Asia has half of the worlds population. Apart from
some countries like Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea,
it belongs to the third world. There are many poor people and the gap
between the rich and the poor is increasing. In their anxiety to catch
up with the richer economies, the Asian countries engage in unplanned
technological development that lead to ecological destruction. The Multi-nationals
are allowed to exploit their human and material resources. The poorly-paid
labour of women and even children is used to bring down the production
costs. Brain drain and migrant labour are depleting their human resources.
Sex tourism involving women and children are encouraged or tolerated as
income earners. The process of globalization is concentrating economic
and political power, supported by military might, in North America and
Europe, making of Asia a big open market for their goods and a source
of cheap labour. The population in most countries is growing. Competition
for the limited resources available is creating a lot of tensions between
various groups of people, knit together in the name of religion, ethnicity,
nationality or language. There are ongoing low-intensity conflicts in
many countries. The picture looks dark indeed and the future seems bleak.
But there are a lot of positive signs of an awakening among people which
counter-balance this negative picture. That is why we can affirm confidently
that a different Asia is possible. What are the factors that encourage
us to envisage a better future?
The most important factor is the human resource in which Asia is very
rich. In terms of the age of the population, Asia is a very young continent,
compared to the ageing populations of Europe and America. It has a vast
army of young people. These people are rooted in and sustained by millennia-old
Asian cultures, led by China and India. These cultures have been able
to withstand the impact of European cultures during the colonial period
and grow through creative interaction. They have also been able to integrate
modern science and technology without any damage to their basic values.
Secularization is not a problem in Asia.
It is often said that knowledge is power. Today knowledge is making use
of the electronic media. People speak of it as information technology.
The Asian youth are globally recognized as having an affinity to these
forms of technology and knowledge. They will certainly have an important
role in developing the future world. Information technology will transform
the lives of people in Asia. It may help them to jump a few stages of
the industrial development that Europe has gone through.
The people are also becoming politically aware. In every country, subaltern
groups are becoming conscious of their rights and asserting them through
all kinds of socio-political movements. Though there are still some strong
governments in some countries, military dictatorships are ruling only
a very few countries like Burma and Tibet. Democracy is taking a slow,
but sure, hold in many countries. Peoples power is everywhere evident.
In the last ten years the Philippino people have overthrown by a popular
movement two of their presidents. The Indonesians eased out their president
in a bloodless revolution. East Timor gained its independence. Similar
reaffirmation of democracy has happened in Taiwan and South Korea. India
remains the largest functioning democracy in the world with more than
a billion people.
What is amazing is that most of the Asian countries are multi-cultural
and multi-religious. In spite of occasional tensions they have succeeded
in living together and creating community. In the Philippines, Sri Lanka,
India, Burma, and Indonesia negotiations for peace have replaced active
and even violent conflict. These negotiations represent the recognition
of the separate identity of groups and their autonomy within a federal
political set-up. In this way groups of people are enabled to participate
in decision making and determine their own future.
There has been an awakening also in the field of ecology. People are more
sensitive to the place of the Earth in human and cosmic life. The poor
and the tribal groups in forest areas have become conscientized to the
increasing destruction of the environment and have actively resisted the
inroad of technology. They have also been protesting against the displacement
of the people and destroying their cultural habitat. There was a famous
case in the north of India where women hugged trees in a forest to prevent
them from being cut down, even though some of the workers employed to
cut the trees were their own husbands. In the south of India people have
evolved alternate ways of damming the rivers and using them for balanced
irrigation. Fisher people have organized themselves to struggle against
mechanized trawlers that destroy fish culture in the sea and deprive ordinary
fisher-folk of their livelihood. The people in the Philippines have been
able to stop the destruction of forests to replace them with farm lands
producing agricultural goods for the export market. These peoples
movements have been able to bend the government to protect their interests
in the ecological balance of the universe. What is also significant is
that many of these movements are non-violent, following the example of
The core values of people are rooted in religion. Asia is the cradle of
all the world religions: Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity
and Islam. All these religions are resurgent and have acquired a new purpose
in the context of the impact of modernity. Secularism is the consequence
of a struggle between the Church and the State in Europe. Similar conflicts
do not exist in Asia and therefore it is not secularised as Europe is.
Though the Asian religions may seem otherworldly, as a matter of fact
they are very much focused on a good life here and now. Systems of meditation
like theYoga and Zen seek to promote inner peace and harmony in the midst
of a busy world. These systems are becoming increasingly popular. Alternative
healing methods promote holistic health. The traditional systems of medicine
in India and China are based on herbs and the energies of the body itself.
Practices like acupressure and acupuncture stimulate the body to heal
itself. Similarly, the energy flow of the body has been experientially
studied. This energy is channelized for healing purposes by systems like
Reiki and Pranic healing. Mental concentration, psycho-physical energy
and the herbs from nature form a powerful combination for promoting holistic
Though there are certain currents of religious fundamentalism and movements
that use religions as political forces, the Asian religions are broadly
peace-loving. Even religious fundamentalism is a reaction to economic,
political and cultural oppression by globally dominant groups.
In the Asia of the future the women will come into their own. It is true
that Asian cultures have oppressed women in various ways in the past.
But in recent years economic necessity has brought women into the public
place looking for jobs. This has given them a new independence and self-confidence
and a growing representation in politics. In India, for instance, there
is a move to grant 33% representation for women in Parliament. New avenues
like Information Technology are accessible to women as they do not need
brute physical strength, but intelligence. As a matter of fact it is in
Asia that we have had women prime ministers in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.
There are women presidents in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
One of the reasons for Asias backwardness today is colonial domination
in the recent centuries. Their new independence certainly gives them an
opportunity. An alternate Asia is certainly possible because Asia has
cultures that offer an alternative world view and value system to the
dominant Euro-American culture that is consumer and competition oriented,
detrimental to the body and to the earth. Asian cultures are positive
to and integrative of the body and nature. While Euro-American cultures
are individualistic, the Asian cultures are communitarian. They are sensitive
to the other. Emotional intelligence is built into their system
while they are equally strong in rationality too. Harmony has been their
goal. They are rooted in religion. The Asians are slowly becoming aware
of the riches they have. If they can develop their resources they can
meet the needs of all equitably. The youth of their population assures
that the future of the world is theirs.
As the recent war on Iraq has shown, colonialism, political and economic,
is not over. But the arrogance of the colonial powers will be their destruction.
This is the opportunity for the Asians to show the world that they have
a real alternative way of life.