric saws, the dull thuds of hammers, the dust that creeps in everywhere, the scaffolding that transforms the space into random puzzles, teachers have often had to adjust their lessons to the sound environment and make imagination to create activities adapted to a temporarily degraded workspace.
At the same time, the Alliance’s Culture team has redoubled of energy and creativity to try to make people forget (as much as possible…) these nuisances by offering the public a wide variety of cultural events: a Franco-Indian show of traditional fables, with lyrical songs and puppets, a concert by a breath-taking Swiss musician, a week of fashion shows bringing together renowned designers and students, a day dedicated to the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, cinema and literature encounters as part of New Delhi World Book Fair.
The diversity of these events rhymes with their quality and once again demonstrates the unique character of our Cultural Centre, which aims to give creation the place it deserves by offering spaces dedicated to innovation and cooperation.
A concrete example is the extraordinary success of the show put on by the Neemrana Music Foundation: I would like to pay tribute here to the courage, the ambition and the amount of work it took Aude Priya Wacziarg’s team to achieve such a result: La Vie Parisienne is the most successful and symbolic example of artistic cooperation between France and India in recent years. (And something tells me that this project will not remain without consequences on our own cultural strategy, in particular for the evolution of one of our flagship projects, InChorus… But I will give you some news in a few days…)
Indeed, the cultural policy of the Alliance revolves around two axes, which can be summarized as follows: dissemination and creation.
Dissemination first of all of French works, either in the form of live shows highlighting the excellence of the national scene (contemporary dance, classical music, etc.), or via the cinema (little visible to the general public in commercial cinemas, but widely appreciated by the large film-loving community of the Indian capital); then the topicality of French thought, through debates of ideas on subjects (environment, gender equality, secularism, democracy, etc.). This distribution is of course very often set up in partnership with the French Institute in India, and therefore participates, in a claimed way, in the image that the Alliance française wishes to give of the country which gave birth to it.
The creation component is 100% anchored in the environment of our institution: it is intended to highlight artistic cooperation between French and Indian artists (even of a third nationality) through residencies, meetings, collaborative workspaces. It is a component that we want to be as broad as possible, as inclusive as possible, as easily declinable.
See you soon, for a caustic month of March, with on the program: DELF, Francophonie, Debate (and concrete!) on equality, intersectionality, and of course beauty and pleasure.
Holocaust Remembrance Day
Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorated on the 27th January, provided us with an opportunity to turn our minds to the tragedy of the genocide that occurred during World War II, and to mourn the millions of innocent lives that were lost, victims of the barbaric Nazi regime. It is also the occasion to acknowledge the importance of educating future generations about the Holocaust and its lessons
The Alliance Française du Delhi helped mark this day by inviting 300 students, from 12 to 15 years-old, and from Indian, German, and French schools to watch some short films and look at a presentation on the lives of Jewish children under the Nazi regime, and this allowed them and their teachers to engage with this most difficult of subjects.
It is not easy for teachers to speak about millions of people being killed just because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their disabilities or their ethnicity.
It is not easy for students to understand the importance of learning these facts, and sometimes to have to watch terrible and even horrible images of thousands of dead bodies, these images are traumatic in themselves and therefore they demand the vital resource of mediators – and in this context I mean professional educators -to explain them and to contextualize them.
In the general process of school education, teachers are necessary; in teaching History, and in particular subjects like the Holocaust, teachers are essential: they are the gatekeepers and guides through our shared past, and their responsibility is huge; I would like to thank all of them for accepting this delicate, complex and crucial mission.
As we all know, 2025 will mark the 80th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Death Camp by the Soviet Army on the 27th January 1945. The chances of having living survivors with us on that occasion is increasingly low. We are loosing the first hand witnesses of the atrocities committed there, both the victims, and the troops who liberated them. They, the survivors and the liberators, have been the strongest defence against Holocaust deniers. We must ensure that their stories are heard and their memories kept alive, and education is the only way to do so.
Silence In February
The first lockdown and the following restrictions due to the pandemic last year had at least one unforeseen positive consequence: a drastic reduction in air pollution, with less cars on Delhi’s streets, less construction work and more people working from home -and let’s hope that this positive effect will give the Government and the Private sector a lot of good ideas about how to incentivise the development of electric vehicles, increase safe and clean public transport, control more polluting industries and encourage working from home!
This time round, I couldn’t help but notice a major effect on another type of pollution- noise.
From evening until morning, and for every week-end in January, what amazed me was the silence emanating from outdoors. A strange, dense absence of noise rising from the streets: no cars’ honking, no motorbikes without exhaust pipes, no wallah’s shouting, no casual but very loud conversations between neighbours… as if humanity had disappeared from the streets, and left them to nature, and to wildlife…
I had never noticed before how many birds were living around our flat, I had never had the opportunity of hearing them before. Occasionally, it is true that I heard some dogs barking, but it was only part of the background noise of the city, and indeed, these dogs are so domesticated, that they almost belong to the Human way of life.
One Saturday in particular, maybe the second of the week-end curfew, I woke up because of the silence. When I opened my eyes, I didn’t really understand: the silence was so thick that it became troubling, because it was not habitual, and then I started to notice the light outdoors; the total absence of noise was already weird but at least understandable in the middle of the darkness, but the combination of silence and light was not expected. Was it an especially bright full moon? Did the Delhi municipality have some desire to flood the street with more light than usual? I was confused and then I noticed the time: 7 am. That explained the light, but certainly not the silence, thick, surreal, worrying. After a short time, however, I realised that this silence was not in fact complete: nearby sounds began to slip through – a dog, out of view began to bark. I hard croaking birds, and the screech of a cat…; I looked out of the window to see monkeys swinging from trees to balcony, dogs beneath protesting their presence, cats scampering out of reach, birds twittering in a flurry to protect their nests. I was in not a scene in a dystopian film, it was Saturday, 15th January in Delhi, the second week-end of curfew, set up by Delhi’s authorities to try to slow down the contagion of the new Omicron variant.
The previous month of December, I was planning, along with my holidays, the cultural and pedagogical calendar of the Alliance française for 2022. The idea was to resume the maximum of activities off line and, according to a survey, almost three quarters of the new students who were ready to start learning French wanted to do it “in the flesh”: with a teacher in front of them, with comrades next to them, with a cafeteria to chat and to flirt in. Well, we all know that the beginning of this New Year hasn’t been kind to optimistic people: a new letter of the Greek alphabet came to disrupt plans and kill hope, or as I stay optimistic, I will say to postpone our short term programmes.
And indeed, things have changed since the tragic second wave of last spring when so many people became ill, died, lost loved ones, or their income, their jobs, and saw their future jeopardised by COVID 19.
Today, we have vaccines, and in India the health system seems to be better prepared to face, if necessary, an increase in hospitalisation; so, even if we cannot be complacent, we need to show some confidence in the future, firstly because of the capacity of resilience showed by so many people, secondly because as a Human is a social animal: the silence is of course quite nice but only for so long…
Smriti Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development of India with other delegates during the virtual commemoration on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day
January, as first month of the year, sees the first of the many commemorations that mark our shared human experience. Not least amongst them, falling on the 27th, is the official commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. For years now, the Alliance française de Delhi has worked on this event in close partnership with the United Nations Information Centre and the Embassy of Israel, and I want to take the opportunity here to express my gratitude for the work done coordinating this event over the past few weeks under the difficult circumstances that we have all come to know so well: preparing such an important event is always complicated, to do so online is even more challenging.
Below some extract of my introductory speech given on the 31stJanuary.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the real privilege and honour but also the great responsibility of introducing the official 2022 commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. I am honoured to have been intrusted with this.
This is our second time online, and of course I am sure that all of us would prefer to sit in an auditorium to interact more easily with our guest speakers, but I believe that this disadvantage in no way limits the necessity of this commemoration.
I am not a specialist of this period of history. Nevertheless, as these events belong to the common history of all of us, and not just to the experts and politicians, it is important that all citizens, and even more importantly, all future citizens, engage with this most difficult of subjects.
And here lies the role of Education. I know that the role of educating our children is very often emphasized by policy makers, but sometimes the reality, for many reasons, does not match the rhetoric.
All of us know the state of the world in which we live today: the COVID pandemic has affected all societies, and disturbed every aspect of our daily life, and above all, it has upended the Education of many millions of students.
At a time, when happily, we are witnessing an improvement on the Health front that gives us hope that schools will be able to reopen soon, there might therefore be the temptation to concentrate on the core subjects such as Mathematics, Computer sciences, etc. But it is my strongly-held belief that it would be a mistake, a very serious mistake to do so at the expense of other crucial subjects such as Art, Philosophy and above all, History. More than ever, we need our children to acquire the tools which allow them to build critical thinking skills, while also reinforcing humanitarian values, which are essential to the survival of free and just societies. Here more than anywhere else, Education is synonymous with Preservation:
“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” – thus Winston Churchill worded a warning that has cut across cultures and generations, a plea to not allow ignorance and complacency to lead us down the same dangerous paths.
All around the world, teachers have a crucial but extremely difficult task: to give students the atrocious, but richly documented, facts regarding the Final Solution, the death camps, the gas chambers. There are many testimonies, many books and many films- an enormous volume of evidence of one of the blackest events in human history, where the need to have someone to scapegoat and to blame for general discontentment, led to the slaughter of one group of humans by their neighbours.
And in the same time, the same teachers need to help their students to develop their critical thinking to be more independent-minded (and maybe smarter…), and able to differentiate between hard evidence and the miasma of mis-information that is the plague of the age: unfortunately, this task can sometimes be difficult as nationalistic ideologies continue to influence the ways in which history is remembered and taught.
There has never been a time when lies have not been spread for political gain, and history not been co-opted and manipulated to serve a given agenda, but we are living through times when this tendency seems to be extremely acute, with the proliferation of fake news, lies insisted on as truths, and history being distorted to fit some ideological agendas.
Although conspiracy theories have always existed, in the past they were not able to spread so rapidly through a population, but today they are breaking into the mainstream and are part of the public debate, and this includes that old lie: denying, or minimizing the Holocaust. This is especially dangerous because it goes hand in hand with other racist and hateful theories which use lies to demonise entire ethnicities or religious groups…
I would like to end this introduction with a powerful account I came across years ago but which remains in my mind:
When General Eisenhower visited the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 after its liberation by the U.S. army, he realized how difficult it would be for people to comprehend the reality of the Holocaust, he wrote the following, and I am quoting:
“The things I saw beggar description. … In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. … I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the near future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”
It is so sad and disheartening to realise that Eisenhower’s pessimistic words were so prophetic.
Thanks for your attention,
A Particular Year
It has been just over a year since I arrived in Delhi.
When I was finally able to go to the Alliance, after two weeks quarantine, and meet the staff who worked there for the very first time I found that though these were people who had suffered or were still suffering from the effects of the first wave, they were above all people who were keen to continue their work within this beautiful institution, even if it meant that they had to work under circumstances that were still difficult.
The teaching staff had been able to adapt very quickly to ensure continuity in the teaching of French, shifting from a 100% face-to-face model to a 100% online system almost overnight. And in the months that followed, I observed that the teachers had not only become experts in video conferencing, but had even transformed this technological and pedagogical challenge into an opportunity, by jointly creating new ways of interacting with their students.
And when we were hit by the second wave, which was even more terrible than the first, the teaching team was more than ready to face this new challenge.
I would like to acknowledge my grateful thanks to them here.
But even the best team of teachers cannot operate efficiently without the logistical support provided by the expertise of the administrative staff, the real backbone of the Alliance française.
Every member of this administrative team adapted to this extraordinary situation: while some had to make room at home to install a laptop, others had to deal with children who often did not understand why mum and dad, even though they no longer went to the office, could not play with them because some people on the screen were discussing incomprehensible things.
The results however were well worth the effort put in by the staff: the Alliance has been able to not only continue its main task of teaching French to thousands of students, but also that of translating hundreds of official documents, lending books and even offering cultural events online.
As in all difficult situations, strategic choices have to be made. In the long term, the Alliance’s desire is obviously to serve students from across the entire National Capital Region, both through online and face-to-face classes. However, we have had to make a tactical retreat by temporarily abandoning the Noida and Gurgaon Centres. As soon as the situation allows, we will all collectively examine the possibility of resuming our operations in these cities, or even in others.
Alongside the men and women who work every day at the Alliance, there are also those who have chosen to work as volunteers on the Governing Body (elected in March 2021): I would like to sincerely thank each and every one of the members of the old and the new teams for their time, their expertise, their vision, and especially for their continued support during this past year.
Several challenges await us. Firstly, in addition to continuously improving the quality of our online classes, we must also prepare for the reopening of face-to-face classes, and perhaps think of new teaching methods in light of the new learning habits acquired by students in recent months.
Then, we must encourage the public to return to the cultural events at the Alliance, by ensuring that all health precautions are taken by our teams at the events. And while on the subject of culture, the Alliance française is preparing to participate in the fourth edition of the Bonjour India Festival which will take place early next year.
Our beautiful building is coming of age and turning 18, and to commemorate this milestone, we will give it a general facelift, which includes some important maintenance work.
I would like to conclude this “bilan” of 2021 with a special tribute to an employee who left us: Rajeev Tamang worked in the Alliance’s media library for more than eighteen years. He was a colleague appreciated by one and all, ever ready to help, and who always had a smile on his face. He will be deeply missed by all of us.
Among The Waves – Ivan Aivazovsky
For the last three months, I haven’t written any text for the Blog “From the Director’s desk”. I haven’t felt like it. I spent most of my free time reading and checking the news in French and Indian newspapers, wondering, where are we heading. We, as an institution –the Alliance française de Delhi, Societies -both Indian and iFrench, and, maybe, even as a species…
Adding another text on the pandemic, trying to find answers (and hopefully not from Facebook and YouTube’s newly self-appointed experts in epidemiology and other microbiology…), being tempted to find somebody to blame (usually with the benefit of hindsight, or using the French expression: “YAQUA et FAUQUON”) didn’t seem to me, to be a valuable thing to do.
During the peak of the pandemic, many people at the Alliance Française became sick, and some even lost loved ones. Nonetheless, we managed to keep our ship afloat, and of course, even on these violent waves.
I like this nautical metaphor, for obvious personal reasons, as I am a sailor myself, but also, because the image of a beautiful ship best describes an institution like ours. It has to be well conceived and solidly built, not to fight the sea and the wind, which would be doomed to failure, but to harness these elements to sail safely in the chosen direction. In beautiful weather, the crew deploys the main sail, the genoa and even the spinnaker: these are the times to add nautical miles to our journey, to fill the ship’s holds with fish and the spirits with sun. During a storm, this is the time to bring down the main sails, and to raise the jib, with only one thought in the mind – the safety of all. But, this preoccupation, doesn’t require stopping the ship (good luck with that anyway…), and letting her become a prey to the elements. No, it means, adapting the ship as well as the crew, to these new circumstances because salvation lies in the movement.
And more than ever, the “we” I used above is a collective one. I know that this expression is sometimes overused, and then squandered (from the captain of the winning football team to the actor awarded a prize in Cannes festival); but in the Alliance, during this last tempest, everybody stayed on the deck and did their duty.
Amongst the many results of this collective effort, a few have to be brought to light: Firstly, we have managed to keep each member of the crew on board, as nobody has been left behind because of the pandemic. Secondly, almost 2,800 students have chosen to trust us and to continue to study French with us, and we surely know how challenging this time is for everyone.
But, our journey on troubled waters has not finished, even if mass vaccination is calming the sea. Almost all our staff at the Alliance française has been vaccinated, mainly thanks to the French Embassy’s Moderna campaign. But, the risk is still there, and we need to continue to be prudent, and adopt all necessary precautions. This is why for almost a year and half, all our classes have been conducted on line, and unfortunately, there are chances that the next session will also be on line. Fortunately, our teachers are now well trained to carry on, however, what we are losing in physical and social interactions, we are making up for in comfort and in saving time.
On the cultural front, the damage has been even greater. In between January and March, we were so happy and excited to be able to return to the stage, and in those ten weeks to organize some concerts, talks and exhibitions. But in April, the second wave forced us again to retreat online.
Culture online is difficult, no doubt. It is difficult to curate an interesting event for the screen, firstly, for technical reasons (“please unmute yourself”; “I can’t see you”; “your connection is unstable” …), secondly because the artists, the intellectuals and of course, the public are tired. We, the organizers, but also the audience, have lost patience, motivation and concentration, not to mention having “double vision” (there are a few industries who have been able to profit from this health crisis, and I think that one of them is ophthalmology: I am sure that more glasses have been sold than ever…).
But, of course, we will continue to provide events of quality, tailored for the Internet: shorter (“who watches a 90 minutes’ concert?”), on demand (“who wants to sit down at 3 pm to see a French film when anybody can choose to watch it anytime on one of the increasing numbers of video platforms, on demand or by streaming?”) and of course with a French touch (“why sit in front an event offered by the Alliance française? Because, they are unique in the way that they cater for you, Students, Members and Friends of the Alliance”).
So, from the crow’s nest perched on the mast, we can discern a silver lining, there, on the horizon. What this silver lining represents is the possibility of resuming all the services we owe you, and of bringing you on a stimulating linguistic and cultural cruise on our ship: which awaits you.
March is very busy, and this is my only excuse for writing this blog so late in the month. It is a month that is framed by two major events, the first being International Women’s Day on the 8th and the second being International Francophonie Day on the 21st.
March is also witness to a change in the seasons, as it foreshadows the coming summer in the North hemisphere and winter in the South; in both North and South, colours change, and the animal kingdom sets out on its annual migrations. March has seen changes in the Alliance française de Delhi this year too: our all-important elections for the new governing board, which took place on the 21st.
International Women’s Day translates into French as “Journée International des Droits des Femmes”, and I prefer the longer description of this important occasion, as it is a not just another global celebration of a group of people such as Mother’s day or teacher’s day. This Day commemorates the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women of cause, but perhaps even more importantly, it draws attention to the women’s rights movement, and to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women.
To mark it, we organised a round table with six exceptional women, who have reached positions of power in the fields of business, academia and diplomacy, and during the debate, they used stories from their own lives to illustrate the difficulties they have encountered and overcome in order to become the “women in charge” they are today. Do watch this event on the Alliance française’s facebook channel.
According to the UN, 10 countries have a female Head of State today, and 13 countries have a female Head of Government. 119 countries have never had a woman leader…
This inequality is obvious and undeniable, but let us consider the countries that are being led by women through these days of pandemic, such as Germany, New Zealand and Taiwan. Can we see a pattern in leadership here: which leaders handled the first wave of COVID-19 the best?
It does appear that women leaders have had better results in terms of handling this particular health crisis. If you are interested, the Forbes online magazine has an excellent summary of the research done by Supriya Garikipati (University of Liverpool) and Uma Kambhampati (University of Reading). One word that makes a frequent appearance in their research, and that was also heard often during the debate at the Alliance Francaise, is the word Empathy, not by any means to be confused with Emotional (although it frequently is).
March also brings us Francophonie. Put briefly, this word signifies an institution that organizes relations between countries which have the French language in common, or in French “en partage”. It counts 88 countries among its members and encompasses 330 million speakers of French, almost half of whom live in Africa; and thanks to these speakers, French is said to be the 5th most spoken language in the world.
Traditionally, this has been celebrated at the Alliance française with the Francophone Mela, with the participation of dozens of francophone countries and hundreds of visitors. Of course, this year, this annual gathering has not been possible. Nevertheless, we will continue to welcome some of you to francophone film screenings and some interesting webinars.
Of cause, like you, we prefer to interact, discuss, and even argue in person, so here’s to better times in the future…
Keep safe, keep busy, learn French.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a real privilege and honour as well as a great responsibility, to introduce the 2021 commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Thank you for intrusting this to me.
When I was asked to present this three-day series of events that over the past few years has become a tradition for the Alliance française de Delhi to do in collaboration with the United Nations Information Centre and the Embassy of Israel, I was not sure how to do it – I am not a qualified historian, my family was not involved on either side of the Second World War; but then I reminded myself that this is true of nearly everyone in the world and that these events belong to the common history of all of us, and not just to experts, politicians and those directly involved. So it is important that “normal” citizens like myself engage with this most difficult of subjects.
Last weekend, while reading the BBC website, I came across an article with the headline “Nazi Buchenwald Camp no Place for Sledging”. In this very short article, the journalist reported that some people have been using the hill where the camp once stood to slalom between the graves and that the authorities have had to formally warn the public that winter sports are forbidden at the Memorial and that this disrespect of the dead will be punishable by a fine.
I find this story disturbing because the people skiing, horse-riding or sledging are clearly not neo-Nazis or Holocaust deniers, it is obvious that they were not there for political reasons. They seem to be normal citizens who decided to find another place to entertain themselves, maybe because the ski resorts have closed due to the COVID 19 pandemic, without giving a thought to the significance of the site, or maybe for some without even knowing that a Memorial to the atrocities perpetrated at the infamous Buchenwald camp was there.
This story, or anecdote even, illustrates very well the importance of a Day like today, a day when we need to remember that the only way to prevent the Beast being unleashed is through Education – through keeping the memory of the destruction it causes alive.
Lies have always been spread for political gain, and history has always been co-opted and manipulated to serve political agendas. However, this tendency seems to be particularly acute these days, with the proliferation of fake news, and opposing interpretations of the past being used to polarise us further, and with conspiracy theories storming the mainstream.
There have always been conspiracy theories on the fringes of society, but today they have become part of the public debate. And while many crazy theories about reptilian orders, for example, are startling and possibly disruptive, those that deny the Holocaust are actively dangerous because it is used to legitimize other racist and hateful theories and belief systems.
On 27th January 1945, the Auschwitz Death camp was liberated by the Soviet Army. 2025 will mark the 80th anniversary, and the chances of there being living survivors of that dark point in human history are very low. We are losing the first-hand witnesses of the atrocities endured there, both the victims and the troops who liberated them. They, the survivors and the liberators, have been a defence against the keyboard apologists and deniers intent on rewriting the past to suit their debased agenda. As these witnesses pass into history themselves, the responsibility for upholding the truth falls to all of us.
When Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied forces who would later serve as president of the United States of America, visited the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 after its liberation by the U.S. Army, he realized how difficult it would be for people to comprehend the reality of the Holocaust, he wrote the following. I am quoting from a letter he sent three days after his visit:
“The things I saw beggar description. … In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. … I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the near future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”
It is disheartening to acknowledge that Eisenhower’s pessimistic words are so prophetic.
Historians, teachers, the media, bear a huge responsibility, to tell the truth convincingly, but they are not the only ones. Society at large and each individual one of us bears that same responsibility.
A New Year has just started with a message of Hope: vaccination is spreading quickly, and this will firstly allow us to turn this pandemic year into a bad memory albeit one that is hard to forget, and secondly, learn lessons from it, about our health of cause, but also about the kind of society we want to live in.
Controversy will continue to rage: was “too much” or, on the contrary, “too little” done to control the circulation of the virus? Do we have to protect the weakest at the expense of the rest of the population? Do we have to limit liberty to guarantee safety? Must collective need outweigh the needs of the Individual?
This debate is not just needed, it is an intrinsic part of our democratic societies, it is written in the DNA of our culture. However, if this discussion is to be healthy and useful, it needs to remain calm, so we cannot allow it to be hijacked by conspiracy theories, which are spreading at the speed of the Internet, or in other words, very fast indeed…
No two countries have chosen the same strategy, first, to attempt to slow down the epidemic and now, to vaccinate their populations. It is too early to decide which strategy has been the best in protecting the general population, or the worst in maintaining social connections or limiting economic damage.
In France, during the first lockdown, it was decided to restrict the liberty of the most vulnerable elderly by forbidding all visits, even from close family, to old people’s homes. How many people did this drastic measure save? We will never know exactly, but if it prevented the death of even one grand-parent, can we not say that it was justified? On the other hand, what about those other grandparents who were forced to die alone, out of sight of their loved ones?
In France too, students have been severely limited in the access they have to their education for at least nine months; and of course, many stress that the greatest hardship of studying on-line, what many of them emphasize is the lack of socialization. The situation is doubtless very complicated, even difficult, but is it a tragedy? If the interdictions gained by meeting, and by famous student partying, have had to slow down to limit the spread of the virus among the general population, is it not again justified? A 20-year student can hope to enjoy another 60 years; on the other hand, a person of 60 can perhaps hope for another 2 decades: which one should be asked to sacrifice a few months – even a year of their lives? It is not a simple choice, and the answer is not black and white, but this question has to be asked.
A few centuries ago, Science had to fight against Religion, and very often the former was forced into submission at the alter of the latter. Today it seems that “public opinion” is demanding that science submits to it, since, thanks to the Internet in general and social media in particular, anybody can become an expert in virology and pharmacology. Politicians find themselves as referees in this unfortunate face-off; they have no choice but to apply the recommendations of the science, and to convince an increasingly skeptical public to act in their own best interests.
Perhaps this management of the epidemic shows the limits of “participative democracy”, as opposed to representative democracy. The latter was invented by enlightenment thinkers to avoid two pitfalls: the absolute power of one King or Emperor over everyone else, and the will of a few charismatic or ambitious idiots overriding the wisest sages. From the French revolution until now, the principle we have needed to maintain has been to let experts advise the elected politicians on their decisions which may sometimes be popular, or in the modern context, populist. Naively or not, this is what we expect from our elected political representatives, with the expectation that they forget their allegiance to the Left or to the Right. This is why giving equal weight to the informed advice of experts and to the ignorant opinions of the ill-informed is one of the inevitable risks of populism.
Of course, the general population does participate in local decisions (as in the typical French Hobson’s choice: should the village recycling bin be emptied once or twice a week?), in their regional identity (and as a Breton, I know what that means…) or even in some big issues such as climate change (from which steps the question of when an action is local or becomes global, but that is a question for another time…)
However, when it comes to deciding if wearing masks should be compulsory or if social distance should be imposed, should we not just accept the advice given by experts, or even better, by groups of experts?
There are lessons that we will learn from the sad and life-threatening situation we find ourselves in: we can all agree we need to be better prepared, anticipate more, and act faster; can we agree on more State coercion? Maybe… or maybe not. Can we agree on more empathy and humanity? Definitely.
Although we are living through a time of fear and uncertainty, it is also a time of hope and resilience, as India takes its place in the forefront of the vaccine mobilization that will return the world to us. This being the case, we should resist the urge to concern ourselves only with the bare necessities of life that meet our material needs, as tend to be prioritized by governments and business, rather, we should find happy release in culture and the arts.
It would not only be short-sighted to limit our focus to our baser needs, but it would also testify to a misunderstanding of culture and the value it adds to the daily life of us all. Culture is the civilizing and softening interpretation of our world – it is our defense against the Hobbesian rush of ego that wakens from sleeping once our humanity is reduced to its most basic needs and functions, and that alienates us from each other.
That is not to say that culture should be reduced to mere entertainment, the panem et circenses, or bread and circuses, that do no more than act as a distraction to whatever blight may have befallen us, and this is particularly true in dark days like these. More than ever, we need to remember the beauty of artistic creation; the joy and mental engagement it inspires help to make us human, whether it be film, song, performance, or painting. Above all, we need to support the artists who so enrich our experience of life, but who have been unable to perform, exhibit, meet their public, or support themselves during this time.
Along with many other Cultural Centres, the Alliance française has had little option than to cancel exhibitions, films, book clubs, and performances, but although our building has been reduced to a ghost town of hollowed-out classrooms and corridors that seem haunted by our missing students, we, the governing body and executive directorship, have remained committed to the artists, as we have been to you, their potential audience, in spite of the technical and financial difficulties we face.
For this reason, we have invested in the Net and have tried to make our presence effective there and to compensate for our inexperience on this media, by offering even more. Are we offering online cinema? Yes, but there is more – let’s invite the Director for an open discussion with the viewers. Are we broadcasting a live concert? Of course, but let’s go further – let’s meet the performers and ask them the questions we would never normally have the opportunity to ask. Are we organizing a book club online? Naturally, but let’s have the writer themselves to talk about their books and to chat with the readers – not just ten readers round a table in our library, but dozens of them, all sitting comfortably at home, with a little more confidence that environment allows them, to ask more probing questions…
Naturally, it is essential to pay the artists communicating with us through these new channels the same amount as they would earn if present in the flesh: the cost of living, the preparation they have done, and most importantly, the talent they are sharing, have not changed.
In December, to celebrate the end of this annus horribilis (no need for translation here I imagine…), the Alliance française de Delhi has decided to offer you many events online, and I would like to particularly promote three of them: a concert and an interview with the French musician Christophe Panzani, an InChorus performance by French and Indian artists who have been in residence at the Alliance française, and a unique concert performed by some of the best Opera singers in Delhi, organized at the Lotus Temple in collaboration with the Neemrana Foundation.
This Opera performance will be the last event of the year, and I want to dedicate it to all of you who find comfort in sharing in a collective experience of sacred music, written by composers down the centuries and across continents, who were inspired to make shared visions of hope and peace beautiful in song, whatever their Faith.
Wishing you all the best for the Season, and for a happier new year.
A new lockdown has been announced in France and it started a few days ago. Thanks to the knowledge acquired during the preceding lockdown in the spring, and after having taken the advice of the scientific and health authorities, the French government has chosen to keep all schools, primary and secondary, open this time. This sometimes controversial decision, and not forgetting the economic cost, takes this essential fact into account: a few months without school has clearly reinforced educational inequalities: children and adolescents are far from equal in terms of what they know.
Social and economic inequalities have always existed; even though tools such as the carte scolaire, which made it compulsory for children to attend the school closest to their home address in order to avoid parents choosing schools with better reputations at greater distances, and the creation of Zones Prioritaires d’Education which allow some more disadvantaged neighborhoods to receive special grants for their schools, …, have tried in vain to correct or amend the situation. Unfortunately, to a large extent, these inequalities are embedded in the roots of all our modern societies.
The general lockdown of last April, and the sometimes very difficult return to school for many pupils and students, mainly because of the drastic health and safety conditions imposed (half classes, alternative weeks, demotivation because of cancellation of all exams, etc.) has revealed that digital teaching, far from bridging social and educational divides, has reinforced it for the most disadvantaged part of the population. This digital divide is usually used to illustrate the difficulties the uneducated adult population has with these (not so) new technologies, or those who do not possess equipment or Internet connection, and so cannot access online information.
A common pre-conceived idea is that children are computer literate, in an almost organic way, but firstly it should not be forgotten that playing online or watching a YouTube video does not mean that you have all the keys needed to use the equipment as a source of information, and secondly, one has to keep in mind that in 2020, almost 10 % of French children do not have a computer at home. And of course, beyond the equipment, there is the question of how able a parent is to accompany their sons and daughters into the Hi-Tech world. The result is a double-whammy for these children, not to mention the demotivation that cannot be made up for by particular attention of teachers or through the solidarity that can found amongst peers.
Without knowing the details of the Indian context, I can easily imagine that the uncomfortable situation of the most disadvantaged is at least the same, or certainly worse, given the vast rural population here.
The Alliance Française de Delhi, which teaches a subject that is non-essential for most of the population, does not face this digital divide: our students, teachers and administrators, all have the skills, devices, and access to the web, and if very rarely they do not, our institution is able to lend basic equipment.
So, how, in our small way, can we help to reduce this digital divide? In the coming years, and in light of the experiences of the past and the painful present experience of epidemic, our great and successful association will have to try to offer some small response: it is our social and moral responsibility.
The COIVD-19 epidemic is obviously terrible on many levels: people are getting sick, people are dying, some have lost loved ones, some have lost their jobs; for too many, there has been really suffering. Rich or poor, powerful or humble, no one is safe.
The pandemic has also had a heavy toll on mental health, not only because of the stress that almost everyone feels, or the loneliness that too have endured during the lockdown, but also because of the uncertainty that everybody must endure: what does the future hold for us? What will life be like in tomorrow’s world? In these circumstances, it is difficult to make plans, to focus on goals, to keep following the trajectory we had mapped out when the World was “normal”.
Why is this? It is because we have a natural tendency to become conservative when we want to protect our loved ones, and when we want to preserve our time, our money, and our energy for the Future, especially when we don’t have any idea what form this Future will take. This is normal because it is human and natural. But we should also take this opportunity to reflect on the Past, the Present, and indeed on the Future; this health crisis will not last forever, and we need to be ready to show resilience, and we need to be prepared.
Education is the universal key to a better future, perhaps even more so in India. It is the ultimate, and sometimes painful, investment in tomorrow. The lockdown saw the closure of all schools and universities, and has forced students to adopt a new way of studying, sometimes unsupported, because along with everyone else, parents, teachers, and administrators were not ready.
For those who have chosen to study French and particularly for those who are planning to go to France to pursue higher education, this is perhaps the moment to act. The Alliance, in common with every other institution, has had to adapt very quickly because the responsibility was huge: we had earned the trust of so many people in teaching them the French language, and we could not let them down.
The governing body, the executive team, the administrative team, and especially all the teachers have risen to the challenge and have labored hard to ensure that classes continue. And the results are in: thousands of students have continued to learn French with us, because you trusted us, and we have continued to provide courses online because we trust you.
We don’t know when we will be able to reopen classes on our premises in Delhi and in Gurgaon, but the time will come, and we know that while some of you will continue to join us online, some will find their way back to our Library, our café, and our auditorium, not today, not even this month, but soon: because we are human, and humans are social animals.
While we wait for the time when we social animals can be together again, I would like to conclude this message by wishing our Hindu friends happiness on the occasion of the festival of Navratras this month: have a joyous celebration of the Goddess Durga, and all her avatars, and her message of hope and rebirth. For our Muslim friends, I wish you joy on the occasion of the Prophet’s birthday, and in celebration of his message of peace.
One last word: if I may reformulate the great slogan Keep Calm and Carry On, Stay Safe and Keep Busy… until we meet again.
September in France is traditionally marked by a few recurring events: French schoolchildren and students find their way back to their desks, political parties organize their ‘universities’ and some Alliance françaises all around the world get a new Director.
Delhi is no exception: Jean-François Ramon, the previous Director, has left the Indian capital (in his case, to embrace a new life of leisure and personal journeys: he has officially retired), and here I am, Stephane Amalir, the new Director, happy and grateful, even lucky, to be starting this New Adventure with you all.
New Adventure indeed as can be seen by the superlatives: the Alliance française de Delhi is the third biggest among the 800 other Alliances all over the world, in terms of the number of students and teaching hours, from a country that is soon to have the largest population in the world.
But the Alliance française de Delhi is yours before all else: it is the place where you come to learn French for a multitude of reasons, ranging from the desire to be able to order a “baguette de pain avec du fromage, s’il vous plait” to the aim of studying at a “grande école”; it is the place where you can come to browse through tens of thousands of documents in the French language on a huge variety of subjects; it is a place where you can come and listen to a live piano concert, admire an exhibition that you cannot see anywhere else, to watch a classic francophone movie or the latest film from a famous French director.
And when I say “a place”, you understand of course that I mean both a physical address and a virtual space: the Alliance has truly reached universality and is present on earth as well as in the cloud.
The COVID-19 pandemic is here as it is everywhere, and we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but we also need to continue to work, to entertain, to live, and the Alliance française de Delhi is full of Life. I can only repeat that I feel honored that the executive Direction has been offered to me, and I am certain that with the help of the Governing Body, the administrative staff, and the teachers, we will be able not only to maintain its excellence and its position, but to go further, and to offer more.