South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities (see below), also includes the adjoining countries on the west and the east. Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate, which rises above sea level as the Indian subcontinent south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. South Asia is surrounded (clockwise, from west to east) by Western Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia and the Indian ocean.
South Asia typically consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Some definitions may also include Afghanistan, Burma, Tibet, and the British Indian Ocean Territories. Iran is also included in the UN subregion of "Southern Asia," although many sources consider Iran as being part of West Asia.. Various universities' departments of South Asian Studies also, by and large, reject the idea that Iran is part of South Asia (see below).
South Asia is home to well over one fifth of the world's population, making it both the most populous and most densely populated geographical region in the world. The region has often seen conflicts and political instability, including wars between the region's two nuclear-armed states, Pakistan and India. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is an economic cooperation organization in the region.
Along with a number of core countries, South Asia differs in inclusion by different clubbing of countries, though essentially it mostly encompasses countries that were part of the former British Indian Empire, including the current territories of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at the core, but also including Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (officially Myanmar) and Sikkim. The Aden Colony, British Somaliland and Singapore, though administered at various times under the Raj have not been proposed as any part of South Asia.
The Raj also encompassed the 562 protected princely states that were not directly ruled by the Raj, some of which joined the Union of India (including Hyderabad State, Kingdom of Mysore, Baroda, Gwalior and a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir), while some joined the Dominion of Pakistan (including Bahawalpur, Kalat, Khayrpur, Swat and parts of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir ). Sikkim joined India in 1975. One part of Jammu and Kashmir became a part of China.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a contiguous block of countries, started in with seven countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — when it was established in 1985, but was extended to include Afghanistan as an eight member in 2006. The World Bank grouping includes only the original seven members of SAARC, and leaves Afghanistan out. This bloc of countries include three independent countries that were not under the British rule - Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan. The South Asia Free Trade Agreement endorsed by SAARC has been signed by the seven original members of the organization, though it has a special provision for the Maldives.
The United Nations Population Information Network (POPIN) includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as part of South Asia, while Maldives, in view of its characteristics, was admitted as a member country of the Pacific POPIN subregional network in principle. Culturally, though not politically, Tibet has been identified as a part of South Asia, while the British Indian Ocean Territory has been connected to the region for security considerations. The United Nations scheme of sub-regions include all eight members of the SAARC as part of Southern Asia, along with Iran, while the Hirschmann-Herfindahl Index of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the region includes only the original seven signatories of SAARC.
Afghanistan is otherwise considered as Central Asian or Middle-Eastern, Burma as Southeast Asian, and Tibet is otherwise considered Central Asian or East Asian. A lack of coherent definition for South Asia has resulted in not only a lack of academic studies, but also in a lack interest for such studies. Identification with a South Asian identity was also found to be significantly low among respondents in a two-year survey across Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
The term "Indian subcontinent" refers to a large, self-contained landmass which is geographically separated from the rest of the Asian continent. Due to similar scope, the terms "South Asia" and "Indian subcontinent" are used by some academics interchangeably. Due to political sensitivities, some prefer to use the terms "South Asian Subcontinent", the "Indo-Pak Subcontinent", or simply "South Asia" or "the Subcontinent" over the term "Indian subcontinent". According to some academics, the term "South Asia" is in more common use in Europe and North America, rather than the terms "Subcontinent" or the "Indian Subcontinent". Indologist Ronald B. Inden argues that the usage of the term "South Asia" is getting more widespread since it clearly distinguishes the region from East Asia. However, this opinion is not shared by all.
By dictionary entries, the term subcontinent signifies "having a certain geographical or political independence" from the rest of the continent, or "a vast and more or less self-contained subdivision of a continent." It may be noted that geophysically the Tsang Po river in Tibet is situated at the outside of the border of the Subcontinental structure, while the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan is situated inside that border.
According to one clubbing of countries, it includes most parts of South Asia, including those on the continental crust (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan), an island country on the continental shelf (Sri Lanka), and an island country rising above the oceanic crust (the Maldives). Another clubbing includes only Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the mainstay of the British Raj, as the Subcontinent.
This version also includes the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, which was part of British Indian princely state Jammu and Kashmir, but is now administered as a part of Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. A booklet published by the United States Department of State in 1959 includes Afghanistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Nepal, and Pakistan as part of the "Subcontinent of South Asia". When the term Indian Subcontinent is used to mean South Asia, the islands countries of Sri Lanka and the Maldives are sometimes not included, while Tibet and Nepal are included and excluded intermittently, depending on the context.
When the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge established in 1964, it was primarily responsible for promoting within the University the study of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Himalayan Kingdoms (Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim), and Burma (now officially Myanmar). But, over the years it has also extended its activities to include Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong. The Centers for South Asian Studies at both University of Michigan and University of Virginia list Tibet along with seven members of SAARC as a South Asian country, leaving the Maldives out. The South Asian Studies Program of Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley Center for South Asia Studies do the same without leaving out the Maldives, while the South Asian Studies Program of Brandeis University defines the region as comprising "India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and in certain contexts Afghanistan, Burma, Maldives and Tibet". The similar program of Columbia University also includes Tibet, but leaves out both Afghanistan and the Maldives.
While the South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity. The boundaries of South Asia vary based on how South Asia is defined. South Asia's north, east, and west boundaries vary based on definitions used. South Asia's southern border is the Indian Ocean. The UN subregion of Southern Asia's northern boundary would be the Himalayas, its western boundary would be made up of the Iraq-Iran border, Turkey-Iran border, Armenia-Iran border, and the Azerbaijan-Iran border. Its eastern boundary would be the India-Burma border and the Bangladesh-Burma border.
Most of this region is a subcontinent resting on the Indian Plate (the northerly portion of the Indo-Australian Plate) separated from the rest of Eurasia. It was once a small continent before colliding with the Eurasian Plate about 50-55 million years ago and giving birth to the Himalayan range and the Tibetan plateau. It is the peninsular region south of the Himalayas and Kuen Lun mountain ranges and east of the Indus River and the Iranian Plateau, extending southward into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea (to the southwest) and the Bay of Bengal (to the southeast).
The region is home to an astounding variety of geographical features, such as glaciers, rainforests, valleys, deserts, and grasslands that are typical of much larger continents. It is surrounded by three water bodies — the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The climate of this vast region varies considerably from area to area from tropical monsoon in the south to temperate in the north. The variety is influenced by not only the altitude, but also by factors such as proximity to the sea coast and the seasonal impact of the monsoons.
Southern parts are mostly hot in summers and receive rain during monsoon period(s). The northern belt of Indo-Gangetic plains also is hot in summer, but cooler in winter. The mountainous north is colder and receives snowfall at higher altitudes of Himalyan ranges. As the Himalayas block the north-Asian bitter cold winds, the temperatures are considerably moderate in the plains down below. For most part, the climate of the region is called the Monsoon climate, which keeps the region humid during summer and dry during winter, and favors the cultivation of jute, tea, rice, and various vegetables in this region.
The remote pre-history of South Asia culminates in the Indus Valley Civilization, which is followed by the legends of ancient Vedic period and the sketchy references to the rise and fall of Mahajanapadas - the precursors of regional kingdoms and later ancient empires - ending in the historical accounts of medieval empires and the arrival of European traders who later became the rulers.
Almost all South Asian countries were under direct or indirect European Colonial subjugation at some point. Much of modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar were gradually occupied by Great Britain - starting from 1757, reaching their zenith in 1857 and ruling till 1947. Nepal and Bhutan were to some extent protectorates of Great Britain until after World War II. In the millennia long history of South Asia, this European occupation period is rather short, but its proximity to the present and its lasting impact on the region make it prominent.
The network of means of transportation and communication as well as banking and training of requisite workforce, and also the existing rail, post, telegraph, and education facilities have evolved out of the base established in the colonial era, often called the British Raj. As an aftermath of World War II, most of the region gained independence from Europe by the late 1940s.
Tibet at times has governed itself as an independent state and at other times has had various levels of association with China, it came under Chinese control in the 18th century in spite of British efforts to seize possession of this Chinese protectorate at the beginning of the 20th century. Tibetan and Chinese views on the Sino-Tibetan relation vary significantly. The Tibetans saw the Dalai Lama's relation with the Manchu emperor in more of a religious light than what would be considered political.
Since 1947, most South Asian countries have achieved tremendous progress in all spheres. Most notable achievements are in the fields of education; industry; health care; information technology and services based on its applications; research in the fields of cutting edge sciences and technologies; defence related self-reliance projects; international/global trade and business enterprises and outsourcing of human resources. Areas of difficulty remain, however, including religious extremism, high levels of corruption, disagreements on political boundaries, and inequitable distribution of wealth.
2009 referenced population figures except where noted.
This club of countries covers about 4,480,000 km² (1,729,738 mi²) or 10 percent of the Asian continent, and accounting for about 40 percent of Asia's population.
|Capital||Currency||Government||Official languages||Coat of Arms|
|Bangladesh||147,570||162,221,000||1,099||$92.1 billion||$600||Dhaka||Taka||Parliamentary republic||Bengali|
|Bhutan||38,394||697,000||18||$1.5 billion||$2,200||Thimphu||Ngultrum, Indian rupee||Constitutional monarchy||Dzongkha|
|India||3,287,240||1,198,003,000||365||$1,243 billion||$1,000||New Delhi||Indian rupee||Federal republic, Parliamentary democracy||22 official languages|
|Nepal||147,181||29,331,000||200||$12.4 billion||$400||Kathmandu||Nepalese rupee||Democratic Republic||Nepali|
|Pakistan||803,940||180,808,000||225||$166.5 billion||$900||Islamabad||Pakistani rupee||Islamic Republic||Urdu, English, Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi, Siraiki, Sindhi|
|Sri Lanka||65,610||20,238,000||309||$41.3 billion||$2,000||Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte||Sri Lankan rupee||Democratic Socialist Republic||Sinhala, Tamil, English|
Afghanistan is included in the list of countries of South Asia more often than others in this group.
|country or region||Area
|Capital||Currency||Government||Official languages||Coat of Arms|
|Afghanistan||647,500||33,609,937||52||$13.3 billion||$400||Kabul||Afghan afghani||Islamic republic||Dari (Persian), Pashto |
|British Indian Ocean Territory||60||3,500||59||N/A||N/A||Diego Garcia||Pound sterling||British Overseas Territory||English|
|Burma||676,578||48,137,141||71||$26.5 billion||$500||Yangon||Myanma kyat||Military Junta||Burmese; Jingpho, Shan, Karen, Mon, (Spoken in Burma's Autonomous States.)|
|Iran||1,648,195||70,495,782 (2006 Census)||40||$331.8 billion||$4,500||Tehran||Iranian rial||Islamic republic||Persian, Constitutional status for regional languages |
|PRC - Tibet Autonomous Region||1,228,400||2,740,000||2||$6.4 billion||$2,300||Lhasa||Chinese yuan||Autonomous region of China||Mandarin Chinese, Tibetan|
|Name of country/region, with flag||Area
|Capital or Secretariat||Currency||Countries included||Official languages||Coat of Arms|
|UN subregion of South Asia||6,285,724||1,653,457,908||263.04||N/A||N/A||Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka||N/A||N/A|
|SAARC||3,989,969||1,549,348,689||388.31||Kathmandu||N/A||Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka||None|
South Asia, which consists of the nations of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, is ethnically diverse, with more than 2,000 ethnic entities with populations ranging from hundreds of millions to small tribal groups. South Asia has been invaded and settled by many ethnic groups over the centuries - including various Dravidian, Indo-Aryan and Iranian groups - and amalgamation of Dravidian, Indo-Aryan and native societies has produced composite cultures with many common traditions and beliefs. But, the traditions of different ethnic groups in South Asia have diverged throughout earlier times, sometimes giving rise to strong local traditions such as the distinct South Indian culture.
Other ethnic groups, successively streaming in later mainly from Central Asia and Iran, e.g. Sakas, Kushans, Huns etc. influenced pre-existing South Asian cultures. Among the last of these new arrivals were the Arabs followed by the Turks, the Pashtuns and the Moghuls. However, Arab influence remained relatively limited in comparison to that of the Turks, Pashtuns and Moghuls, who brought in much cultural influence and contributed to the birth of Urdu, a syncretic language of combined Indo-Persian heritage, which is widely spoken today. Ethnic Englishmen and other Britons are now practically absent after their two centuries long colonial presence, although they have left an imprint of western culture in the elite society.
The largest spoken language in this region is now Hindi, its speakers numbering almost 422 million; the second largest spoken language is Bengali, with about 210 million speakers . Urdu is also a major language spoken in the subcontinent, especially in Pakistan and India, and is similar linguistically to Hindi; Hindi and Urdu together make up Hindustānī. Hindi is spoken is some states of India, and is similar linguistically to Urdu. Many people are not aware of the fact that most of the Indians speak local languages and are not familiar with Hindi. Other languages of this region fall into a few major linguistic groups: the Dravidian languages and the Indo-Aryan languages, a sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages.
The other great sub-branch of Indo-Iranian, the Iranian languages, also have significant minority representation in South Asia, with Pashtu and Baluchi being widely spoken along the northwestern fringes of the region, in modern-day Pakistan. Many Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups, who are speakers of their language-group, are found in northeast India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Other small groups, speaking Austro-Asiatic languages, are also present in South Asia. English is another language which dominates South Asia, especially as a medium of advanced education and government administration.
Most of South Asia writes using various abugidas of Brāhmī origin while languages such as Urdu, Pashto, and Sindhi use derivatives of the Perso-Arabic script. Not all languages in South Asia follow this strict dichotomy though. For example, Kashmiri is written in both the Perso-Arabic script and in the Devanagari script. The same can be said for Punjabi, which is written in both Shahmukhi and Gurmukhī. Dhivehi is written in a script called Tāna that shows characteristics of both the Arabic alphabet and of an abugida.
Historically, fusion of Indo-Aryan Vedic religion with native South Asian non-Vedic Shramana traditions and other Dravidian and local tribal beliefs gave rise to the ancient religions of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism and much later to Sikhism, when Sufi tradition of Islam also significantly influenced the nascent Sikhism and its holiest scripture. As a consequence, these four religions share many similar cultural practices, festivals and traditions.
Arabs brought the Abrahamic religion of Islam to South Asia, first in the present day Kerala and the Maldive Islands and later in Sindh, Balochistan and much of Punjab. Subsequently, Muslim Turks/Pashtuns/Moghuls furthered it not only among the Punjabi and Kashmiri people but also throughout the Indo-Gangetic plains and farther east, and deep south upto the Deccan.
|Afghanistan||Sunni Muslim (80%), Shi'a Muslim (19%), other (1%)|
|Bangladesh||Muslim (90%), Hindu (9%), Christian (.5%), Buddhist (.5%), Believers in tribal faiths (0.1%)|
|British Indian Ocean Territory||Christian (45.55%), Hindu (38.55%), Muslim (9.25%), Non-Religious (6.50%), Atheist (0.10%), Other (0.05%)|
|Bhutan||Buddhist (75%), Hindu (25%)|
|Burma||Theravada Buddhism (89%), Muslim (4%), Christian (4%) (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Animist (1%), others (including Hinduism) (2%)|
|India||Hindu (80.5%), Muslim (13.4%), Christian (2.3%), Sikh (1.9%), Buddhist (0.8%), Jain (0.4%), Others (0.6%)|
|Iran||Shi'a Muslim (89%), Sunni Muslim (9%), Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i (2%)|
|Maldives||Sunni Muslim (100%) (One must be a Sunni Muslim to be a citizen on the Maldives)|
|Nepal||Hindu (80.6%), Buddhist (10.7%), Muslim (4.2%), Kirat (3.6%)|
|Pakistan||Muslim (96.28%), Hindu (1.85%), Christian (1.59%), Ahmadi (0.22%)|
|Sri Lanka||Theravada Buddhist (70.42%), Hindu (10.89%), Muslim (8.78%), Catholic (7.77%), Other Christian (1.96%), Other (0.13%)|
|Tibet||Tibetan Buddhism, Bön, Others|
South Asia is the poorest region on the earth as well as Sub-Saharan Africa, and it has the lowest GDP per capita. Poverty is commonly spread within this region. According to the poverty data from world bank, there was more than 40% of the population in this region lived on less than $1.25 per day in 2005 (45% of Indian lived below this proverty line), compared to 50% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa .
Bhutan has the highest GDP per capita in the region, while Nepal has the lowest. India is the largest economy in the region; it is the world's 12th largest or 4th largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates. Pakistan has the next largest economy and the 5th highest GDP per capita in the region, followed by Bangladesh. If Iran is counted, it is the richest economy and the second largest in region. According to a World Bank report in 2007, South Asia is the least integrated region in the world; trade between South Asian states is only 2% of the region's combined GDP, compared to 20% in East Asia.
India is the dominant political power in the region. It is contributed by the fact that it is by far the largest country in the covering around three-fourths the land area of the subcontinent. It also has the largest population of around three times the combined population of the 6 other countries in the subcontinent. India is also the most populous democracy in the world and is a nuclear power. The second largest country in the subcontinent area-wise and population-wise is Pakistan and has traditionally maintained the balance of power in the region due to its strategic relationships with Arab states and neighbouring China . Pakistan is the 6th most populous country in the world and is also a nuclear power.
According to the World Bank, 70% of the South Asian population and about 75% of South Asia's poor live in rural areas and most rely on agriculture for their livelihood. According to the Global Hunger Index, South Asia has one of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world. In a latest report published by UNICEF in 2008 on global hunger shows that the actual number of child deaths was around 2.1 million. As of 2008 India is ranked 66th on the global hunger index. The 2006 report stated that "the low status of women in South Asian countries and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight children in the region". Corruption and the lack of initiative on the part of the government has been one of the major problems associated with nutrition in India. Illiteracy in villages has been found to be one of the major issues that need more government attention. The report mentioned that, although there has been a reduction in malnutrition due to the Green Revolution in South Asia, there is concern that South Asia has "inadequate feeding and caring practices for young children"..
South Asia comprises those countries lying between the Himalaya range of mountains and the Indian Ocean (north to south) and between the Ganga and Indus river valleys (east to west). The Indian Ocean shoreline is divided between the Arabian Sea (in the west) and the Bay of Bengal (in the east). The extensive, triangular-shaped landmass of South Asia is sometimes referred to as "the Indian Subcontinent", or simply "the Subcontinent"
Afghanistan is sometimes considered part of the region. Its recent moves towards joining the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) may some day firmly place it in South Asia.
Myanmar (formerly Burma) may be considered a part of South Asia for long-standing historical and political ties to India.
Some commonalities exist to this area, mainly climate and culture.
Climate: Apart from the Himalaya, the climate is tropical, with monsoon in summer and dry winter. However, you have the extremes of this climate, i.e. in Western Pakistan monsoon is quite non-existent and in Southern India, it lasts for six months. Sri Lanka even has two monsoons, one in May, one in October/November.
Culture: The influence of historical Indian culture can be seen everywhere. Two of the main "world religions" have their origins within South Asia: Hinduism and Buddhism. A third, Islam, was introduced by Muslim invaders starting around the 7th century and rose to prominence during the Mughal Empire.
An additional layer of South Asian cultural unification derives from the influence of British culture, and especially the frequent and growing use of the English language, as a result of India having formed the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire before Independence in 1947.
Population density: South Asia is one of the world's most densely populated regions - approximately 1.6 billion people (or roughly a quarter of humanity) make their home there. The average population density of 305 people per square km is 7 times the world average.
The region does not have a lingua franca. However, as much of South Asia was under British rule, English is widely spoken by educated people. Hindi and Urdu are spoken over much of India and Pakistan. As the two languages are mutually intelligible, if you have to learn one before visiting, pick one of these. Hindi will also help you in Nepal, as the Nepali language is quite similar. Bengali is another major languge spoken in Bangladesh, West Bengal and understood in some other eastern states of India.
Other than these, South Asia has a fascinating diversity of languages. India, in particular, is home to hundreds of them, and Pakistan too has quite a few. In the major cities and tourist destinations, you will be able to get by with English with varying degrees of difficulty.
International airports include:
The number of direct flights between India and U.S/U.K is increasing.
For most countries in the region, haggling is essential while shopping--see How to haggle.
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