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.