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Ajinkya Bankar asked: Is there any difference between South Asia and Indian Subcontinent? Is it one and the same?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: There is an overlap between the two. However, they are different. Indian subcontinent is a subset of South Asia, as much as both are subsets of the Asian continent.

    As a geographical expression, Indian subcontinent encompassed the British colonial administrative unit called India, which comprised of the present day states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Till 1936, Burma (now Myanmar) was also part of British India, but was not considered part of the subcontinent.

    South Asia signifies the region extending from Afghanistan in the north-west till Bangladesh in the east, and from Nepal in the north to Sri Lanka in the south. The region is well represented in the geographical extents of the regional organisation named as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which was established in 1985.

    Interestingly, the term South Asia originated in the 1950s, in German academic circles, as a replacement for ‘Indian subcontinent’, soon after the partition of British India in 1947, to avoid confusion about the study of ‘Indian subcontinent’ being focussed on India alone. It gained currency subsequently and was adopted by the Western countries including the United States, which has a separate bureau in its state department looking at south and central Asia. The term South Asia gained further legitimacy as countries in the southern Asian region too began to widely use it.

    Posted on September 25, 2017

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