It is true that Asia, despite its ancient roots and rich legacy, has remained a quieter cousin of the West. The 19th and 20th centuries—a period when many Asian nations were colonised or otherwise subjugated by the West—have prevented Asia from taking centre stage.
Once a cradle of art, culture and learning, and home to the famous spice route, Asia and its nations accounted for a large part of global wealth and population. Everything changed, however, with the rise of Europe and North America, and as the balance of power gradually shifted Westwards.
The emergence of the West—based on its economic dominance and influence—has led to the creation of a powerful western lens, which has become the sole way of viewing the world. Asia, and in particular its young people, have become accustomed to this lens, even looking at themselves through this western perspective.
Therefore, instead of feeling a sense of pride in the resplendent heritage, ethos and histories of their nations, the youth of the continent are turning towards the West, blindly embracing its values and philosophies. The ubiquitous Western Lens has prejudiced many a young mind, preventing the creation of a strong Asian identity. Whether it is the issue of marriage, family ties, care for the elderly or focus on learning, Gen Next is now increasingly veering towards the western thought process, setting aside the ethics and ideals it has grown up with.
There is clearly a need for an alternative lens, or should one say lenses, which can remove existing distortions and provide youngsters in Asia with a distinct and precise notion of themselves and the countries they were born in.
Such lenses, blending the positives of western and Eastern thought, can sensitise the coming Asian generation about the richness and diversity of the continent. Such lenses are critical in helping youth build a better understanding of their past. They are needed to establish a robust foundation on which Gen Next can build an aspirational future.
After all, Asia’s tomorrow is in the hands of this young population. It is imperative, therefore, that this segment of society appreciates and values that it has inherited and revels in its ‘Asian-ness’.
Young people need to know that Asian-ness is indeed in and gaining resonance in the world order. From North America to Europe, an Asian wave is visible which is washing ashore practices like yoga and ayurveda. Asian cuisines are increasing in popularity as is the simple, spiritual, oriental lifestyle. Today, many American universities offer programmes that give rich insights into Asia’s history, economy and the road ahead, building greater awareness about a land that is as old as the hills and the fountain of civilisation.
The same role can be played by Asian universities. Institutions of learning across Asia can and must lead the resurgence, reacquainting young people in the continent with their abounding traditions and customs. Asian schools of higher education can emerge as beacons, providing students with a vision of an ‘Asian 21st century’.
Indian universities have remained low-key as the crucial area of research, a prerequisite for nurturing studies like these, has largely remained neglected. Clearly, there is a need to revisit the Indian higher education sphere. We need to begin the groundwork for building more ground-breaking universities.
Indian universities should play a proactive role in encouraging research and disseminate knowledge about challenges, achievements and roles of Asian societies in the globalised world. I hope that, going forward, this neutral Asian Lens will help study Asia through Asian eyes, enabling the people of this continent to play their rightful role in the building of a just and successful 21st century society.
Asian Lens will regenerate the concept of an Asian space that promotes the exchange of ideas and learning, laying the foundation for a platform that provides rich cultural, intellectual and scientific pickings for future generations of Asians and one from which even non-Asians can profit.
The author is chairman, NIIT Ltd, and founder, NIIT University