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:. . South Asia

South Asia is made up of seven nations: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives (see political map). However, these nations are not united. Linguistic and religious differences are two main reasons for the divisions among the peoples of South Asia.

Dozens of languages are spoken in South Asia. These languages share many characteristics such as grammatical structure and vocabulary, but they are also distinctly different. In addition, all of the nations of South Asia, except for the Maldives, have linguistic minorities.

In India English and Hindi are the two most commonly spoken languages. English, the language of the region's former colonial masters, is widely spoken by India's intellectual elite. An attempt in 1965 to make Hindi, India's most widely spoken language, the official national language failed when people from the south violently demonstrated against the new law. As a compromise, the Indian government promised to retain English as a national language. Besides Hindi and English--the now designated national languages, a number of other languages have status as official languages of the different states in India.

In Pakistan five languages are mainly spoken. The chart below shows Pakistan's languages and the percent of people who speak each of them. Note that Urdu, the designated national language, is spoken by only 8% of the population.

In Bangladesh 98% of the people speak Bangla. In Nepal Nepalese has been designated the national language, but more than twenty different languages are spoken there. Ethnic minorities in Nepal continue to try to gain government recognition for their particular language. In Bhutan a variety of languages is spoken. In Sri Lanka Sinhala is spoken by the Sinhalese majority and Tamil is spoken by the Tamil minority. English is commonly spoken in government. In Maldives the national and official language is Dhivehi. English and some Indian languages are also spoken in Maldives.

Most languages in South Asia are closely tied to particular nations, and as a result, further divide the people from one another. When people do not speak the same language, communicating with one another is often difficult. This lack of communication works against unity because people use their language as their principal means of expressing their deepest beliefs, values, and feelings, which are most frequently connected to their religious heritages.

Like language, religion has also divided the people of South Asia. The major religions in the subcontinent are Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Christianity. The chart below shows the different religions in South Asia and the percent of the more than 1.29 billion people who practice each of them.

The majority of the people in South Asia practice Hinduism. Hindus have many representations of God from which they choose to worship. They also have many holy scriptures and prophets. There is no single path to salvation for Hindus. Hindus believe that one's soul might be reborn several times before gaining enlightenment, at which time one's soul is merged with the cosmic forces and is eliminated. Through its doctrine of karma and the caste system, Hinduism explains the inequalities in human society.

The second most practiced religion in South Asia is Islam. Islam teaches a belief in only one god--Allah. People who practice the Islamic faith are Muslims. Muslims have one sacred text, the Koran, which was revealed to God's final prophet, Mohammed. Muslims believe that people have one chance--one life--to achieve salvation. Furthermore, Islam stresses the spiritual equality and brotherhood of all humanity. Photo: Moslem man reading the Koran. Photo 1999 -www.arttoday.com

Sikhism arose out of Hinduism as a reform movement in the 16th century. It stresses that people can escape rebirth by meditating on God's name. Sikhs believe in the formless concept of God and suggest that the best way to salvation is living a good family life based on the principles of work, worship, and charity. Sikhs have their own distinctive set of scriptures and religious traditions that set them apart from Hindus.

Buddhism is a religion that arose as a reform movement in Hinduism in the 5th century BCE. Its founder was Siddhartha Gautama, who believed that suffering was inherent in all life. To escape suffering, one must eliminate desire by following an eightfold path of spiritual and physical purification. Although largely eliminated in India, Buddhism flourishes in Eastern and Southeast Asia. Photo: seated Buddha statue. Photo 1999 -www.arttoday.com

Christianity is a religion that arose about 2,000 years ago in Palestine among Jews, who believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God, the creator of all things. Christianity is practiced by Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant religious sects. All Christians view the Bible as sacred scripture.

Religious diversity threatens the unity of the different nations in South Asia because religion defines people's beliefs, values, and behaviors. For example, Hindus regard the cow as sacred, and riots have occurred when other religious groups have slaughtered cows for food. Muslims, on the other hand, are permitted by the Koran to have as many as four wives while Hindus have only one wife. People's religious differences also influence the type of government they prefer to live under (see Politics) and the laws they follow.

In the sections on Kashmir and the Punjab you will read more about the problems the people in these areas have faced due to their linguistic



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