The Countries of South Asia

On August 15, 1947, India became inde- pendent from Britain. British rule of India began in the mid-1700s. The colonial rulers ended slavery, improved schools, and built railroads. Other changes, how- ever, hurt India. The British tried to end India’s textile industry so they could sell British cloth in India. Indians were not allowed to hold high government and army positions. In the late 1800s, Indians developed a strong feeling of nationalism, or pride in one’s nation. Mohandas Gandhi led an independence movement. Gandhi encouraged nonviolent resistance—opposing an enemy by any means except violence. One method was to boycott—refuse to buy or use—British cloth. The sale of British cloth in India fell sharply. For a while Hindus and Muslims worked together for independence. But as their goal got closer, conflicts between the two religious groups grew stronger. In 1947, the leaders agreed to partition, or divide, the subcontinent into separate Hindu and Muslim countries. The two new countries were the mostly Hindu India and the mostly Muslim Pakistan. At independence, 12 million people moved on the subcontinent. Hindus moved to India and Muslims moved to Pakistan. About one million people were killed in fighting between Hindus and Muslims.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars. After the third war, in 1971, part of Pakistan became the independent coun- try of Bangladesh.



  1. What is nonviolent resistance?
  2. Graph Skills What percentage of Indians are Hindus?


Most Indians are Hindus. Hindu soci- ety is based on the caste system. This is a social system in which each person is born into a caste, or group. Each caste has its own duties. Caste determines the work people do. At the top of the caste system are Brahmans—priests, teachers, and judges. (See graph below.) Untouchables have the lowest rank and do work that is thought to be “unclean.” About seven out of ten Indians live in farming villages. Many people own bicy- cles, but few own cars. Many villages now have electricity. Television, radio, and movies are important for spreading new ideas because many people cannot read. As people have moved to towns and cities, urban areas have become very crowded. People believe they have more opportunity in a city than in a village. India’s government is trying to raise the standard of living for people in both cities and villages. A major goal has been to feed the growing popula- tion. Increased irrigation and better farming methods have produced more and better crops. Many farmers have set up cot- tage industries to earn more money. People in cottage indus- tries make goods at home. India has become one of the world’s leading industrial coun- tries. It has made advances in computers and space research. There is a growing middle class. About half the people can read and write, and this percentage is growing. However, many people live on the streets or in slums.


Why are many Indians moving to cities?
Diagram Skills What are the main jobs of the Vaisyas?


Each of India’s neighbors has its own phys- ical and cultural identity. In Pakistan, the Hindu Kush mountain range towers along its northern and western borders. The Baluchistan Plateau covers much of western Pakistan. To the east is the Thar Desert. Most Pakistanis live in the fertile valley of the Indus River. Most are farmers. The river provides hydroelectric power —electricity produced by the movement of the water—and irrigates the land, supplying dry areas. Islam links Pakistanis but ethnic conflicts divide them. Mountainous Afghanistan has fertile valleys at the foot of the Hindu Kush. Semiarid plains lie to the north. As in Pakistan, Islam is the religion of almost all the people. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. About 3 million Afghans fled. In 1989, the Soviets with- drew, but fighting among Afghan groups continued. In recent decades, Afghanistan has undergone great turmoil. A repressive government gained control in the late 1990s, but the United States helped topple it after the September 11 attacks in 2001 and helped establish a democracy in 2004. Bangladesh has fertile soil, but floods happen regularly. In good times, farmers harvest three crops a year. In bad times, overflowing rivers and tropical storms flood the land. Bangladesh is working to control flooding and overpopulation. Nepal and Bhutan are in the Himalayas. Each has hot, humid southern lowlands with monsoon rains. Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, is in Nepal. Sri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean. The majority of its people are Sinhalese, who control the govern- ment. A smaller group, the Tamils, have been fighting for independence. Norway helped negotiate a cease-fire in 2001, but formal peace talks made little progress.
Both sides had to cooperate to deal with a devastating tsunami in December 2004 that killed more than 40,000 peo- ple in Sri Lanka.


Why is the Indus River important to Pakistan?
Chart Skills Which South Asian country has the highest per capita GDP?