India and the Global Majority

Here we are at the end of April 2023. What makes this date significant? This week, India’s population is expected to have reached 1,425,775,850, overtaking China as the world’s most populous country. This brings a few thoughts to mind.

First, I’ve always had a soft spot for India and its peoples. This might have something to do with my ‘spiritual’ childhood and attending the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago at the age of ten. For a while I even identified myself as Hindu though I wasn’t really. In grown-up life India came to represent some of my favourite authors – Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai – and the music of Ravi Shankar and A.R. Rahman. When I finally travelled to India, I revelled in the colours and fragrances, its architecture rich in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious history and the experiences of seeing a tiger in the wild and riding through the crowded chaos of New Delhi in the back of a rickshaw. I also saw poverty on a scale I had never seen before. An enlightening experience all around.

The other idea that has surfaced with this population milestone is that of a global majority. Since the middle of the twentieth century, together China and India have accounted for over a third of the world’s population. For the entirety of my lifetime, the world has been predominately Asian. Yet for much of my early life – and perhaps I speak for other Westerners – my world view did not match this Asian reality.

That started to change with globalization – I know this is a swear word for many, but globalization is not just about a McDonald’s/Coca Cola world invasion, but also includes a spreading of Asian cultures and languages to the West. I went through a Japanese phase in the 80s when Japan was an economic powerhouse and Akira Kurosawa films regularly featured at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Living in Korea in the late-90s and travelling widely to neighbouring countries made America feel for me even less central to world cultures – a bit player. Today, I reflect on the power of ‘K’ – K-pop, K-design, K-cinema – as everything adorably Korean.

The concept of a global majority can also be seen through another lens. Writing about leadership in education, Rosemary Campbell-Stephens defines the global majority to include ‘people who identify as Black, African, Asian, Brown, Arab and mixed heritage, are indigenous to the global south, and/or have been racialised as ethnic minorities.’ Combined, these groups currently represent roughly eighty-five per cent of the world’s population. Campbell-Stephens adds that the term global majority was ‘coined to reject the debilitating implications of being racialised as minorities.’ Recognising the largest populations isn’t just about numbers, it is a move ‘towards reclaiming the autonomy and efficacy that the process of racialised categorisation and minoritisation removes.’ I can see the value of this – a challenge to prejudicial thinking. But it also misses the mark by not acknowledging racializing religious groups as found in antisemitism and, to bring this back to India, in Modi’s government, which is openly discriminating against Muslims.

As India’s population and economic power grows, so too does its place in the world. I watch this global power shift with fascination and a bit of unease.

World Population Day

You missed it. It was 11 July and is every year on the same day. This year, I thought I’d write about it here in my blog, but then thought twice as the day approached – I didn’t want to write on a topic that the newspapers were covering ad nauseam. Or not, as it turned out. On the morning of 11 July, I started with my Guardian app, and found nothing, not even an editorial about our growing world population. Nothing about how the mere presence of humans is endangering our environment from a paper that runs climate change and ‘our toxic lifestyles’ stories on a near-daily basis. The only article of note was about a Sicilian town which is heading to extinction due to depopulation. The irony of publishing this piece on this particular day seems to have escaped the editors.

BBC Online – same thing. So, I did a quick search. While I didn’t find anything about World Population Day, I did find a news story from earlier this year about the shrinking population in Japan. I started to wonder if I was living in an inverse parallel universe.

I also checked a couple of the French papers, where I learned about the growing wolf population. And a couple of Italian papers – niente – before I ran out of languages.

I guess it’s up to me then. It’s quite obvious that this day isn’t a holiday as such. It’s not something to be celebrated joyously, and there’s no day off work for it. It’s one of those ‘awareness days’ marked on the calendar mostly by charitable organisations, NGOs and governmental bodies to bring population issues into the public discourse.

What are these issues? First of all, the date of the 11th of July isn’t just a random date chosen because there was a gap in the awareness day calendar somewhere between Clean Air Day and World Hepatitis Day. The 11th of July marked the day the world population reached 5 billion – in 1987. Today, world population is estimated to be 7.7 billion. In other words, it may have taken thousands of years to reach the first 5 billion, but at the current rate, we will reach the next 5 billion by 2050 – that’s less than 100 years between the 5 billion markers. You can watch the world grow in numbers at World Population Clock.

In some parts of the world overpopulation is creating poverty and contributing to global warming, pollution, overcrowding and the spread of diseases. Even if we live in a country that is experiencing a decline in its population, such as Italy and Japan, with world population growth, food sources are being drained from our planet while expanding urbanisation and industrialisation are heating it up.

Maybe this day of apocalyptic warnings hasn’t received the attention it deserves because the ways of tackling the problem seem beyond people’s control. It’s not as easy as recycling our bottles and newspapers or choosing public transport over driving our cars (though this isn’t so easy if you live in East Anglia, UK). The solutions involve healthcare and education systems across the globe, and we all know how difficult it is to get these systems working just within our own countries and communities. From an international perspective, it’s also a messy topic to broach. It clashes up against religions, cultural heritage and the rights of women over their own bodies.

My contribution to this cause – supporting NGOs, such as Planned Parenthood and Human Population Growth, along with not having children myself. Not to sound holier-than-thou, but the oversized world population was one of my reasons for choosing to not have children. (Of course, there were other reasons, e.g. dysfunctional families, student-loan debt and gay boyfriends.) And my minor contribution is today’s blog, albeit late.