Foreword rector and vice rector

Rik TorfsDo you know what the population of Chennai is (give or take a few million)? Do you know who the prime minister of India is? Are you familiar with the work of Kalidasa? Or with the role of Ashoka? Do you know the difference between Jains and Sikhs? I don’t mean to underestimate you, but I am guessing that you most likely do not, and that’s okay. You have to remember that India has never occupied a prominent place on our radar, nor on that of the KU Leuven. And though we have had a few preeminent Sanskrit scholars over the years, neither their names nor their fields of study are by any means common knowledge. Bottom line: we have a poor understanding of India. From a historical standpoint, this lack of understanding is no surprise. For centuries, India was consumed by its own problems, and was primarily engaged in the process of synthesis and absorption, as a renowned British Indologist once said. As such, the country was slow to reveal itself to the outside world, and it did not always feel the need to do so either.

But India has sincDanny Pieterse awoken. Today, India is the largest democracy in the world. It is a federation that owes its origins in part to the non-violent resistance of that beacon for all of humanity, Mahatma Gandhi. It is a nation of stark contrasts, of the struggle against poverty and discrimination. India has also become a country of high technology with far-reaching economic influence, and it has world-renowned researchers in almost every field of study. India sends satellites to the moon. India has resolutely opened its eyes to the world, it has become accessible and it wants to prove itself. At our university, this openness is quite clear to see: more than 300 Indian students have since found their way to Leuven. Several hundred leading specialists from India work at imec and in Leuven’s commercial periphery. And on a more mundane level, Indian restaurants, which just ten to fifteen years ago were considered highly exotic here, are now plentiful.

This Indian openness will achieve a momentary high point in Belgium during the huge cultural heritage festival Europalia, which is devoted entirely to India this year. On the heels of Europalia, India House Leuven will open: a new meeting place for all those who have anything to do with the ancient glory or the new power of India - something that involves more and more people all the time. Together with the city and other partners, the university is lending its enthusiastic support to this initiative. Leuven’s Romaanse Poort might not possess the level of grandeur enjoyed by the Gateway of India in Mumbai, but that could change at anytime. They did, after all, have to start with a single stone in Mumbai as well. But you are no longer allowed to claim ignorance of Chennai, the Indian prime minister, Kalidasa, Ashoka, and Jains and Sikhs. Because from now on, you can find India right here in your own university town.

Rik Torfs, Rector of the KU Leuven

Danny Pieters, Vice-Rector of International Policy at the KU Leuven