South Asia

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South Asia
South Asia (orthographic projection).svg
Countries and Territories[1]
Population 1.749 billion (2013)[2]
GDP (Nominal) $2.9 trillion[3]
GDP (PPP) $9.9 trillion[3]
Languages Primarily Indo-Aryan but also, Dravidian, Iranian, Austroasiatic and Sino-Tibetan languages, as well as some others
Time zones UTC+04:30, UTC+05:00, UTC+5:30, UTC+5:45, UTC+06:00
Capital cities
Other major cities

South Asia or Southern Asia is a term used to represent the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan SAARC countries and, for some authorities, adjoining countries to the west and east. Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate, which rises above sea level as Nepal and northern parts of India situated south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. South Asia is bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean and on land (clockwise, from west) by West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. The terms "Indian subcontinent" and "South Asia" are sometimes used interchangeably.[4][5]

The current territories of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka form the countries of South Asia.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] In addition, with deviating definitions based on often substantially different reasons, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Mauritius, and the Tibet Autonomous Region are included as well. South Asia is home to well over one fifth of the world's population, making it both the most populous and the most densely populated geographical region in the world.[15] The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic cooperation organisation in the region which was established in 1985 and includes all eight nations comprising South Asia.[16]

Comprising Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives as the constituent countries, South Asia covers about 5.1 million km² (1.9 million mi²), which is 11.51% of the Asian continent or 3.4% of the world's land surface area.[17][18][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][19][20][21][22][23] The population of South Asia is about 1.749 billion which makes it the most populated region in the world. South Asia has both the largest population of Hindus in the world at about 1 billion and the largest population of Muslims in the world at 507 million in 2010.[24] Overall, it accounts for about 39.49% of Asia's population (or over 24% of the world's population) and is home to a vast array of peoples.[22][25][23]

Definitions[edit]

Official United Nations cartographic map of South Asia.[26]

The area of South Asia and its geographical extent is not clear cut as systemic and foreign policy orientations of its constituents are quite asymmetrical.[27] Aside from the central region of South Asia, formerly part of the British Empire, there is a high degree of variation as to which other countries are included in South Asia.[28] However, modern definitions of South Asia are consistent in including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives as the constituent countries.[9][10][11][12][13][14]

The current territories of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, which were the core of the British Empire prior to 1947, form the central region of South Asia, in addition to Afghanistan,[9][10][11][12][13][14] which was a British protectorate until 1919, after the Afghans lost to the British in the Second Anglo-Afghan war.[29] The mountain countries of Nepal and Bhutan, and the island countries of Sri Lanka and Maldives are generally included as well. Myanmar is often added, and by various deviating definitions based on often substantially different reasons, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Mauritius, and the Tibet Autonomous Region are included as well.[4][27][30][31][32][33][34][35][36]

The common concept of South Asia is largely inherited from the administrative boundaries of the British Raj,[37] with several exceptions. 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.[38] Additionally Burma was administered as part of the Raj until 1937, but is now considered a part of Southeast Asia and is a member state of ASEAN. The 562 princely states that were protected by but not directly ruled by the Raj became administrative parts of South Asia upon joining Union of India or Dominion of Pakistan.[39][40][41] Geopolitically, it had formed the whole territory of Greater India,[42][43]

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a contiguous block of countries, started in 1985 with seven countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — and added Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2006.[44][45] China and Myanmar have also applied for the status of full members of SAARC.[46][47] This bloc of countries include two independent countries that were not part of the British Raj - Nepal, and Bhutan. Afghanistan was a British protectorate from 1878 until 1919, after the Afghans lost to the British in the Second Anglo-Afghan war.[29] The World Factbook, based on geo-politics, people, and economy defines South Asia as comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, British Indian Ocean Territory, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[48] The South Asia Free Trade Agreement incorporated Afghanistan in 2011, and the World Bank grouping of countries in the region also includes all eight members comprising South Asia and SAARC as well.[49][50]

Definition by South Asian Studies programs

When the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge was established, in 1964, it promoted the study of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan,[51][52][53][54] the Himalayan Kingdoms (Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim[55]), and Burma (now Myanmar). It has since included Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.[56]

The Centres for South Asian Studies at both the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia include Tibet along with the eight members of SAARC in their research programs, but exclude the Maldives.[57][58] The South Asian Studies Program of Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley Centre for South Asia Studies also include the Maldives.[59][60]

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".[61] The similar program of Columbia University includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in their study and excludes Burma.[62]

See also: Indology

The United Nations Statistics Division's scheme of sub-regions include all eight members of the SAARC as part of Southern Asia, along with Iran[63] only for statistical purposes.[64] Population Information Network (POPIN) includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as part of South Asia. Maldives, in view of its characteristics, was admitted as a member Pacific POPIN subregional network only in principle.[65] The Hirschman–Herfindahl index of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the region includes only the original seven signatories of SAARC.[66]

The British Indian Ocean Territory is connected to the region by a publication of Jane's for security considerations.[67] The region may also include the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, which was part of the British Indian princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, but is now administered as part of the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang.[68]

The regional affinity of the bordering countries like Myanmar is always confusing. Myanmar with its low-profile foreign policy has not drawn much scholarly attention. Afghanistan was an area of vital importance for British diplomacy during the colonial era, especially after the second Anglo-Afghan war, which resulted from British outrage over the uninvited arrival of a Russian diplomatic envoy in Kabul. The British were able to occupy all of the major cities in Afghanistan, and got wind of an impending rebellion against their occupation, thereafter brutally crushing it in a pre-emptive move. They subsequently set up a puppet ruler and forced the country to hand over control of its foreign affairs to Britain. Afghanistan would remain a British protectorate until 1919, when it was finally granted its independence by Britain following the signing of a treaty of aid and friendship with Vladimir Lenin. After a brief period of border skirmishes, and the bombing of Kabul by the Royal Air Force, Britain conceded Afghanistan’s independence. Shortly after, Britain conspired with conservative religious and land owning elements within the country who were unhappy with Amanullah’s attempts to secularize and reform the country.[69] Following India's partition, it still never lost its importance.[27] From the time of the British withdrawal from India, there was, by and large, agreement among scholars that Afghanistan was part of South Asia, and a minority considered it a part of Southwest Asia as well.[27] The dominant view however remained that it was a part of South Asia. Thus, when Joseph B. Schwartberg edited his book in 1978 titled "An Historical Atlas of South Asia" which dealt with the cultural, political, and geographical analysis of South Asia, he included Afghanistan in his book.[27] During the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979 to February 1989) American foreign policy dictates briefly included Pakistan and Afghanistan in Southwest Asia for political reasons, but their long standing history as a part of South Asia remained, and both Pakistan and Afghanistan were and are firmly considered South Asian countries on the global stage.[27][9][10][11][12][13][14]

In the past, a lack of a coherent definition for South Asia resulted in not only a lack of academic studies, but also in a lack interest for such studies.[70] The confusion existed also because of the lack of a clear boundary - geographically, geopolitical, socio-culturally, economically or historically - between South Asia and other parts of Asia, especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia.[71] Identification with a South Asian identity was also found to be significantly low among respondents in an older two-year survey across Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[72] However, modern definitions of South Asia are very consistent in including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives as the constituent countries.[9][10][11][12][13][14]

Indian subcontinent[edit]

Main article: Indian subcontinent

The region was labelled variously as India (in its pre-modern sense), Greater India, Indian subcontinent and South Asia.[42][43] "Indian subcontinent" is a term adopted and used by the British Empire.[4][73][74][75][76][77][78][79][80] According to historians Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, the Indian subcontinent has come to be known as South Asia "in more recent and neutral parlance".[81] 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.[82] Some academics hold that the term "South Asia" is in more common use in Europe and North America, rather than the terms "subcontinent" or the "Indian subcontinent".[83][84]

According to anthropologist John R. Lukacs, "The Indian Subcontinent occupies the major landmass of South Asia".[85] while according to political science professor Tatu Vanhanen, "The seven countries of South Asia constitute geographically a compact region around the Indian Subcontinent".[86] According to Chris Brewster, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan constitute the Indian subcontinent; with Afghanistan and Maldives included it is more commonly referred to as South Asia,[87] while according to a number of Indian scholars South Asia includes the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal), Afghanistan,[11] as well as the island countries of Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius.[88] When the term "Indian subcontinent" is used to mean South Asia, the island countries of Sri Lanka and the Maldives may sometimes not be included,[4] while Tibet and Nepal may either be included[89] or excluded[90] intermittently, depending on the context.

Geography[edit]

While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity
The Indian subcontinent, and the Himalayas on the northeast, is the result of the collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate through tectonic activity between 20 and 50 million years ago.

While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity.[91] The region is home to a 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 — and has acutely varied climate zones. The tip of the Indian Peninsula had the highest quality pearls.[92]

Boundary[edit]

The boundaries of South Asia vary based on how the region is defined. South Asia's northern, eastern, and western boundaries vary based on definitions used, while the Indian Ocean is the southern periphery. Most of this region rests on the Indian Plate and is isolated from the rest of Asia by mountain barriers.[93][94] Much of the region consists of a peninsula in south-central Asia, rather resembling a diamond which is delineated by the Himalayas on the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east,[95] and which extends southward into the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast.[4][31] The most common school of thought proposes the frontier between South and Southwest Asia (i.e. the Middle East) lie in eastern Iran and western Afghanistan, while the frontier between South and Central Asia in northeastern Iran, northern Afghanistan, and southern Kyrgyzstan.[96]

Indian plate[edit]

Main article: Indian plate

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 the Eurasian Plate. The Indian Plate includes most of South Asia, forming a land mass which extends from the Himalayas into a portion of the basin under the Indian Ocean, including parts of South China and Eastern Indonesia, as well as Kunlun and Karakoram ranges,[97][98][99] and extending up to but not including Ladakh, Kohistan, the Hindu Kush range and Balochistan.[100][101][102] It may be noted that geophysically the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet is situated at the outside of the border of the Subcontinental structure, while the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are situated inside that border.[103]

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).

Climate[edit]

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 periods. 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 Himalayan 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 favours the cultivation of jute, tea, rice, and various vegetables in this region.

South Asia is largely divided into four broad climate zones:[105]

Maximum relative humidity of over 80% has been recorded in Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Sri Lanka, while the area adjustment to Pakistan and western India records lower than 20%-30%.[105] Climate of South Asia is largely characterized by monsoons. South Asia depends critically on monsoon rainfall.[106] Two monsoon systems exist in the region:[107]

  • The summer monsoon: Wind blows from southwest to most of parts of the region. It accounts for 70%-90% of the annual precipitation.
  • The winter monsoon: Wind blows from northeast. Dominant in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

The warmest period of the year precedes the monsoon season (March to mid June). In the summer the low pressures are centered over the Indus-Gangetic Plain and high wind from the Indian Ocean blows towards the center. The monsoons are second coolest season of the year because of high humidity and cloud covering. But, at the beginning of June the jetstreams vanish above the Tibetan Plateau, low pressure over the Indus Valley deepens and the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) moves in. The change is violent. Moderately vigorous monsoon depressions form in the Bay of Bengal and make landfall from June to September.[105]

Statistical data[edit]

Country
[108][109][110][108][109]
Capital
[110][111][112]
Area
(km²)
[113]
Population
(2012)[114]
Density
(per km²)
Nominal GDP
(2012)
Per capita
(2012)
Currency Government Official languages
 Afghanistan Kabul 652,864 32,564,342 43.5 $19.654 billion $600 Afghan afghani presidential Islamic republic Pashto, Dari
 Bangladesh Dhaka 147,570 171,700,00 1,319 $205.327 billion $1,284 Bangladeshi taka parliamentary republic Bangla
 Bhutan Thimphu 38,394 742,737 18.0 $2.209 billion $2,836 Bhutanese ngultrum, Indian Rupee Constitutional monarchy Dzongkha
 India New Delhi 3,287,263 1,276,267,000 387.7 $2.183 trillion $1,688 Indian rupee Federal republic Hindi & 22 other Officially Recognized Languages
 Maldives Malé 298 393,500 1,102.5 $3.228 billion $9,126 Maldivian rufiyaa constitutional republic Maldivian
   Nepal Kathmandu 147,181 26,494,504 180 $74.020 billion $2,794 Nepalese Rupee Federal republic Nepali
 Pakistan Islamabad 881,913 199,085,847 260.8 $270.961 billion $1,427.08 Pakistani Rupee Federal republic English, Urdu
 Sri Lanka Colombo, Kotte 65,610 20,277,59 323 $80.591 billion $3,818 Sri Lankan rupee semi-presidential republic Sinhalese, Tamil

History[edit]

Main article: History of South Asia

Ancient era[edit]

The history of core South Asia begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens, as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago.[115] The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of South Asia from c. 3300 to 1300 BCE in present-day Northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was the first major civilization in South Asia.[116] A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BCE.[117]

Classical era[edit]

This Bronze Age civilisation collapsed around the middle of the second millennium BCE. Around this time, Indo-Iranian-speaking pastoralists from Central Asia migrated to the region. They brought the Indo-Aryan languages with them and established the Iron Age Vedic Civilisation, which extended over much of the Indo-Gangetic plain and which witnessed the rise of major polities known as the Mahajanapadas. In one of these kingdoms, Magadha, Mahavira and Gautama Buddha were born in the 6th or 5th century BCE and propagated their Shramanic philosophies.

Most of South Asia was conquered by the Maurya Empire during the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. Various parts of India ruled by numerous Middle kingdoms for the next 1,500 years, among which the Gupta Empire stands out. Southern India saw the rule of the Chalukya dynasty, Rashtrakuta dynasty, Chola empire, Western Chalukya Empire, Pallava dynasty and Pandyan Dynasty. This period, witnessing a Hindu religious and intellectual resurgence, is known as the classical or "Golden Age of India". During this period, aspects of Indian civilisation, administration, culture, and religion (Hinduism and Buddhism) spread to much of Asia, while kingdoms in southern India had maritime business links with the Roman Empire from around 77 CE.

Medieval era[edit]

Islam came as a political power in the fringe of South Asia in 8th century CE when the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab in modern-day Pakistan,[118] setting the stage for several successive invasions from Central Asia between the 10th and 15th centuries CE, leading to the formation of Muslim empires in South Asia such as the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. Mughal rule came from Central Asia to cover most of the northern parts of South Asia. Mughal rulers introduced Central Asian art and architecture to India. In addition to the Mughals and various Rajput kingdoms, several independent Hindu states, such as the Vijayanagara Empire, the Maratha Empire, Eastern Ganga Empire and the Ahom Kingdom, flourished contemporaneously in southern, western, eastern and northeastern India respectively.

Modern era[edit]

The Mughal Empire suffered a gradual decline in the early 18th century, leaving a power vacuum that was exploited by local rulers such as the Sikhs and Marathas and later used by the British East India Company to gain ascendancy over most of South Asia.[citation needed][119]

Beginning in the mid-18th century and over the next century, large areas of India were annexed by the British East India Company. Dissatisfaction with Company rule led to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, after which the British provinces of India were directly administered by the British Crown and witnessed a period of both rapid development of infrastructure and economic decline. During the first half of the 20th century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and later joined by the Muslim League. India gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, after the British provinces were partitioned into the dominions of India and Pakistan and the princely states, which were protected states that retained their independence throughout the colonial period, (as opposed to protectorates) all acceded to one of the new states. Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Afghanistan was under British rule starting from 1878, after the second Anglo-Afghan war, which resulted from British outrage over the uninvited arrival of a Russian diplomatic envoy in Kabul. In the ensuing conflict, which the British won, the British successfully captured and occupied all of the major cities in Afghanistan, and upon receiving information of an impending rebellion against their occupation, brutally crushed it pre-emptively. They subsequently set up a puppet ruler, forced Afghanistan to hand over control of its foreign affairs to Britain, and made it a British protectorate. Afghanistan would remain under British rule until 1919, when it was finally granted its independence by Britain after a brief period of border skirmishes, and the bombing of Kabul by the Royal Air Force. Shortly after, Britain conspired with conservative religious and land owning elements within the country, who were unhappy with Amanullah’s attempts to secularize and reform the country, to overthrow him.[69]

Regional groups of countries[edit]

Name of country/region, with flag Area
(km²)
Population* Population density
(per km²)
Capital or Secretariat Currency Countries included Official languages Coat of Arms
Core Definition (above) of South Asia 5,220,460 1,726,907,000 330.79 N/A N/A Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka N/A N/A
UNSD of South Asia 6,778,083 1,702,000,000 270.77 N/A N/A Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka N/A N/A
SAARC 4,637,469 1,626,000,000 350.6 Kathmandu N/A Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka English
BBIN 3,499,559 1,465,236,000 418.69 N/A N/A Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal N/A N/A
SASEC 3,565,467 1,485,909,931 416.75 N/A N/A Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives N/A N/A

Demographics[edit]

The population of South Asia is about 1.749 billion which makes it the most populated region in the world.[120] It is socially very mixed, consisting of many language groups and religions, and social practices in one region that are vastly different from those in another.[121]

Largest urban areas[edit]

South Asia is home to some of the most populated cities in the world. Delhi, Karachi, Mumbai, and Dhaka are four of the world's largest megacities.

Rank City Country Population[122] Area
(km2)[122]
Density
(/km2)[122]
1 Delhi  India 24,998,000 2,072 12,100
2 Karachi  Pakistan 22,123,000 945 23,400
3 Mumbai  India 17,712,000 546 32,400
4 Dhaka  Bangladesh 15,669,000 360 43,500
5 Kolkata  India 14,667,000 1,204 12,200
6 Lahore  Pakistan 10,052,000 790 12,700
7 Bengaluru  India 9,807,000 1,116 8,400
8 Chennai  India 9,714,000 375 25,900
9 Hyderabad  India 8,754,000 971 10,000
10 Ahmedabad  India 7,186,000 350 20,600

Ethnic groups[edit]

Ethno-linguistic families of South Asia.

South Asia, which consists of the nations of Afghanistan, 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-Iranian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austroasiatic groups. The amalgamation of these various groups 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 and Bengali cultures.

Other ethnic groups, successively streaming in later mainly from Central Asia 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 Afghans, and the Mughals. However, Arab influence remained relatively limited in comparison to that of the Turks, Central Asian Iranian-speakers, and Afghans who introduced Persianate Islamic culture to the region and contributed to the birth of Urdu, a syncretic language of combined Indo-Persian heritage,[123][124] 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 on the elite classes of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Languages[edit]

The largest spoken language in this region is Hindi, its speakers numbering almost 422 million,[125] the second largest spoken language is Bengali, with about 210 million speakers.[126] Punjabi is the third most spoken language in South Asia with 130 million native speakers. Urdu is also a major language spoken in the subcontinent, especially in Pakistan, and is similar linguistically to Hindi; Hindi and Urdu together make up Hindustānī. These and several other major regional languages are part of the Indo-Aryan sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European languages - the largest linguistic group in the region. The second major language group is the Dravidian language family, consisting of the main South Indian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam and several smaller tribal languages such as Oraon and Gondi. The Brahui language of the Balochistan region of Pakistan and Afghanistan also belongs to the Dravidian family.

The other great sub-branch of Indo-Iranian, the Iranian languages, also have significant minority representation in South Asia, with Pashto, Dari and Balochi being widely spoken in the northwestern part of the region, in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. The oldest Iranian language, Avestan, is used as a liturgical language by the Parsi-Zoroastrian community. Many Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups, who are speakers of their language-group, are found in northeast India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Dzongkha a member of this linguistic group, is the national language of Bhutan. There are as many as 24 Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in Bhutan. Other small groups, speaking Austroasiatic 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.

Religions[edit]

South Asia has both the largest population of Hindus in the world at about 1 billion and the largest population of Muslims in the world at 507 million in 2010.[127] Hindus make up about 63% of the South Asia population and Muslims at 31%.[128] Indian religions are the religions that originated in South Asia; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.[129][130] Although Indian religions are connected through the history of South Asia, they constitute a wide range of religious communities, and are not confined to the Indian subcontinent.[129]

Arabs traders brought the Abrahamic religion of Islam to South Asia, first in the present day Kerala, Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands. Later Sindh, Balochistan, and parts of the Punjab region saw conquest by the Arab caliphates along with an influx of Muslims from further west, which resulted in spread of Islam in parts of Western region of South Asia. Subsequently, Turkic and Afghan conquerors as well as Persian Sufi missionaries furthered the spread of the Islamic religion and culture throughout the Indo-Gangetic plains, further east towards Bengal, and deep south up to the Deccan.[131]

Afghanistan[132] Islam (99%), Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity (1%)
Bangladesh[133] Islam (90%), Hinduism (9%), Buddhism (0.6%), Christianity (0.3%), Others (0.1%)
Bhutan[134] Buddhism (75%), Hinduism (25%)
India[134][135] Hinduism (79.5%), Islam (14.5%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.7%), Buddhism (0.7%), Jainism (0.4%), Others (0.9%)
Maldives[136] Sunni Islam (100%) (One must be a Sunni Muslim to be a citizen on the Maldives[137][138])
Nepal[139] Hinduism (82%), Buddhism (9.0%), Islam (4.4%), Kirat (3.1%), Christianity (1.4%), Others (0.8%)
Pakistan[140] Islam (96.28%), Hinduism (2%), Christianity (1.59%), Ahmaddiyya (0.22%)
Sri Lanka[141] Buddhism (70.19%), Hinduism (12.61%), Islam (9.71%), Christianity (7.45%).

Economy[edit]

Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area

India is the largest & fastest growing economy in the region (US$2.180 trillion) and makes up almost 82% of the South Asian economy; it is the world's 7th largest in nominal terms and 3rd largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates (US$8.020 trillion).[142] India is the only member of powerful G-20 major economies and BRICS from the region. It is the fastest growing major economy in the world and one of the world's fastest registering a growth of 7.3% in FY 2014-15. Pakistan has the next largest economy($250 billion) and the 5th highest GDP per capita in the region,[143] followed by Bangladesh and then by Sri Lanka which has the 2nd highest per capita and is the 4th largest economy in the region. According to a World Bank report in 2015, driven by a strong expansion in India, coupled with favorable oil prices, from the last quarter of 2014 South Asia become the fastest-growing region in the world[144]

The Major Market stock exchanges in the region are Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) with market Capitalization of $1.68 trillion (11th largest in the world), National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) with market capitalization of $1.64 trillion (12th largest in the world), and Karachi Stock Exchange with market capitalization of $60 billion.[145]

Economic data is sourced from the International Monetary Fund, current as of April 2015, and is given in US dollars.[146]

Country Population(Million) GDP
(Nominal)
GDP
(PPP)
 Afghanistan 19394688632.007 $21.3 bn $63.5 bn
 Bangladesh 143369806159.857 $205.3 bn $572.6 bn
 Bhutan 12101934220.779 $2.2 bn $6.3 bn
 India 13540400001,276.2 $2308.0 bn $7996.6 bn
 Maldives 517705600.38 $3.0 bn $5.2 bn
   Nepal 5177056028.4 $21.6 bn $70.7 bn
 Pakistan 51770560190.4 $250 bn $928.0bn
 Sri Lanka 5177056021.7 $80.4 bn $233.7 bn

Health and nutrition[edit]

Bangladesh Bhutan India Maldives Nepal Pakistan Sri Lanka
Population undernourished(2015)[147] 16.4% N/A 15.2 % 5.2% 7.8% 22% 22%
Population below Poverty Line (CIA FACTBOOK)[148] 31.5% 12% 29.8% 16% 25.2% 22.3% 8.9%

According to WHO, South Asia is home to two out of the three countries in the world still affected by polio, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 306 & 28 polio cases registered in 2014 respectively.[149] Attempts to eradicate polio have been badly hit by opposition from militants in both countries, who say the program is cover to spy on their operations. Their attacks on immunization teams have claimed 78 lives since December 2012.[150]

According to the World Bank's 2011 report, based on 2005 ICP PPP, about 24.6% of the South Asian population falls below the international poverty line of $1.25/day.[151] Afghanistan and Bangladesh rank the highest, with 30.6% and 43.3% of their respective populations below the poverty line. Bhutan,Maldives and Sri Lanka have the lowest number of people below the poverty line, with 2.4%, 1.5% and 4.1% respectively. India has lifted the most people in the region above the poverty line between 2008 and 2011, around 140 million. As of 2011, 21.9% of India's population lives below the poverty line, compared to 41.6% in 2005. [152][153]

The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth.[154]

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[155] according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation. In 2015, approximately 281 million people in the region were malnourished. The report says that Nepal reached both the WFS target as well as MDG and is moving towards bringing down the number of undernourished people to less than 5% of the population.[147] Bangladesh reached the MDG target with the National Food Policy framework —with only 16.5% of the population undernourished. In India, the malnourished comprise just over 15 percent of the population. While the number of malnourished people in neighborhood has shown a decline over the last 25 years, the number of under-nourished in Pakistan displays an upward trend.There were 28.7 million hungry in Pakistan in the 1990s — a number that has steadily increased to 41.3 million in 2015 with 22% of the population malnourished. Approximately 194.6 million people are undernourished in India, which accounts for the highest number of people suffering from hunger in any single country.[147][156]

The 2006 report stated "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".[157]

Governance[edit]

Country Capital Currency Government Official languages Coat of arms
 Afghanistan Kabul Afghani Presidential Islamic republic Emblem of Afghanistan
 Bangladesh Dhaka Taka Unitary Parliamentary Constitutional Republic Bengali Coat of arms of Bangladesh
 Bhutan Thimphu Ngultrum
Indian rupee
Unitary Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy Dzongkha Emblem of Bhutan
 India New Delhi Indian rupee Federal Parliamentary Constitutional Republic Hindi

English

Emblem of India
 Maldives Malé Rufiyaa Unitary Presidential Constitutional Republic Dhivehi Coat of arms of Maldives
   Nepal Kathmandu Nepalese rupee Federal Parliamentary Republic Nepali Coat of arms of Nepal
 Pakistan Islamabad Pakistani rupee Federal Parliamentary Islamic republic Urdu

English

Coat of arms of Pakistan
 Sri Lanka Colombo Sri Lankan rupee Unitary Semi-presidential Constitutional Republic Coat of arms of Sri Lanka

Countries and territories from extended definitions[edit]

country or region Capital Currency Government Official languages Coat of Arms
 British Indian Ocean Territory Diego Garcia US Dollar British Overseas Territory English Coat of arms of the British Indian Ocean Territory (Shield).svg
 Burma Naypyidaw Myanma kyat Presidential Constitutional republic Burmese State seal of Myanmar.svg
 Tibet Autonomous Region Lhasa Chinese yuan Autonomous region of China National Emblem of the People's Republic of China.svg

India[158][159][160] and Pakistan[161][162] are the dominant political powers in the region. India is by far the largest country in the area covering around three-fourths the land area of the subcontinent.[citation needed] India has the largest population of around three times the combined population of the 6 other countries in the subcontinent.[163] India is also the world's largest democracy[164] India's annual defence budget for 2013-14 is $39.2 Billion[165] which is equal to the whole Pakistan's Federal budget of $39.3 billion for 2014-15.[166]

Bangladesh is a unitary state and parliamentary democracy.[167] Bangladesh also stands out as one of the few Muslim-majority democracies. “It is a moderate and generally secular and tolerant — though sometimes this is getting stretched at the moment — alternative to violent extremism in a very troubled part of the world”, said Dan Mozena, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh. Although Bangladesh’s legal code is secular, more citizens are embracing a conservative version of Islam, with some pushing for sharia law, analysts say. Experts say that the rise in conservatism reflects the influence of foreign-financed Islamic charities and the more austere version of Islam brought home by migrant workers in Persian Gulf countries.[168]

Diplomacy among the countries of South Asia has been mainly driven by populist politics, with the centre-stage taken by India-Pakistan conflict ever since their independence in 1947, and then the creation of Bangladesh under tense circumstances in 1971. During the height of Cold war, the elite political leaders of Pakistan aligned with the US, while India played crucial role in forming the Non-Aligned Movement and while maintaining goodwill relations with the USSR.

Pakistan's governance is one of the most conflicted in the region. The military rule and the unstable government in Pakistan has become a concern for the South Asian region. In Nepal, the governance has struggled to come in the side of democracy and it only showed signs in the recent past, basically in the 21st century, to support the democratic system. The political situation in Sri Lanka has been dominated by an increasingly assertive Sinhalese nationalism, and the emergence of a Tamil separatist movement under LTTE, which was suppressed in May 2009. Burma's politics is dominated by a military Junta, which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Governance Index ranking for core countries
Bangladesh Bhutan India Maldives Nepal Pakistan Sri Lanka
Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (2015)[169] (global ranking of 187) 142 132 130 104 145 147 73
Corruption Perception Index (2015)[170] (global ranking of 168) 139 27 76 N/A 130 117 83
The Worldwide Governance Indicators (2012)[171] Government Effectiveness (percentile rank) 22.49 67.46 47.37 48.33 16.75 23.44 45.93
Rule of law (percentile rank) 19.43 59.24 52.61 38.39 26.54 30.96 52.13
Political stability and absence of violence/terrorism (percentile rank) 9 72.51 11.85 86.97 8.53 0.95 22.75
Voice and accountability (percentile rank) 34.12 38.86 58.29 32.23 27.96 23.70 29.86
Population below Poverty Line[172] 31.5% 23.7% 21.9% 16% 25.2% 21.4% 8.9%
Primary School Enrollment[173] 92% 91% 94% N/A 98% 72% 94%
Secondary School Enrollment[174] 54% 78% 71% N/A 67% 38% 99%

Culture and heritage[edit]

The four South Indian states and northern parts of Sri Lanka share a Dravidian culture, due to the prominence of Dravidian languages there. Pakistan is split with its two western regions of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sharing a greater Iranian heritage and its two eastern provinces of Sindh and Punjab sharing a more Indo-Aryan culture. Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal share a common heritage and culture based on the Bengali language.

Nepal, Bhutan, the states of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and parts of the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand have a great cultural similarity to Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism being the dominant religion there. Finally the border states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura have cultural affinities with South East Asia.

Sri Lanka and Maldives were identically separate islands from Indostanic Peninsula. Sri Lanka have special kind of Indo-Aryan culture that has mixed with Theravada Buddhism and based on Sinhalese language. Maldives has a culture proximity to the shores of Sri Lanka and South India.

Cricket is a popular sport in South Asia. Four countries have Test status: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]