South Asia

South Asia

South Asia
Countries 7 to 10 (see page)
Territories 1 or 2 (see page)
GDP per capita
Languages Assamese/Asomiya, Bengali, Bodo, Burmese, Chinese, Dari, Dhivehi, Dogri, Dzongkha, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Sinhala, Siraiki, Tamil, Telugu, Tibetan, and others
Time Zones UTC +8:00 (Tibet) to UTC +3:30 (Iran)
Largest Cities Colombo, Dhaka, Diego Garcia, Kabul, Karachi, Kathmandu, Lhasa, Malé, Mumbai, Tehran, Thimpu, and Yangon

South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is a 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. It is surrounded (clockwise, from west to east) by Western Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, and Southeastern Asia.

Definitions and usage

South Asia consists of the following countries and territories:

These countries, except the British Indian Ocean Territory, are also currently members of a regional co-operation group, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was jointly formed by them.

Some academic and/or cultural institutions from the United States and the United Kingdom also classify the following countries and territories as South Asian:

  • (Otherwise considered Central Asian or Middle-Eastern) (Now a member of SAARC)
  • , (Prior to August 1947, for nearly a century, it was part of the British Raj region of South Asia proper.) (Otherwise considered Southeast Asian)
  • Tibet, PRC (Otherwise considered Central Asian or East Asian) (PRC is an observer member of SAARC)

The United Nations also includes Iran, but not Tibet or Burma, as part of Southern Asia:

Differences in definitions

South Asia is defined in various different ways in literature. Most sources accept Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Chagos Islands, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as South Asian. Most of the controversy originates over Afghanistan, Iran, and Tibet. Afghanistan and Tibet are often considered South Asian by the Departments of South Asian Studies of several universities, especially those referred to above; but this definition is by no means universal. Another controversy grows over Iran, for Iran is considered South Asian by the UN on the one hand, but none of those departments above on the other. The George W. Bush administration's definition of the Greater Middle East further obfuscates matters by including both Pakistan and Afghanistan. See: Middle East and Greater Middle East. Controversial race researcher Richard Lynn has defined Southern Asia as "from Bangladesh in the east through India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, the Gulf states, the near East, and Turkey".


Geophysically, the term Indian subcontinent is used to describe those regions which lie on the Indian Plate, bordered on the north by the Eurasian Plate. However, a good proportion of the Pakistani land mass is not on the Indian plate, but on the fringes of the Iranian plateau. As in the case of the Hindukush mountains, everything to the south-east of the Iranian Plateau is considered South Asia. But, geopolitically, Southern Asia subsumes the Indian subcontinent and includes both, the territories found internal to the Indian Plate and those in proximity to it. Afghanistan, for instance, is sometimes grouped in this region due to socio-political, historical, and ethnic (Pashtun) ties to neighbouring Pakistan.


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, Georgia-Iran border, and the Azerbaijan-Iran border. Its eastern boundary would be the India-Myanmar border and the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.


Mostly hot summers and rain, some parts are snowy and cold.



The South Asian economy is characterised by chronic poverty, and inequality of wealth. While some elites in South Asia are incredibly rich and wealthy, more than 40 percent of their populations live below the Poverty Line, that is, just managing to survive, without the basic amenities of life. Corruption at all levels is highest among South Asian countries. While India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are emerging economies, Nepal, Myanmar and Iran are stagnating economies, marked by high inflation as a result of international isolation.

Major Economic and Financial Centres


The media plays an important role in every country in the region. All countries in SAARC have television, radio and the print media. Sri Lanka created broadcasting history by being the first country in South Asia to inaugurate broadcasting services in 1925, just three years after the launching of broadcasting in Europe.Radio Ceylon is the oldest radio station in South Asia. The station ruled the airwaves in the 1950s and 1960s and had a listener base running into millions.


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 precursers 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 colonies of Great Britain from 1757 to 1947. Nepal and Bhutan were to some extent a protectorate of Great Britain until after World War II. The network of means of transportation and communication as well as banking and training of requisite workforce, and also the existing rail, post, telegraph, bank and education facilities have evolved out of the base established in the colonial era, often called the British Raj. 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 became 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.

Ethnic groups

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. The amalgamation of Dravidian, Indo-Aryan and local tribal cultures over the centuries created common culture, traditions and beliefs. The Vedic Sanskrit language and Vedic religion combined Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and local tribal beliefs to give rise to the ancient South Asian religions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and also Sikhism, even though Sufi tradition of Islam had also significantly influenced nascent Sikhism and its holiest scripture. As a consequence, they share many similar cultural practices, festivals, and traditions. Throughout time, the traditions of different ethnic groups in South Asia have diverged, sometimes giving rise to strong local traditions, such as South Indian culture in earlier times. 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; the last of these new arrivals - the Turks and Pathans - brought in much cultural influence and the Abrahamic religion of Islam to the Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun, Baloch and Kashmiri people in the northwestern parts of South Asia - areas principally located in Pakistan - and the adjoining swathe of Gangetic plain in North India. However, their Turkish/Persian languages have ceased to be prominent - even in Pakistan where they were common until 1843; but these ethnic groups have contributed to the birth of Urdu, a syncretic language of combined Hindi-Persian-Turkic-Arabic heritage, which is widely spoken today.


The largest spoken language in this region is now Hindi, its speakers numbering almost 300 million; the second largest spoken language is Bengali, with 240 million speakers. Urdu is also a major language spoken in the subcontinent, especially in Pakistan and India, and is similar linguistically to 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. 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; 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.

Most of South Asia writes using various abugidas of Brāhmīc 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.


Sunni Muslim (80%), Shi'a Muslim (19%), other (1%)
Muslim (89.8%), Hindu (9.2%), Buddhist (1.6%), Christian (1.3%),Believers in tribal faiths (0.1%)
Christian (45.55%), Hindu (38.55%), Muslim (9.25%), Non-Religious (6.50%), Atheist (0.10%), Other (0.05%)
Buddhist (75%), Hindu (25%)
Hindu (80.5%), Muslim (13.4%), Christian (2.3%), Sikh (1.9%), Buddhist (0.8%), Jain (0.4%), Others (0.6%)
Shi'a Muslim (89%), Sunni Muslim (9%), Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i (2%)
Sunni Muslim (100%) (One must be a Sunni Muslim to be a citizen on the Maldives)
Theravada Buddhism (89%), Muslim (4%), Christian (4%) (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Animist (1%), others (including Hinduism) (2%)
Hindu (80.6%), Buddhist (10.7%), Muslim (4.2%), Kirat (3.6%)
Muslim (96.28%), Hindu (1.85%), Christian (1.59%), Ahmadi (0.22%)
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

Territory and region data

Name of country/region, with flag Area
Population Population density
(per km²)
Capital Currency Government Official languages Coat of Arms
(see above) 647,500 31,889,923 46 Kabul Afghan afghani Islamic republic Dari (Persian), Pashto
144,000 150,448,340 1045 Dhaka Taka Parliamentary republic Bengali
47,000 672,425 45 Thimphu Ngultrum, Indian rupee Constitutional monarchy Dzongkha
60 3,500 58.3 Diego Garcia Pound sterling British Overseas Territory English
3,287,590 1,128,808,000 329 New Delhi Indian rupee Federal republic, Parliamentary democracy Hindi, English and 20 other official languages
(see above) 1,648,195 71,208,000 42 Tehran Iranian rial Islamic republic Persian, Constitutional status for regional languages
298 298,842 1,105 Malé Rufiyaa Republic Dhivehi
(see above) 676,578 55,400,000 75 Yangon Myanmar kyat Military Junta Burmese; Jingpho, Shan, Karen, Mon, (Spoken in Myanmar's Autonomous States.)
147,181 28,901,790 184 Kathmandu Nepalese rupee Interim government Nepali
880,940 162,423,000 206 Islamabad Pakistani rupee Islamic Republic Urdu, English, Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi, Siraiki, Sindhi
65,610 19,668,000 310 Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte Sri Lankan rupee Democratic Socialist Republic Sinhala, Tamil
Tibet Autonomous Region, PRC (see above) 1,228,400 2,740,000 2.2 Lhasa Chinese yuan Autonomous region of China Tibetan

See also

Other subregions in Asia

Notes and References

External links

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