10,000 SAF-Madanjeet Singh Scholarships Programme

Event Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France - 14th September 2004

Message on the occasion of launching the 10,000 SAF Madanjeet Singh scholarships programme in Colombo on 14th September 2004.

My conception of South Asia's unity in diversity essentially stems from my teenage experiences since I was a student at the Hindu University in Benares (now Varanasi). The alumnae came from every corner of the subcontinent and among my many friends I counted not only Punjabis and Kashmiris but others hailing from almost all Indian provinces, including present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as from Nepal and Sri Lanka. Mostly we lived in groups, speaking our own language, wearing our own regional clothes and eating our own food in separate messes.

But there was no separation what so ever as we entered the classrooms or the playgrounds. I recall the University Training Corps (UTC) drills, the cadets all looking all alike in military fatigues. Together we played football, hockey, tennis and especially cricket, interacted with each other and made lifelong friends. There was even a sort of "barter trade" among the students as clothes and other souvenirs were exchanged when they returned after the summer vacations. There were no "policy makers" to tell us what to do. lt was all so natural, so spontaneous, so inspiring. BHU was truly a micro South Asia before India was partitioned.

As I arrived in Rome on a scholarship in 1950, I was still suffering from the trauma of the gruesome fratricidal carnage I had lived through in both parts of the divided Punjab. In Europe, too, the havoc caused by the Second World War could be seen everywhere.

I was therefore emotionally involved in the efforts being made by a number of European leaders to secure a lasting peace between their countries by uniting them both economically and politically.

The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established on 8th December 1985, and I felt elated that its charter reflected several EU ideas. A similar South Asian Union, I thought, was the answer to many of our problems and I cherished the hope that SAARC would forge ahead like the EU, dealing with subjects of common concern.I toyed with the idea of creating a South Asian Economic Union and hoped that as with the euro, South Asia, too, would eventually have its own single currency - and even invented a name for it, sasia; my latest book is entitled The Sasia Story.

The great leap forward in the field of education made during the Third SAF General Conference in New Delhi, on 14th December 2003, by jointly designing courses for open universities in SAARC countries and offering an unprecedented 10,000 SAF Madanjeet Singh scholarships in vocational training and higher education will go a long way towards benefiting the socially and economically marginalized students in South Asian countries.

lt was originally on the kind suggestion SAF-Sri Lanka chairman that the 10,000 SAF Madanjeet Singh scholarships programme was launched on my birthday in all the other South Asian countries by offering a token number of scholarships. Hence it is of added significance and honour for SAF and me personally that this function in Colombo is presided over by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar himself.

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh
Founder, South Asia Foundation