GEOG101 Study Guide

Unit 9: South Asia

9a. Summarize the physical geography of South Asia

  • What is the topographic relief of South Asia?
  • How does precipitation vary across South Asia?
  • What features connect the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal?

The topographic relief and variation in precipitation of South Asia are both dramatic.

  • The topographic relief of South Asia is the difference between Mount Everest, the highest elevation at 29029 feet, and Maldives, the lowest elevation at less than 1 feet, in the region. With Mount Everest the highest point on Earth and the Maldives the country with the lowest elevation on Earth, South Asia's relief is particularly notable.
  • The variation in precipitation is similarly dramatic, with deserts in India and Pakistan and monsoon conditions in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The two rainiest places on Earth are both in India along the northeast border of Bangladesh, the country with the tenth highest average annual precipitation.

The dramatic nature of this realm includes hazards in the form of earthquakes and flooding.

In addition to its topographic and precipitation superlatives, South Asia also has some of the world's most famous rivers.

  • The Indus River rises in the Himalayas and empties into the Arabian Sea near Karachi, Pakistan and has been a center of human civilization for thousands of years. The Indus River is sacred to Hindus.
  • The Ganges River also rises in the Himalayas and empties into the Bay of Bengal and is the third largest river in the world, after the Amazon and Congo Rivers, in terms of discharge. The Ganges is the most sacred river to the Hindus.

In addition to their religious importance, these rivers are vital to the physical survival of Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis.

Review Introducing the Realm.


9b. Explain the dynamics of the monsoon and how it affects human activities

  • How is the monsoon related to the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ)?
  • Why are human populations so vulnerable to the effects of monsoonal precipitation?
  • Why are the effects of monsoonal precipitation more devastating when there has been a drought?

Monsoons are seasonal winds that bring heavy rains in the summer but leave the landmass dry in the winter. In the realm of South Asia, when the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) migrates north in the summer, moisture-laden air from the Indian Ocean is drawn to the warmer landmass. Thus, these monsoonal winds bring heavy rains in the summer. When the ITCZ migrates south in the winter, the winds reverse and blow from the cooler landmass to the warmer ocean.

Monsoons bring heavy rains that cause flooding. Because humans tend to live along rivers for access to water and fertile soil, they are vulnerable when these rivers flood. Every year, monsoonal rains and the ensuing floods displace people, destroy infrastructure, and increase the prevalence of water-borne diseases. If drought conditions precede the rainfall, flooding occurs sooner because the rain runs off the dry, crusty surface directly into streams and rivers. When soils are dry, it takes longer for water to infiltrate the surface.



9c. Describe how European colonialism has affected South Asia

  • Why did the British Empire withdraw from South Asia in 1947?
  • Describe how the British partition of India resulted in the sovereign states of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
  • What evidence is there for the British Empire's influence on daily life in India and Pakistan?

The British Empire colonized most of South Asia. Through the trade activities of the British East India Company, Britain began establishing colonies in 1857. By 1947, the British Empire was no longer able to maintain control due to local resistance and the effects of involvement in World War II, which required substantial resources for rebuilding Great Britain at home. As the British withdrew, they partitioned British India into India and Pakistan based on religious differences.

  • India was to be home to the Hindu population, and Pakistan was to be home to the Muslim population.
  • Pakistan was divided between two areas. West Pakistan was carved out of west India, and East Pakistan was carved out of east India; 1,000 miles of India separated them.
  • When the partition occurred, many Hindus were left in Pakistan and many Muslims were left in India
  • War broke out because the newly formed governments of Pakistan and India were unable to manage the mass migration of people attempting to reach their country of choice.
  • Relations between West and East Pakistan were strained from the outset because their cultural differences exceeded the similarity of a shared religion.
  • War eventually broke out between the two, resulting in a new sovereign state. The western portion of Pakistan remained Pakistan and the eastern portion became Bangladesh.

Beyond their impact on the political boundaries of South Asia, Great Britain also made a lasting impact on the languages of Pakistan and India. English remains one of the two official languages in each country. Although English remains a lingua franca in Bangladesh, it is not an official language.

Review the section titled Colonialism in South Asia in Introducing the Realm.


9d. Explain why rapid population growth is a concern for the countries of South Asia

  • Why is physiologic density an important indicator of a country's economic development?
  • How does the doubling time of a population relate to its economic prospects?

High population growth is straining the resources of South Asia. From water to education, there is not enough to meet the needs of the people.

  • The population density, the number of people per square mile, of these countries is staggering, with many people living in overcrowded conditions. 
  • The physiologic density, the number of people per square mile of arable land, of these countries is even higher. 
  • Deserts and mountainous terrain dominate the physical landscapes of many of these countries so the arable land is limited to river valleys and lowlands, 
  • In addition to physical geography, other countries, such as Bhutan and the Maldives, are limited by geographic area.

These countries continue to grow to the point that South Asia's population will double in about fifty years. The lower the doubling time, the more difficult it is for a country to transition through the stages of economic development.

Review the section titled Population in South Asia in Introducing the Realm.


9e. Discuss how and why Kashmir is divided and its importance to the region

  • What is the strategic value of the remote region of Kashmir to India, Pakistan, and China?
  • What religions are represented by the people of Kashmir?

The dispute resulting in the current division of Kashmir began during the British Partition of 1947.

  • Both India and Pakistan claimed the region, which was home to a majority Muslim population yet ruled by a Hindu minority.
  • The Muslim population sought protection from Pakistan. The ruling Hindu minority initially sought independence for Kashmir but turned to India at the prospect of control by Pakistan.
  • Pakistan and India continued to fight for the region until the United Nations mediated the Line of Control. Pakistan was given control of the northwest portion and India the southern portion.
  • China controls the eastern portion and does not consider it part of Kashmir.

Kashmir is of value to these countries because of its glaciers and freshwater. India is designing hydroelectric projects for the rivers in the portion of Kashmir it controls, which would reduce the flow of freshwater to Pakistan. The Kashmir region is important to both the Hindu and Buddhist religions. 

Review The Peripheral States of South Asia.


9f. Summarize the main environmental concerns of the states of South Asia

  • How did the former president of Maldives plan to protect the people as sea level rises?
  • What is the environmental impact of population on Nepal's physical landscape?
  • What measures has Bhutan implemented to protect its natural environment?

The peripheral countries of South Asia face a variety of environmental challenges.

  • As the lowest-lying country on Earth, Maldives is at risk of inundation by the Indian Ocean as sea level rises. In 2008, the president at the time began looking into purchasing land in India, Sri Lanka, and Australia to relocate the population. Rather than relocating the population, the current administration is seeking funding for sea walls.
  • Nepal's increasing population is straining natural resources. Deforestation and soil erosion are on the rise as land is cleared for agricultural production to accommodate the growing population. Nepal also suffers from the environmental damage tourists cause at its many natural and cultural attractions.
  • Bhutan has a "High Value, Low Impact" policy to minimize the impact of tourism on its natural environment. It limits the number of tourists in the country at a time and requires tourists to use a registered tour operator and purchase a minimum daily package.
  • In addition to the environmental impact of war, Sri Lanka is experiencing deforestation and the degradation of its mangroves and coral reefs. As an island, it is also vulnerable to sea level rise.

Review The Peripheral States of South Asia.


9g. Outline the main environmental issues that confront Pakistan and Bangladesh

  • How has population growth contributed to the environmental issues that confront Pakistan and Bangladesh?
  • Why do summer monsoonal rains exacerbate water pollution in Pakistan and Bangladesh?

Pakistan's and Bangladesh's resources are being depleted as their populations continue to grow. As two of the most densely populated countries in the world, arable land in Pakistan and Bangladesh is at a premium. Deforestation is widespread to clear land for crops and housing. Drinkable freshwater is another valuable resource that is increasingly scarce as the population grows.

Population growth also strains the existing water distribution and sewage infrastructure resulting in the discharge of pollutants into waterways. The summer rains brought by monsoons exacerbate the problem because water levels rise and rivers overflow their banks, carrying sewage and other pollutants into drinking water supplies. Waterborne diseases increase and ecosystems are contaminated.

Review Pakistan and Bangladesh.


9h. Discuss the history of why East Pakistan became Bangladesh

  • How did East Pakistan differ from West Pakistan? 
  • Explain the role the 1970 Bhola cyclone played in the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign state.

Although separated by 1,000 miles, the east and west portions of Pakistan were both governed from the west. Those living in East Pakistan were culturally different and often felt ignored by West Pakistan. Although both shared the religion of Islam, the differences were too great to overcome.

  • The population of the area designated as East Pakistan is predominantly Bengali, a language and cultural designation for the people of Bengal, the region around the Bay of Bengal.
  • Because Pakistan was administered from West Pakistan, Urdu was chosen as the national language, which further alienated East Pakistan.

Bengali nationalism peaked following the catastrophic 1970 Bhola cyclone, which struck East Pakistan and killed 500,000 people. East Pakistan resented the inadequate support from the federal government, located in West Pakistan, in the aftermath of the disaster. The ensuing struggle for independence resulted in the new sovereign state of Bangladesh in December of 1971.

Review Pakistan and Bangladesh.


9i. Summarize the main economic activities and economic conditions in India

  • What role has the government played in India's economic development?
  • What are the key sectors in India's economy?
  • Describe how rural and urban life in India relates to the economic conditions.

India has a mixed economy, a mixture of a capitalist economy and a socialist economy. India's government has, since its independence, played a substantial role in the economy, which is the socialist element. It has, however, begun to let the market play a larger role, which is the capitalist element. By diversifying its economy, India was one of the fastest growing economies in the world in 2019.

  • Although agriculture still accounts for slightly more than half the workforce, jobs in construction and manufacturing are increasing. Vehicle manufacturing, for example, is rapidly expanding.
  • Information technology and related services have grown substantially as a percentage of India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • India's major industries include textiles, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and petrochemicals, and engineering, among others.
  • Tourism, entertainment, telecommunications, retail, healthcare, and many other services are all part of India's success at diversifying its economy.

Despite India's economic success, as the second most populated country in the world, most of its citizens are desperately poor. There is an enormous gap between those living in rural areas who subsist on agriculture, and the middle class who live in urban areas, working in the manufacturing and service sectors. That gap extends to the urban poor who migrate to cities seeking jobs and better living conditions, but find themselves eking out a living in the slums.

Review India.


9j. Describe how British colonialism affected India

  • What was the problem with the railroad system the British colonists built in India?
  • Why did the British move their colonial capital from Kolkata, on the Bay of Bengal, to New Delhi, in the country's interior?

In addition to language and borders, the British colonists left behind a railroad system and a series of port cities. The British built the railroad to transport the resources they extracted to the port cities where they could be shipped to Great Britain. Thus, the railroad consisted of individual lines that connected the extraction site to the coast rather than an integrated network

The British, through the East India Company, developed three major port cities from which to send and receive goods by ship. These cities were spread out along the Indian coast.

  • Mumbai (Bombay), on the west coast, provided access to the Arabian Sea.
  • Chennai (Madras), on the southeast coast, provided access to the lower Bay of Bengal.
  • Kolkata (Calcutta), on the lower Ganges Delta along the northeast coast, provided access to the upper Bay of Bengal. Kolkata was the capital until 1911, when the British moved it to New Delhi.

The British moved the capital city for several reasons. Kolkata was the site of nationalist movements and anti-colonial sentiment including assassinations of British officials. New Delhi was chosen for its more central location, making it easier to administer the entire country.

Review India.


9k. Discuss the religions of South Asia and India, specifically the origin and migration of Buddhism

  • What are some of the similarities and differences between Hinduism and Buddhism?
  • How do the geographic branches of Buddhism vary?
  • Of the religions practiced in South Asia, which ones originated there?
  • Where, in South Asia, is Islam the dominant religion?

The dominant religions in South Asia are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Buddhism is the dominant religion in Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Hinduism is the dominant religion in India and Nepal. Islam is the dominant religion in Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan. Of these, Hinduism and Buddhism, in addition to Sikhism and Jainism, originated in South Asia. Hinduism and Buddhism both originated in northern India and are the world's third and fourth largest religions, respectively. Hinduism has been practiced in some form for over 4,000 years, whereas Buddhism originated about 2,500 years ago. Hindus and Buddhists use some of the same basic vocabulary and have some similarities in terms of symbolism and practices. There are, of course, substantial differences. Below are a few examples: 

  • Hindus do not have a single founder.
  • Buddhists renounce the caste system.
  • Hindus worship deities and have the concept of a soul, but Buddhists do not.
  • Buddhists do not recognize a God. Instead, they show reverence and devotion to the Buddha.

As Buddhism spread from northern India, different variations developed according to geography, what teachings were followed, and how monks were ordained, among other factors.

  • The northern branch, Vajrayana Buddhism, is often called Tibetan Buddhism. 
  • The southern branch, Theravada Buddhism, is sometimes called Southern Buddhism. 
  • The eastern branch, Mahayana Buddhism, is often referred to as East Asian Buddhism.

Regardless of the focus of each branch, all hold to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha.

Review Religions of India and South Asia.


Unit 9 Vocabulary

This vocabulary list includes terms that students need to know to successfully complete the final exam for the course.

  • Arabian Sea
  • Bangladesh 
  • Bay of Bengal
  • Bengali
  • British East India Company
  • British Empire 
  • British Partition of 1947 
  • Buddhist 
  • capitalist economy
  • caste system
  • Chennai (Madras)
  • Christianity
  • deforestation
  • drought 
  • doubling time
  • East Pakistan 
  • extraction site
  • flooding
  • freshwater 
  • Ganges River
  • Himalayas
  • Hindu
  • India
  • Indian Ocean 
  • Indus River 
  • integrated network 
  • Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ)
  • Islam
  • Jainism
  • Kashmir 
  • Kolkata (Calcutta)
  • Line of Control 
  • mass migration 
  • mixed economy
  • monsoons
  • Mumbai (Bombay)
  • Muslim 
  • New Delhi
  • Pakistan 
  • physiologic density
  • population density
  • port cities 
  • Sikhism
  • soil erosion 
  • South Asia
  • socialist economy
  • topographic relief
  • Urdu 
  • West Pakistan 
  • 1970 Bhola cyclone