Thursday, July 02, 2009

Incredible India; Malaysia: Truly Asia

A thin line divides Southeast Asia and South Asia in terms of geography, but other differences are many. While Southeast Asia can boast of several "developed" countries, South Asia, especially India, is still striving for that status, and has not even reach a second world status as of now, if progress is measured by general wellbeing of the populace and not soaring gross domestic product growth figures.

There are many differences between South and Southeast Asia. The latter has better infrastructure, the social structure is quite favorable for women, and poverty is not as severe as many areas in South Asia, barring places like Cambodia and Laos.

India has a long way to go to reach the likes of Singapore and Malaysia as far as infrastructure development goes. Agreed, we have a population problem and a huge country, but if there is money to set up hundreds of statues in Uttar Pradesh for no good reason, spending more than 1,000 crore rupees, then there surely is money to improve the sorry infrastructure of the country, which would in turn better the living conditions of the population of the country.

A country where people are forced to take a bath and defecate in the same river should take immediate and large-scale steps to address the situation. The lack of education in the lower economic classes, which prevents them from demanding and indeed knowing their rights, also needs to be addressed more effectively.

These things are taken care of remarkably in most Southeast Asian countries. Even in rural parts of Malaysia infrastructure is better than the best cities of India. If a fellow tropical country, which has been independent for nearly the same time as India, can have excellent drainage systems for the rains, beautiful roads and highways and full stomachs, one wonders where India went wrong.

It is not that there is no corruption in Southeast Asia. In fact, the locals there are as dismissive of bribes in society as are Indians. In spite of that there is much more development.

The one area where India soars above Southeast Asia, however, is press freedom. Nearly all countries in Southeast Asia, with the exception of Indonesia, have severe constraints on what can be reported and how much the press can criticize that powers that be. This is enforced by draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act in Malaysia where anyone who speaks out against the government can be detained under the pretext of being a threat to national security by stoking disturbance.

It is a tribute to India's plurality that the press here is very free and one can write without fear of retribution.

No country is perfect and neither is ours, but we can definitely make it better by using whatever means available to us. Now if we could only refrain from putting up those statues!