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South Asia

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Title: South Asia  
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Subject: Muhajir people, List of threatened species of the Philippines, Persians in the Mughal Empire, Demographics of the world, Muslims of Uttar Pradesh
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South Asia

South Asia
Countries and Territories[1]
GDP (Nominal) $2.561 trillion (2014)
GDP (PPP) $9.05 trillion (2014)[1]
Languages Assamese, Balochi, Bengali, Dari, Dhivehi, Dzongkha, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya, Pashto, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and many others
Time zones UTC+05:00, UTC+5:30, UTC+5:45, UTC+06:00
Capital cities
Other major cities

South Asia or Southern Asia is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan 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 northern parts of India 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 current territories of

  • World Bank, South Asia Region
  • BBC South Asia
  • Birding in South Asia
  • South Asian Awareness Network Conference Website
  • Digital South Asia Library
  • Poverty and Economics in South Asia: Cooperation and Integration

External links

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See also

Indo-Aryan languages are spoken in Pakistan, Sinhalese of Sri Lanka and most of North, West and East India and Nepal. Dravidian languages are spoken in South India and in Sri Lanka by Tamil community. Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken in the North and North East India. Iranian Languages are spoken in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan. There is a sizable Dari speaking community in Pakistan as well.[138]

Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, the four major world religions founded in the region that is today's India, are spread throughout the subcontinent. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity also have significant region-specific histories. While 80% of Indians are Hindus and Nepal is a Hindu-majority State, Sri Lanka and Bhutan have a majority of Buddhists. Islam is the predominant religion of Pakistan and some of Bangladesh.

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.

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 Baluchistan 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.

Traditional Rajasthani garments from Jaipur, Rajasthan
Language families in South Asia

Culture and Religion

Governance Index ranking for core countries
Bangladesh Bhutan India Maldives Nepal Pakistan Sri Lanka
Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (2012)[134] (global ranking of 202) 146 140 136 104 157 146 92
Corruption Perception Index (2014)[135] (global ranking of 175) 136 31 94 N/A 116 127 91
The Worldwide Governance Indicators (2012)[136] 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 18.96 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
Multidimensional Poverty Index (2013):[137] (global ranking of 114) 88 67 85 42 80 82 45

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 recently. Burma's politics is dominated by a military Junta, which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

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.

Bangladesh is a unitary state and parliamentary democracy.[132] 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.[133]

India[123][124][125] and Pakistan[126][127] 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. India has the largest population of around three times the combined population of the 6 other countries in the subcontinent.[128] India is also the World's largest democracy [129] India's annual defence budget for 2013-14 is $39.2 Billion [130] which is equal to the whole Pakistan's Federal budget of $39.3 billion for 2014-15.[131]


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".[122]

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.[119] According to the Global Hunger Index, South Asia has one of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world.[120] 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.[121] As of 2008 India is ranked 66th on the global hunger index.

There are 421 million MPI-poor people in eight Indian states alone - Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal - while there are 410 million in the 26 poorest African countries combined.[117] Roughly 42% of Indian children under age 5 suffer from malnutrition.[118]

Health and nutrition

The Major Market stock exchanges in the region are National Stock Exchange of India (NSE)with market capitalization of $1.49 trillion(13th largest in the world),Bombay Stock Exchange(BSE)with market Capitalization of $1.52 trillion (12th largest in the world) and Karachi Stock Exchange with market capitalization of $60 billion.[116]

India is the largest & fastest growing major economy in the region (US$2.05 trillion) and makes up almost 82% of the South Asian economy; it is the world's 10th largest in nominal terms and 3rd largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates(US$7.28 trillion).[2] India is the only member of powerful G-20 major economies and BRICS from the region. Pakistan has the next largest economy($245 billion) and the 5th highest GDP per capita in the region,[114] 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 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. The Economist has blamed this on Indian neglect of its neighbors.[115]

Mumbai is one of the most populous cities of the region. The city is an infrastructure and tourism hub, and plays a crucial role in the Economy of India.


Afghanistan[103] Islam (99%), Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity (1%)
Bangladesh[104] Islam (89.5%), Hinduism (9.5%), Buddhism (0.7%), Christianity (0.32%)
Bhutan[105] Buddhism (75%), Hinduism (25%)
Burma[106] Theravada Buddhism (89%), Islam (4%), Christianity (Baptist and Roman Catholic) (4%), Animism (1%), Others (including Hinduism) (2%)
India[105][107] Hinduism (80.5%), Islam (13.5%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.9%), Buddhism (0.8%), Jainism (0.4%), Others (0.6%)
Maldives[108] Sunni Islam (100%) (One must be a Sunni Muslim to be a citizen on the Maldives[109][110])
Nepal[111] Hinduism (81.3%), Buddhism (9.0%), Islam (4.4%), Kirat (3.1%), Christianity (1.4%), Others (0.8%)
Pakistan[112] Islam (96.28%), Hinduism (1.85%), Christianity (1.59%), Ahmaddiyya (0.22%)
Sri Lanka[113] Theravada Buddhism (70.19%), Hinduism (12.61%), Islam (9.71%), Christianity (7.45%).
[102].Deccan, further east towards Bengal, and deep south up to the Indo-Gangetic plains conquerors and further emigration and immigration furthered it throughout the Mughal along with an influx of Muslims from further west, which resulted in spread of Islam in parts of Western region of South Asia. Subsequently, Muslim Arab caliphates saw conquest by the Punjab region, and parts of the Balochistan, SindhLater

Arabs traders brought the Abrahamic religion of Islam to South Asia, first in the present day Kerala, Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands.

South Asia has the largest population of Hindus in the world at 63.65% though Muslims make up to 30.08% of the population respectively. Indian religions are the religions that originated in South Asia; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.[100][101] 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.[100]


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.

The other great sub-branch of Indo-Iranian, the Iranian languages, also have significant minority representation in South Asia, with Pashto and Balochi being widely spoken along the northwestern fringes of the region, in modern-day Pakistan. Additionally, Persian was used as a lingua franca in the region for centuries during Muslim rule. 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.

The largest spoken language in this region is Hindi, its speakers numbering almost 422 million,[98] the second largest spoken language is Bengali, with about 210 million speakers.[99] 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. Other languages of this region fall into a few major linguistic groups: the Dravidian languages:Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and the Indo-Aryan languages, a sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages.


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 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,[96][97] 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.

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, Tibeto-Burman, Austroasiatic 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.

Ethno-linguistic families of South Asia.

Ethnic groups

Total population of South Asia is about 1.70 billion.[95]


Name of country/region, with flag Area
Population* Population density
(per km²)
Capital or Secretariat Currency Countries included Official languages Coat of Arms
Core Definition (above) of South Asia 4,482,388 1,596,000,000 400.1 N/A N/A Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka N/A N/A
UN subregion 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

Regional groups of countries

country or region Area
(per km²)
GDP per capita
Capital Currency Government Official languages Coat of Arms
 Afghanistan 652,230 29,150,000[94] 52 $34.55 billion $621 Kabul Afghani Islamic republic Emblem of Afghanistan
 British Indian Ocean Territory 60 3,500 59 N/A N/A Diego Garcia US Dollar British Overseas Territory English
 Burma 676,578 48,137,141 71 $53.140 billion $854 Naypyidaw Myanma kyat Constitutional republic Burmese
 China - Tibet Autonomous Region 1,228,400 2,740,000 2 $9.6 billion $2,558 Lhasa Chinese yuan Autonomous region of China Tibetan, Mandarin Chinese

Countries and territories from extended definitions

Country Area
(per km²)
Nominal GDP(in billions of US$)
Nominal GDP
per capita

Purchasing Power Parity GDP(in billions of US$)
Purchasing Power Parity GDP
per capita

Capital Currency Government Official languages Coat of arms
 Bangladesh 147,570 152,518,015[92] 899 $186.590 $1,179 $535.645 $3,385 Dhaka Taka Unitary parliamentary democracy Bengali Coat of arms of Bangladesh
 Bhutan 38,394 697,000[92] 18 $2.086 $2,722 $5.867 $7,657 Thimphu Ngultrum
Indian rupee
Constitutional monarchy Dzongkha Emblem of Bhutan
 India 3,287,240 1,210,193,422[93] 382[93] $2,047.811 $1,626 $7,277.279 $5,777 New Delhi Indian rupee Parliamentary democracy federal republic Hindi


Emblem of India
 Maldives 298 396,334[92] 1,330 $2.405 $7,030 $4.254 $12,435 Malé Rufiyaa Republic Dhivehi Coat of arms of Maldives
   Nepal 147,181 26,620,080[92] 200 $19.637 $699 $66.918 $2,381 Kathmandu Nepalese rupee Democratic republic Nepali Coat of arms of Nepal
 Pakistan 796,095 180,440,000[92] 225 $241.411 $1,196 $884.204 $4,746 Islamabad Pakistani rupee Parliamentary democracy Federal republic Urdu


Coat of arms of Pakistan
 Sri Lanka 65,610 20,277,597[92] 319 $71.566 $3,414 $217.089 $10,355 Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte Sri Lankan rupee Democratic socialist republic Coat of arms of Sri Lanka

With the core seven countries, the area covers about 4.48 million km² (1.7 million mi²), which is 10% of the Asian continent or 2.4% of the world's land surface area.[89][90][91] They account for about 34% of Asia's population (or over 16.5% of the world's population) and are home to a vast array of peoples.[89][90][91]

Core countries

2009 referenced population figures except where noted.

Territory and region data

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 all acceded to one of the new states.

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.[88]

Modern era

Muslim rule in core South Asia began in 8th century CE when the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab in modern day Pakistan,[87] 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.

Medieval era

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 Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas, and Pandyas. 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.

This Bronze Age civilisation collapsed before the end of the second millennium BCE and was followed by 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.

Classical era

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.[84] The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of South Asia from c. 3300 to 1300 BCE in present-day Pakistan and northwest India, was the first major civilization in South Asia.[85] A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BCE.[86]

Ancient era


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.[81]

  • 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.

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%.[81] Climate of South Asia is largely characterized by monsoons. South Asia depends critically on monsoon rainfall.[82] Two monsoon systems exist in the region:[83]

South Asia is largely divided into four broad climate zones:[81]

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.

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.[80] 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.

Köppen climate classification map of South Asia.


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).

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,[73][74][75] and extending up to but not including Ladakh, Kohistan, the Hindu Kush range and Balochistan.[76][77][78] It may be noted that geophysically the Yarlung Tsangpo River 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.[79]

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.

Indian plate

While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity.[71] 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.[72]

While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity


One 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.[70] Per the UN's definition the wider subregion's northern frontier is the Himalayas and southerly post-Soviet states of Central Asia (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan; its western boundary is the westerly border of Iran (with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, and Iraq); and its eastern boundary is the easterly border of Myanmar (with Thailand and Laos).

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,[68] and which extends southward into the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast.[9][69]

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.[66][67]


According to anthropologist John R. Lukacs, "The Indian Subcontinent occupies the major landmass of South Asia."[60] while according to political science professor Tatu Vanhanen, "The seven countries of South Asia constitute geographically a compact region around the Indian Subcontinent".[61] According to Chris Brewster, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan constitute the Indian subcontinent; with Afghanistan, Iran and Maldives included it is more commonly referred to as South Asia,[62] while according to a number of Indian scholars South Asia includes the Indian Subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal), as well as the island countries of Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius.[63] 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,[10] while Tibet and Nepal may either be included[64] or excluded[65] intermittently, depending on the context.

The region was labelled variously as India (in its pre-modern sense), Greater India, Indian Subcontinent and South Asia.[20][44] "Indian Subcontinent" is a term adopted and used by the British Empire.[10][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52] The terms "Indian subcontinent" and "South Asia" are used interchangeably.[10][45][46][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55] According to historians Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, Indian Subcontinent has come to be known as South Asia "in more recent and neutral parlance."[56] 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.[57] 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".[58][59]

Indian Subcontinent

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.[41] The confusion exists also because of a lack of clear boundary - geographically, geopolitical, socio-culturally, economically or historically - between South Asia and other parts of Asia, especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia.[42] 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.[43]

Regional affinity of the bordering countries like Myanmar and Afghanistan is always confusing. Myanmar with its low-profile foreign policy has not drawn much scholarly attention, but Afghanistan is in a more complex situation. During the Iranian Revolution (1979) it was included into Southwest Asia, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979 to February 1989) it was included into Central Asia, and since the War on Terror (2001 onward) its included into South Asia.[5] One school of thought divides the Asian continent latitudinally and treats South and Southeast Asia as one region. The South Asia Institute (SAI) of Heidelberg University and scholars like Howard Wringgings and James Guyot subscribe to this tendency.[5]

The British Indian Ocean Territory is connected to the region by a publication of Jane's for security considerations.[39] 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.[40]

The United Nations [4] Ajey Lele of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses The United Nations finds it to be a "top option" for country grouping.[36] Population Information Network (POPIN) includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Iran, 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.[37] 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.[38]

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, the Himalayan Kingdoms (Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim[27]), and Burma (now Myanmar). It has since included Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.[28]

The Centres for South Asian Studies at both the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia include Tibet along with seven members of SAARC in their research programs, but exclude the Maldives.[29][30] The South Asian Studies Program of Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley Centre for South Asia Studies also include the Maldives.[31][32]

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".[33] The similar program of Columbia University includes Tibet, but excludes Afghanistan and the Maldives.[34]

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 — but was extended to include Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2006.[22][23] China, Iran and Myanmar have also applied for the status of full members of SAARC.[24] This bloc of countries include three independent countries that were not part of the British Raj - Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan. The South Asia Free Trade Agreement and World Bank grouping of countries in the region includes only the original seven members of SAARC, and leaves Afghanistan out.[25][26]

United Nations geoscheme for Asia based on statistic convenience rather than implying any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories:
  South Asia
  East Asia

The common concept of South Asia is largely inherited from the administrative boundaries of the British Raj,[15] with two major differences. 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.[16] 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.[17][18][19] Geopolitically, it had formed the whole territory of Greater India,[20][21]

The current territories of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan (the core of the British Empire prior to 1947) form the core countries of South Asia, while the mountain countries of Nepal and Bhutan, and island countries of Sri Lanka and Maldives are generally included. Afghanistan and Myanmar are often added, and by various definitions, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Mauritius, Iran, and the Tibet Autonomous Region are included as well.[5][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

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.[5] Although there's a distinct core of countries, all formerly part of the British Empire, in defining the South Asia, there is much variation as to which (if any) other countries are included.[6]

Various definitions of South Asia, including the most deviating definition by the UN, which was solely created for "statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories."[4]



  • Definitions 1
    • Indian Subcontinent 1.1
    • Boundary 1.2
  • Geography 2
    • Indian plate 2.1
    • Climate 2.2
  • History 3
    • Ancient era 3.1
    • Classical era 3.2
    • Medieval era 3.3
    • Modern era 3.4
  • Territory and region data 4
    • Core countries 4.1
    • Countries and territories from extended definitions 4.2
    • Regional groups of countries 4.3
  • Demographics 5
    • Ethnic groups 5.1
    • Languages 5.2
    • Religions 5.3
  • Economy 6
  • Health and nutrition 7
  • Governance 8
  • Culture and Religion 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


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