Days after US President Barack Obama's comments on religious tolerance in India, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said the country's spirit of unity amidst diversity, non-violence and tolerance has made it one of the oldest continuous civilisation in the world. "What is the spirit of India? I believe it is our unity amidst the immense diversity of India... It is our traditions of non-violence and tolerance. It is the age old concepts of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' (the world is a family) and 'Sarva Dharma Sambhav' (equal respect for all faiths)," she said inaugurating an international conference on 'Indian Diaspora & Cultural Heritage: Past, Present and Future' here. It is adherence to these ideas and ideals which has made India the oldest continuous civilisation in the world, with a history going back five thousand years, she said. "Most of the old civilisations of the world are dead and gone, but India has continued to maintain, develop and enrich its cultural heritage," she said. Her comments have come in the wake of Obama's statement that religious conflict has produced "acts of intolerance" in India which would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi. "One is living in an era in which the cultural heritage of many societies is under threat, from war, from social and economic upheaval, and the forces of globalisation and cultural homogenisation. "Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and artifacts.
It also includes living traditions, the wealth of knowledge and skills that is inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants. "This is what gives us a sense of identity and continuity. It makes us who we are. The diaspora's role in preserving cultural heritage is particularly important," the minister said. Noting that the Heads of Mission Conference, attended by over 120 Indian Ambassadors and High Commissioners, concluded here yesterday, she said the country has millions of envoys all over the world in the form of the NRIs and persons of Indian origin who have kept the spirit of India alive in their adopted homelands.