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About

The goal of this website is to help us (i.e., mainly Americans) re-discover South Asia, in its 21st Century complexity, opportunities and challenges.

SOUTH ASIA’S DEMOCRACIES ARE BASED ON TRADITIONS & VALUES: South Asia was among the first regions to decolonize and become new experiments in democracy. The post-colonial period opened new possibilities for the newly independent nations to blossom into their own. Although America was a source of inspiration to the new democracies, the South Asian nations did not adopt the free-market capitalist model or the individual-rights based constitution of America. Based on centuries of traditions built around family, religion and community structures, the South Asian nations adopted centralized public institutions designed to advance collective social progress and economic development, rather than the model of limited government and decentralized governance structures which America had adopted.

South Asian values are based on religion, custom, faith, spirituality, contentment, modesty, family values, respect for hierarchies and authority, pacifism and harmony with nature and environment. By contrast, American values are based on individual rights, freedom of expression, material pursuits, liberal values, modernity, secularism, limited government, ambition, risk-taking exploration, experimentation and exploitation of nature and environment, rebellious antagonism towards authority, discontent with status quo, quest for power, influence and hegemony and a tendency to excesses. There are also substantial differences among South Asian nations. The degree of individual and press freedoms varies among these nations. These are, of course, broad sweeping generalizations but the value differences among countries are real. The differences between Western values and South Asian values do not make the two incompatible. However, the lack of awareness of these differences often causes misunderstandings and misperceptions of South Asia among Americans and vice versa.

In the early decades of the post-War era, the Indian sub-continent was torn by religious and regional tensions, giving rise to the partition of the former Indian colony into Pakistan and India and the further splintering of Pakistan, with the liberation of Bangladesh.

SOUTH ASIA’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS, A SHOWCASE OF PRIDE, NOT POWER: During the Cold War period, India developed closer affinity to the former Soviet Union while Pakistan became an American ally. In the 1970s, India’s active assistance to Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan and the Soviet Union’s foray into Afghanistan brought the subcontinent into the ambit of Superpower conflicts. India’s border-clashes with Pakistan and China did not escalate into wars. And yet, India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, more as a show of scientific prowess and pride than as a projection of power. This made the subcontinent a critical region for the whole world.

Through the rest of the Twentieth century, the subcontinent continued to suffer from seasonal natural disasters, sluggish economic development, rapid population growth and bad governance.

JOB-SEEKERS EMIGRATE, RETURN WITH TECHNOLOGY & MODERNITY

During the 1980s & 1990s, the Indian subcontinent benefited significantly from the emigration of large numbers of South Asian laborers and professionals to the Middle East, as the oil-rich kingdoms boomed with newly constructed cities with modern infrastructure, seaports, airports, roads, hospitals and schools. The South Asian diaspora remitted large amounts of precious foreign exchange back to their homelands. They also brought electronic gifts and other products, giving their families and friends in South Asia a foretaste of the prosperity they were getting ready to build at home.

SOUTH ASIA LEAP-FROGS IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS & COMMERCE:

During the 1990s, the telecommunications and technological revolution from the West began to open up communication and entertainment avenues to the subcontinent in ever-expanding waves, enabling South Asian nations to “leapfrog” into, and get glimpses and tastes of, the modern world. Protectionist policies were relaxed as new opportunities in international trade and investments were recognized. India began to develop rapidly into a powerhouse in information technology while Bangladesh became the world’s most efficient garment manufacturer. Sri Lanka became a major tourist destination.

SOUTH ASIA INVESTS IN EDUCATION: As former colonies of Britain, the subcontinent had adopted English as its own, if somewhat grudgingly. Indians and Pakistanis began to excel in Cricket as if it was their own native sport. The investments made in the early years of independence in educational institutions and large-scale industries began to yield dividends, as large numbers of highly-educated and skilled professionals from the subcontinent began to migrate to the Middle East and to other developed countries, such as Canada, USA, Britain and Australia.

SOUTH ASIA BEGAN TO CHANGE DRAMATICALLY, AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY.

DIASPORA DAZZLES: By the turn of the century, South Asian doctors, engineers and IT professionals became ubiquitous even as entrepreneurial South Asians began to establish firm footholds in several labor-intensive sectors, such as restaurants, hotels and retail businesses in the West.

RAPID RISE FROM RIDICULE TO RESPECT: While the early South Asian immigrants in the West were mostly economic refugees, they benefited from the largely meritocratic environment in western countries, learning to overcome sporadic instances of discrimination. Many South Asians rose to become leaders in business, arts, sports and politics! Since the 2010s, the rise of South Asians across the world became even more dramatic as Rishi Sunak became the Prime Minister of Britain, Kamala Harris was elected the Vice President of the United States and highly accomplished members of the diaspora became the CEOs of large multinational companies, Silicon Valley billionaires and Wall Street titans.

No other diaspora community has had such a swift and meteoric rise in world history according to a recent issue of The Economist.

INEQUALITIES & POLARIZATION: Meanwhile, the rapid spread of Social Media and inexpensive mobile phones liberated people to new possibilities in communications, employment, entertainment, arts and politics. As the countries opened up their economies to competitive forces, inequalities increased and polarization deepened, paralleling similar trends worldwide. Communal and religious tensions, which were simmering and sporadic, were amplified by social media into divisive, sometimes violent, conflicts. The fabric of democracy in Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been severely strained. India’s democracy, which had survived authoritarian interruptions in the 1970s, is facing challenges by the rise of majoritarian politics.

MULTIPOLAR GEOPOLITICS: As China expanded its footprint across South Asia through opportunistic economic aid and loan programs, anxieties for India rose. And, the emerging conflicts between America and China have made all of South Asia of great strategic interest to all the major powers of the world, including Europe, Russia, China and America.

These are the major trends and forces of a New South Asia that we, Americans, must learn to understand, cooperate and coexist with. This site is designed to help with this process.

HOW CAN WE UNDERSTAND THE NEW SOUTH ASIA? The American media generally does a fair job, reporting on South Asia regularly and with great diligence. And yet, the significant complexities involved in covering this rapidly evolving region continue to pose challenges to most media organizations who must allocate scarce resources to many different regions and topics which compete with South Asia. This means that we cannot rely on any single news publication to understand the New South Asia. We must search for and absorb news from multiple sources and examine them critically and supplement them with reports from local, South Asian, media. The South Asian media has many good English-language publications. The local and western media (especially social media) operate relatively freely in South Asia, in spite of occasional episodes of harassment by government officials and political parties.

Meanwhile, media and the field of journalism have also been going through tumultuous changes in recent years in all parts of the world, resulting in distortions ranging from inadvertent biases to insufficient nuance to deliberate fake-news.

MEDIA MATTERS: Keeping track of trends in the Media is important to all of us. The “Internet” and “Social Media” are the fuzzy lenses through which most of us get news and information. This is not enough. To get a good grasp of the world, we must regularly read / watch / listen to news and opinions from a range of professional journalism organizations which employ trained reporters, fact-checkers and editors who systematically and diligently gather, edit, compile and curate news, day after day after day. There is no substitute to this process, This is what serious and great publications like The New York Times, The Hindu, The Wall Street Journal, Dawn, CNN, Financial Times, Washington Post, BBC and many other publications do, day after day. This site relies on these publications. However, the selection of articles posted at (or omitted from) this site also involves biases of the person(s) who are involved in the process.

In recent years, even well-run news organizations have been suffering from a fickle base of subscribers and advertisers on whom they rely for revenues. These organizations deserve loyal support from subscribers and advertisers. This site directs subscribers to these publications by posting links to them. This site is a gateway to great media organizations, not a substitute for them.

SOUTH ASIA: South Asia comprises the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

India is home to the world’s largest population and a large and growing economy. It is a nuclear power and is rapidly developing into a global powerhouse in information technology and related services and trying to grow into a large manufacturing nation. India is also a growing market for American businesses. Geopolitically, India has long tried to remain non-aligned but is now trying to balance its interests between its historic relationship with Russia and its growing economic, trade and military alliances with America.

Pakistan, the other nuclear-armed nation in South Asia, has long been an ally of America. Its current economic struggles and political instability make it vital for Americans to monitor its progress closely. China’s growing influence in Pakistan is another important recent trend to watch.

Bangladesh has gone through rapid economic development and is home to many of the garment exporters to America.

Sri Lanka, Nepal and the other smaller South Asian nations are increasingly squeezed by geopolitically-driven economic aid and opportunism from China, India and other nations.

Afghanistan is not covered in this site. Afghanistan has engaged our attention quite a bit ever since the Soviet incursion in the 1970s and, of course, our own tragic involvement in the past two decade.

“Desi” is a term which refers to the large diaspora from the Indian subcontinent living in America and all around the world. Desis constitute the base for the soft power, cultural and economic influence of South Asia on the rest of the world, ranging from the growing adoption and adaptations of yoga, Bollywood and ethnic cuisines and costumes from the subcontinent. As the diaspora has grown in size and influence, it has also developed influential lobbies and channels to influence America’s policies and Americans’ dealings with South Asia and its diaspora.

The primary purpose of this site is informational, not advocacy, not commercial. Opinion pieces featured in the site are to broaden our insight, not to sway anyone to any viewpoint. The publications, writers, books and other sources featured at the site are some of the best in what they do although none of them is perfect. They are examples of the multiple lenses through which any complex subject should be understood. This site is organized by NewSouthAsia, a non-profit organization, to help Americans understand the new trends, issues and challenges shaping South Asia. Comments and suggestions on the site may be sent to johnlaxmius@gmail.com.