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CHAPTER 9
SOUTH ASIA
You should know these locations:
Administrative Divisions Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Punjab, Kashmir, Assam.
Physical Features Himalaya Mountains, Western Ghats (mountains), Eastern Ghats (mountains), Deccan Plateau, Thar
Desert, Indus River, Ganges River, Brahmaputra River.
Cities Karachi, New Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), Kathmandu, Colombo.

Introduction to Region
South Asia is one of the three regions described in this textbook that is located along the periphery
of the Asian continent. East Asia and Southeast Asia are the other two regions. All three of these
regions are often referred to as Monsoon Asia because of the influence of the monsoon on their
climates and cultures. South Asia is a land of color and contrast. The vast diversity of ethnic groups,
languages, religions, and social traditions make the region extremely colorful. While it is experiencing
rapid industrialization and modernization, it remains one of the poorest in the world.
Major Physiographic Features
Himalayan Mountains - are the worlds highest mountains at 29,000 feet, and they served as an effective barrier to
migration.
Western Ghats (mountains) - are step-like and they reach elevations of 5000 feet (Ghat means step).
Eastern Ghats (mountains) - reach 5000 feet.
Deccan Plateau - a relatively flat surface sloping eastward towards the Eastern Ghats.
Thar Desert - desert which covers Rajasthan (western India) and most of Pakistan.
Indus River - originates in the mountains of northern India and Pakistan and flows for 1200 miles across the Thar Desert. It
was the birthplace of an early irrigated civilization.
Ganges River - the most sacred of all Indian rivers and it originates in the mountains of northern India. It brings life-giving
water to thousands of villages scattered along its banks.
Brahmaputra River - originates in the mountains of Tibet and flows through eastern India, until it joins the Ganges before
forming a delta in Bangladesh.
Major Climates
Highlands scattered throughout the Himalayas.
Humid Subtropical - large areas of northern India.
Subtropical Desert - the Thar Desert.
Subtropical Steppe - scattered areas of India and Pakistan.
Tropical Monsoon - southern India and Bangladesh.
Tropical Wet - Sri Lanka.
Tropical Wet and Dry - much of southern and western India.
Tundra - highest elevations of the Himalayas.

The Asian Monsoon


The dominant climate force which affects South Asia is the monsoon. The word monsoon
actually refers to a seasonal reversal of wind patterns (in Arabic). During the summer months low
atmospheric pressure develops over Mongolia and Siberia, causing warm humid air to be pulled onto
Asia from the surrounding ocean areas. This humid air causes torrential rains and provides ample water
for agriculture throughout most of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. However, during the
winter months an extremely high-pressure area develops in Mongolia, forcing cold (or cool) dry air out
of the region towards the surrounding ocean areas. The effect is a cool dry winter with no rainfall,
especially in South Asia. For thousands of years the farmers of South Asia have had to cope with this

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climatic phenomenon and they have developed sophisticated astronomical calendar to help them predict
the arrival of the first rains associated with the monsoon each year.
Patterns of Natural Vegetation
You should refer to Chapter 1 for the descriptions of each vegetation type listed below.
Desert Vegetation - the Thar Desert.
Steppe - west India and Pakistan.
Subtropical Forest - northern India and Nepal.
Tropical Deciduous Forest - central and southern India.
Tropical Rain Forest eastern and southern India, and Sri Lanka.
Tropical Scrubland southern and western India, and Pakistan.
Tundra - highest elevations of the Himalayas.

Historical Geography
Early Civilizations
Early modern humans made their way into South Asia by 80,000 years ago. They lived by hunting
and gathering until the rise of agriculture in the region about 6000 BCE. You will notice that some of
the dates for periods of dominance overlap in the section below. This overlap results from the large size
of South Asia and the fact that one region may have been under the control of one particular group,
while another region was dominated by a different one.
Harappan was the first civilized society in South Asia and it developed along the Indus River in
Pakistan around 2500 BCE, and thrived until about 1700 BCE. This society developed an advanced
system of guild specialization, in which craftsmen specialized in what they could do best. Ceramics,
copper working, and weaving became highly advanced. The cities that developed along the Indus valley
had grid street networks and drainage systems (they even developed manhole covers to access the
drains). Bronze working was widespread in Pakistan and western India by 2000 BCE. Iron tools began
to be manufactured in the region by 1100 BCE.
Around 1500 BCE large groups of nomadic Indic peoples (Aryans or Indo-Europeans) began to
migrate into South Asia from somewhere near the Black Sea. As they expanded into South Asia they
pushed the native ethnic groups (especially the Dravidians) to the south. Several powerful Indic empires
developed in the Ganges River valley beginning around 900 BCE. The two cultures mixed during the
process, forming the unique culture of India.
Between 1000 BCE and the 400s BCE a number of other groups invaded and controlled portions of
South Asia from their homelands to the north or west. During the 500s BCE Pakistan came under the
control of the Persian Empire, although its impact was relatively short-lived (about 200 years).
Additional groups from Central Asia and from China invaded India between 50 CE and 500 CE, each
causing a part of its culture to be incorporated into that of South Asia. Trade with the Roman Empire
was also heavy during this time period. The Indians sold spices and cloth to the Romans in exchange for
gold coins (which were even in circulation as official currency in India).
Trade and commerce flourished considerably during this time period, especially under the rule of
Asoka. The Mauryan Empire (321 BCE 184 BCE) became the most powerful in South Asia, and
Hinduism became a dominant religion among the Indic peoples of India at about the same time. Hindu
culture made its way into Southeast Asia during the 500s BCE as well. Later, the conversion of Asoka
to Buddhism (an offshoot of Hinduism) helped spread that religion at the expense of Hinduism. Jainism
(another offshoot of Hinduism) spread as well.
Later, the Gupta Empire (320 CE 535 CE) expanded out of northern India and represented a
renaissance of Hinduism in South Asia. It was, in large part, a reaction to the tremendous progress of
Buddhism in previous centuries. The Gupta leaders were successful in pushing Buddhism out of much
of India, and reinforcing Hinduism as the dominant religion.

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Islamic Invasions
Three main phases of Islamic invasions occurred in South Asia. The first was associated with
Turkic Muslims who advanced into Pakistan during the 1100s CE. Led by Muhammad of Ghur, they
invaded northwest India defeating the disorganized Hindu leaders and establishing Islam in the
conquered territories. These Turkic people ruled large areas of South Asia from 1175 CE to 1340 CE.
The second expansion of Islam into South Asia was brought by Persians in the 13th century,
causing renewed clashes between Muslims and Hindus. They established the Delhi Sultanate (1290 CE
1526 CE), which helped to spread Islam into Southeast Asia during this same time period.
The third wave of Islamic migration was undertaken by Mongolians who established the Mughal
Empire (1483-1707). The Mongols, who had converted to Islam after mixing with the Turks that they
had conquered, began moving farther into India. They were variously called the Mughals (also Moghals
or Moguls), and they swept rapidly across India. They are renowned for widespread construction of
large palaces, fortifications, mosques, and other public buildings, including the Red Fort, the Agra Fort,
Fatephur Sikhri, and the Taj Mahal. Despite being Muslims, and imposing Islamic law, the Mughal
leaders were fairly tolerant of religious diversity in the region. As a result, Hinduism and other religions
did not die out.
The Mughals organized much of the Indian farmland into more efficient production systems. They
introduced new cash crops like indigo and tobacco, in addition to the cotton, pepper, opium, and spices
that were already being produced. Furthermore, the yields of grain crops were much higher than those of
anywhere in Europe or the Middle East.
Massive construction of large public buildings occurred during this time period, including
Mosques, palaces, and other government structures. Indeed, much of the large historic buildings in
South Asia are built by the Mughals. The Mughal Empire had a standing army of one million soldiers
who were very well equipped. However, the empire began to collapse around 1707, due to pressures
from all directions (raids led by Maratha independence groups, Europeans along the southern shores, the
Chinese in the northeast, and Turkic groups to the west).
Table 1: Islamic invasions of South Asia.
Ethnic Group
Turkic
Persian
Mongol

Time Period
1100s CE
1290 CE
1400s CE

European Colonialism
The first Europeans to create colonies in South Asia were the Portuguese, who established trading
facilities at Goa, Diu, and Daman (all in western India) in 1509. Several other European countries
established trading bases in South Asia in the following decades (especially along the coasts). Britain
received its first trading concessions in India in 1608, and focused its efforts on bases along the west
coast. The Dutch seized Portuguese bases in Sri Lanka in the 1650s, and expanded their holdings in
southern and eastern India. The French established a trading base in southeastern India in 1661.
Table 2: Colonial bases during the 1700s.
European Power
Netherlands (Dutch)
Britain
France
Portugal
Denmark

Number of Trading
Bases in South Asia
31
9
6
6
4

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However, the British, more than any other European power were able to establish a strong colonial
rule on South Asia. They took colonial administration of South Asia very seriously, as they constructed
an extensive rail network, schools, public buildings, and trained thousands of South Asians to function
within the colonial system. The impacts of British colonial rule are still felt throughout South Asia
today.
To better understand the processes that led to decolonization in South Asia, you should re-read the
decolonization section of the Subsaharan Africa lecture notes. Many of the same processes were taking
place in South Asia. The main period of decolonization followed WWII as well. India and Pakistan
gained independence in August 1947, Nepal in 1923, Sri Lanka in 1948, and Bhutan in 1960 (but it
remained under the control of India until 1985). Bangladesh split from Pakistan in 1971 due to problems
trying to administer a fragmented country with India located in between.

Demographic Characteristics
Most geography textbooks discuss the issue of population growth within their chapters covering
South Asia because it has a very large population and because it has been experiencing very high growth
rates. The region has over 1.3 billion people.
South Asia today remains a predominantly rural region. Indeed, India alone has over 500,000
villages scattered across its territory. Relatively high birth rates persist in the region because most of the
farming communities recognize the value of child labor in the fields, and the financial support that
children will provide their parents once they are unable to work. An old Indian saying states a wealthy
farmer invests in tractors, while a poor farmer invests in children. Population is increasing at more than
one million per month. Birth control programs have not had an important effect. One-quarter of all
Indians live in cities. In 1988, this amounted to 200 million people, creating an urban crisis and rapidlyexpanding slums. Standards of living remain low.
India has the skills, energy and resources to industrialize. Success or failure to develop this
potential will become evident over the next decade. Despite the long-term trend of rapid population
growth, demographers have noticed a slight downturn in growth rates in the last 10 years, possibly
indicating a decline in the over-population problem in the first half of the 21st-century.
Table 3: Demographic patterns.
Country
India
Pakistan
Bangladesh
Sri Lanka
Nepal
Bhutan
USA

Population in 2013
1,220 million
183 million
152 million
20 million
26 million
742,000
317 million

Growth Rate
1.5%
1.6%
1.7%
1.5%
2.0%
1.4%
0.97%

Female Infanticide
In addition to the problems of high population growth, uncontrolled urbanization and rampant
poverty, many healthcare workers and politicians are deeply concerned with another widespread problem
in South Asia. Demographic trends in India have revealed a persistent and pervasive problem with
female infanticide (the intentional murder of female newborns). Female infanticide is not unique to
South Asia. Indeed, the custom of preferentially killing female infants has been present in many regions
in West Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and China for centuries. It derives from many parents
preference for male children because in most of these societies, sons will eventually marry and their
wives (and all their children) will become part of the parents household. The daughter-in-laws and their
children will help with farming tasks and can provide labor-for-lease to other farms. Daughters, on the

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other hand, will eventually marry someone elses son and they will not contribute to the economy of
their parents household once they are married. Therefore, a couple with many daughters will ultimately
become significantly impoverished, as they have supplied laborers for the families of their future sonin-laws. In contrast, a couple with many sons will become wealthier and more powerful through time.
In order to avoid this inequality in labor supply the parents strongly prefer sons to daughters. When a
daughter is born she may be suffocated immediately after birth, or she might not be nursed, or she might
be left outside to freeze or dehydrate. In addition, between three and five million female fetuses are
aborted each year in India as parents attempt to maintain low numbers of daughters.
The practice of female infanticide has led to an overall reduction in female to male ratios in many
rural areas from West Africa to China. Indeed, at the national level India has about 927 females for
every 1000 males. In Punjab the ratio is much lower; 793 females for every 1000 males. Furthermore,
at the global level there are approximately 100 million fewer females than males due specifically to the
widespread practice of female infanticide.

Ethnicity and Language


South Asia is an ethnically diverse region because of the existence of three major language
families, plus their dispersal into approximately 300 different, but closely related, languages. Many
South Asians who live along linguistic boundaries can communicate in two or more languages with
some efficiency. Others, especially those who have graduated primary school or live in major tourism or
commercial zones, can also speak English (a remnant of the British colonial period).
Ethnolinguistic Groups
1. Indo-European Language Family (301 languages)
A. Indic Branch 219 languages including Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Marathi, Sindhi, Gujarati,
Assamese, Sinhalese, and Nepali.
B. Iranic Branch 81 languages including Pashto or Pashtun, Baluchi, and Tajik.
2. Dravidian Language Family - Brahui, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, and 73 other languages in
South Asia.
3. Sino-Tibetan Language Family (22 languages)
A. Chinese Branch Chinese, Naga, and 12 other languages in China and India.
B. Tibeto-Burman Branch Tibetan, Newari, Burmese, Sherpa, Sikkimese, and several others.
4. Andamanese Language Family - 13 languages in South Asia.
5. Austro-Asiatic Language Family
A. Munda Branch 24 languages in India.
6. Burushaski Language Family isolated groups in the Himalayas.

Religion
South Asia was the birthplace of two major world religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism
is the older of the two religions, and Buddhism can be considered on offshoot of Hinduism. Today,
several other important religions are also found in South Asia. The approximate adherence numbers of
the major religions in South Asia are outlined in the table.

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Table 4: Religious adherence.
Religion
Hinduism
Islam
Christianity
Sikhism
Buddhism
Jainism
Zoroastrianism

Number of Adherents
780 million
359 million
26 million
19 million
10 million
5 million
300,000

Geographic Distribution
India, Sri Lanka.
Pakistan, Bangladesh.
Coastal India (especially in Kerala and Goa),
and Nagaland.
Punjab.
Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka.
Western India.
Western India.

The Origin of Hinduism


Hinduism is actually a grouping of several varieties of polytheistic religions that developed in
South Asia (especially in India) more than 3000 years ago. Indeed, polytheistic ethnic religions were
most likely common in the region going back to the arrival of Homo erectus (more than 100,000 years
ago). As already mentioned, Hinduism may have also been influenced by religious beliefs introduced by
the invasion of Indic people more than 3000 years ago.
Nonetheless, the most important written documents of Hinduism are the Veda (Holy Scriptures).
There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the exact history of the Veda. Analysis of the Veda
reveals it to be quite old because astronomical events described in the work indicate observations that
occurred as far back as 10,000 years ago, implying that people were at least remembering those events
and transferring them from generation to generation by oral tradition. The word "Veda" is a Sanskrit
word which means "knowledge" or "wisdom". There are actually four Vedas.
The Four Sanskrit Vedas (Books)
1. Rig-Veda, which contains hymns or prayers.
2. Sama-Veda, which contains some of the hymns of the Rig Veda set to music.
3. Yajur-Veda, which deals mostly with sacrificial rituals.
4. Artharva-Veda, which contains moral and ethical codes.

Also of importance is the fact that numerous other Indo-Europeans groups (like the Celtic,
Germanic, and Slavic people) had beliefs in cosmology, theology, astronomy, and society that were quite
similar to their Indic cousins in India. This suggests a belief system that predates the separation of the
Indo-European people (more than 5000 years ago).

Character of Hinduism
Hinduism is referred to as Sanatana Dharma, or the eternal faith. Hinduism is not strictly a
religion. Since Hinduism has no founder, anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu.
Hinduism has grown to become the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. It does
not have a single theological system, a single system of morality, nor a central religious organization. It
consists of thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India. It is the dominant religion
in India, Nepal, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, there are about 1.1 million Hindus in
the U.S.A. At the heart of Hinduism is the principle of Brahman, the belief that the entire universe is
one divine entity. For most Hindus, God is simultaneously visualized as a triad:
Brahma - who is continuing to create new Universes (similar to the Indo-European god Ahuramazda).
Shiva - is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive (similar to the Indo-European god Ahriman).
Vishnu - the Preserver, who preserves these new creations. Whenever dharma (eternal order, righteousness, religion, law
and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels from heaven to Earth in one of ten incarnations (similar to the Indo-European god
Mithra).

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Most Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism that are focused on their primary
god of interest. Vaishnavaists generally regard Vishnu as the ultimate deity, whereas Shivaists regard
Shiva as the ultimate deity. About 80% of Hindus are Vaishnavites. Other Hindus follow various reform
movements or neo-Hindu sects. Various sects of Hinduism have evolved into separate religious
movements, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul or reincarnation. This is the transfer
of one's soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and
rebirth through their many lifetimes. This constant cycling through bodies is called samsara. Related
to this is the concept of Karma, which is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma
determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn
at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a
person to be reborn at a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige,
and suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for ones previous acts, both in this life and in
previous lives. Hindus organize their life around these activities.
The Ten Incarnations of Vishnu
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

Matsya the fish.


Kurma the tortoise.
Varaha the boar who destroyed a demon.
Narsingha a lion-man who destroyed a demon.
Vamana the dwarf who destroyed a demon.
Parasurama a powerful Brahmin.
Rama a hero who worked with Hanuman
Krishna the playful cow herder.
Buddha the teacher.
Kali - the destroyer (has not yet arrived).

Another interesting component of the quest for Nirvana is the tradition of the Sadhus, who are
wandering Holy men (or Hindu ascetics). These individuals are strict followers of Shiva and spend their
lives wandering South Asia, mediating, and begging for food. They live by donations from other Hindus
and they tend to congregate at particular holy sites. The often wear red or orange clothing, and
sometimes where no clothing at all. A small group of them are also avid users of marijuana in order to
facilitate mediation. While others, especially in India, may carry pitchforks to accompany their red
clothing and hats.

The Hindu Caste System


In the past, each follower of Hinduism belonged to one of the thousands of Jats (communities)
that existed in India. The Jats were grouped into four Varna (social castes), plus a fifth group called the
"untouchables." A person's Jat determined the range of jobs or professions from which they could
choose. Marriages normally took place within the same Jat. There were rules that prohibited persons of
different groups from socializing with each other. Long ago, people were once able to move from one
Varna to another. However, at some time in the past (by about 500 BCE), the system became more rigid,
so that a person was generally born into the Jat and Varna of their parents, and died in the same group.
The caste system split up society into a multitude of little communities, for every caste, and almost every
local unit of a caste, has its own peculiar customs and internal regulations. The Rig-Veda defined four
castes, and the untouchables.

Brahmins - the priests and academics.


Kshatriyas - rulers, military.
Vaishyas - farmers, landlords, and merchants.
Sudras - peasants, servants, and workers in non-polluting jobs.

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Dalit or Harijan (untouchables) - were outcasts who do not belong to one of the castes. Some people believe that they are
the descendents of the original inhabitants of India (possibly Dravidians) prior to the arrival of Indic people. They work
in what are considered polluting jobs.

Although the caste system was abolished by Indian law in 1949, it remains a significant force
throughout India. Discriminating against a person because of their caste is now illegal. The caste system
has lost much of its power in urban areas; however, it is essentially unchanged in some rural districts.
The government has instituted positive discrimination in order to help the Dalit and lower castes.

Jainism
The Hindu scholar, Vardhamana Mahavira (540 BCE 467 BCE), founded the religion of Jainism.
He was born in a village near Vaishali in north Bihar (India). His father was a ruler of that area and his
mother a princess. At the age of thirty, he left home and started practicing penances in search of
knowledge. After twelve years, he attained the state called Nirvana (enlightenment). Jainism does not
recognize caste. Today, most Jain reside in western India.

Buddhism
Buddhism, which can trace its roots to northeastern India in the 500s BCE, expanded across much
of India by 300 BCE, replacing Hinduism as the dominant faith in many areas. The great philosopher,
Gautama Buddha (563 BCE - 483 BCE), founded Buddhism. He was born in a Kshatriya family in
Kapilvastu, in the foothills of Nepal. He was a contemporary of Mahavira (the founder of Jainism). At
the age of twenty-nine, he abandoned his wife and son, and left home. After prolonged mediation and
self analysis he arrived at Bodh Gaya (in what is now Bihar, India). There, under a tree, he is believed to
have attained enlightenment at the age of thirty-five. Buddha discarded Hinduism and he strongly
disliked rituals, sacrifices and ceremonial worship. He condemned the caste system.
The universal appeal of Buddha's message helped spread Buddhism rapidly across Tibet, China,
Mongolia, and into Southeast Asia. It was at the fourth council, held in Kashmir in the early second
century CE that a schism in Buddhism was recognized. One branch was called Hinayana and the other,
Mahayana. Eventually, Hinayana Buddhism found its stronghold in Ceylon, Burma and the countries of
Southeast Asia, whereas Mahayana Buddhism became the dominant sect in India, Central Asia, Tibet,
China, Mongolia, and Japan. Today, Buddhism is most important in Mongolia, and in Tibet.
You should be aware that Buddhism had great appeal with lower caste levels in Hindu society and
spread quite rapidly across South Asia by 300 BCE. Subsequent missionary activity by Hindus was able
to diminish the influence of Buddhism in the region to the point that it became quite scarce by 700 CE,
and it became almost non-existent in India by 1300 CE. This was facilitated by an incorporation of
Buddhist beliefs into Hinduism, and by establishing a tradition of pilgrimages. Today, Buddhism is
actually fairly rare within the region it originated. Although Buddhism has its origins in South Asia, it
was almost completely eradicated from the region, and has become much more important in East Asia.

Islam
Islam is the second most important religion in South Asia with over 360 million adherents.
Numerous sects of Islam are practiced in the region, but Sunni is by far the most common. Other
important sects include Shiite in some areas of Pakistan and Sufism in Pakistan and western India. One
of the most important Sufi shrines is the tomb of Sufi founder, Hazrat Mu'inuddin Chishti (who died in
1232 CE), and which is located in Ajmer, in Rajasthan, India.

Sikhism
Sikhism is also a splinter of Hinduism which developed in the 1500s CE. The religion shares
many of the same beliefs as Hinduism, but has evolved into an essentially monotheistic faith. There

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exists a great deal of conflict between the Sikhs and the Hindus, especially in the Punjab region of
northwest India.

Christianity
Christianity was first introduced into southern India by Syrian and Egyptian merchants around 200350 CE. During the 1500s CE the Portuguese introduced Roman Catholicism into coastal areas as well.
Protestant missionary activities have brought Christianity to many areas scattered across the region,
especially to Nagaland (far eastern India).

Land Use (Agriculture)


Agriculture has been practiced in the Indus River valley since 6000 BCE. Farming spread across
the remainder of South Asia by 2000 BCE. Today, the region is heavily cultivated and the residents
grow a wide range of crops, using a variety of farming techniques. Agricultural land use activities in
South Asia can be grouped into four general types.
(1) Shifting cultivation (also known as slash-and-burn farming) is practiced on the poor lowland
soils or steep slopes, where permanent agriculture is not possible. The farmers clear small patches of
tropical forest and burn the felled trees. The ash provides plant nutrients to the crops for the first several
years, but soon depletes. The farmers then need to move on to new forest areas for clearing.
(2) Permanent subsistence farming is common to the areas with better soils, and involves the
production of small quantities of food on very small parcels of land (usually less than 25 acres). Most of
these farmers live near the poverty level (subsistence).
(3) Plantation cultivation of tropical crops is common to the coastal plains, and is focused on the
production of cash crops for both domestic and international markets. The plantations to tend to be at
least 1000 acres in size and most owned by an individual family or a company (possibly foreign). They
use paid labor to grow a wide variety of crops like sugarcane, coconut, papaya, citrus, mango, pineapple,
banana, tamarind, and coffee. Copra is also produced as a fiber crop.
(4) Nomadic herding is practiced in the Thar Desert, where the herders raise cattle, camels, sheep,
and goats. As can be expected, total productivity from this land use is quite low.

The Green Revolution


During the 1960s and 1970s the United Nations and several other international development
organizations implemented a major program to develop agriculture in numerous Third World countries.
They introduced improved seed varieties, chemicals, and irrigation technologies. The program received
limited success in most countries due to a wide range of problems. The program was more successful in
India, Mexico, Egypt, and a few Southeast Asian countries.

Mineral Resources
Coal is found in extensive areas of eastern India and northern Bangladesh, but its total supply is
relatively limited in South Asia. Petroleum and natural gas are located in several areas, including
Bangladesh, eastern India, the west coast of India, southern Pakistan, and in Kashmir (along the
Pakistan-India border). Iron in mined central India, and in northern Pakistan. Numerous other metals
are mined in limited quantities in central India, including bauxite, manganese, and chromium.

Industry
Industry associated with small-scale import substitution is found in the larger cities of most of
the region. Import substitution is the manufacture of relatively simple industrial goods within a particular
country rather than importing those same items from somewhere else. This was a strategy implemented
by India beginning in the 1940s as an attempt to reduce its foreign trade deficit. It typically involved the

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production of small consumer items like snacks, candies, chips, soft drinks, beer, disposable household
items, and simple clothing items. This process allowed India to take advantage of its own raw
agricultural commodities by converting them into useful consumer items. It has also been trying to
develop heavy industry. In addition to this form of manufacturing, several areas stand out as more
advanced and diverse industrial regions. They are listed below.
Major Industrial Regions
Mumbai (India) - focused on agricultural processing, especially cotton products. Mumbai is also the home of South Asias
most important entertainment industry, the so called Bollywood. Large numbers of movie, in addition to hundreds of
television shows, music CDs, sporting events, and educational media. They have wide marketing and economic success
in South Asia and in regions with large numbers of India immigrants (Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast
Asia).
Calcutta (India) - agricultural processing, including jute.
New Delhi (India) agricultural processing and heavy industry, call centers.
Karachi (Pakistan) - petrochemical refining and agricultural processing.
Chota Nagpur (India) - heavy industry and chemical manufacturing.
Bangalore (India) emerging as an important high tech and call center zone.

The table below outlines the relative economic strength of various countries in the region with a
comparison of their per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Per capita GDP is calculated by dividing
the total GDP by the population of the country, and it is roughly equivalent to the median (average)
annual income in that particular region.
Table 5: Per capita GDP (Purchasing Power Parity, PPP). Source: World Bank.
County
Bangladesh
Bhutan
India
Nepal
Pakistan
Sri Lanka
USA

Per Capita GDP (Dollars)


1334
4754
2972
1112
2644
4560
46,716

Political Issues
One of the most troublesome issues in South Asia is the extensive, and often, intensive degree of
conflict found across the region. Political conflicts in South Asia can find their roots in three main
causes: (1) territorial conflict, (2) conflict over resources, and (3) ethnic and religious conflict. Most
South Asian countries were different provinces or colonies during the colonial period. After they gained
independence in the mid-1900s they often disagreed about their territorial boundaries. The also each
developed individual identities, which promote national pride, and regional rivalries. As a result, it has
been difficult for many of these to get along with each other; especially India and Pakistan. As the
population of the region grows, various countries have attempted to exert their control over the limited
resources in the region (especially water). Conflict over cultural traditions such as religion and language
have been the most violent and long-lasting in this region. The major conflicts are listed in the table
below.
Table 6: Major conflicts in South Asia.
Groups
Hindus and Sikhs
Hindus and Muslims
Buddhists and Hindus
Christians and Hindus

Region
Punjab
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
Sri Lanka
Eastern India

Time Period
Since 1500s
Since 1100s
Since 300 BCE
Since 1940s

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Conclusions and Key Points to Remember


South Asia has been a zone of mixing between Indo-Europeans, Dravidians, and Altaic cultures. This
has led to a tremendous diversity of ethnicity and religions.
South Asia is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and it contains the largest
variety of Indo-European languages.
This region contains an extremely large population, which is still experiencing moderately high growth
rates. This condition severely hinders the improvement in the material well-being of most of the
regions inhabitants.
Increasing environmental and social problems further inhibit economic development and
improvements in living conditions.
Ethnic conflict, especially among different religions, is intense and appears to be on the rise.
Recent changes in the character of the global service industry has allowed India to participate in new
economic activities associated with high tech manufacturing, programming, mapping, and telephone
call centers.

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