India is one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world, geographically and culturally expanse.
Located above the equator and comprising of thousands of ethnic groups, faiths, languages, cuisines, customs and celebrations, one can say India has a prominent mark on Asia.
However, India is unique in its own way with many referring to the country as its own continent. So it begs the questions: is India a part of Asia? Or just a neighbour? More importantly, do Indians see themselves as a part of Asia?
Comprising 29 states and 7 Union territories, India spans an area of approximately 3,287,263 km2. This is three times smaller than the United States and two times smaller than Australia. As of 2019 India has a population of over 1.3 billion which is steadily rising.
I’ve always been fascinated by India and hope to visit someday. Throughout my life I’ve had quite a few Indian friends and acquaintances, and they’ve always liked sharing with me about how life is like in India.
Over the years through blogging, I’ve met quite a few bloggers from India. Over the years it has been eye-opening getting to know their stories about India and why they proudly call India home. So for this post I had a chat with these very lovely bloggers to find more about India and what it means to them – and asked if India is really a part of Asia.
Geography and continents
In terms of geographic location, India rubs shoulders and shares similar surrounds with other Asian countries. One can argue that India is a part of the ‘Asian continent landmass’. Being in the same location entails sharing the same place, same space, sharing borders, being one together. Indian and Western philosophy writer Rajagopal from Graleview eloquently describes India as being marked by mountain and sea: ‘Bounded by the Great Himalayas in the north, it stretches southwards and at the Tropic of Cancer, tapers off into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west.’
Similarly, lifestyle, craft and travel blogger Somali over at Life11 reckons most Indians see India as a part of Asia. Learning about India and continents in geography classes at school, Somali describes India’s place in this world, ‘We (Indians) think of countries bordering Bangladesh (e.g. Myanmar) and moving eastwards and down, as falling under South East Asia.’
Notably, India has its own tectonic plate called the Indian Plate and that leads to the argument India is its own continent. Some 140 million years ago the supercontinent Gondwana below the equator split up into different plates – one of these plates being the Indian Plate. Researchers at MIT found this Indian Plate gradually drifted northwards up past the equator, and 10 million years later collided with the Eurasian plate which comprises the UK and the South-East Asian region.
In other words, at one point and even now India is arguably a continent (it has its own plate). In more recent times, India is arguably a country and sub-continent (joined with one big place).
Centralised trade, similar cultures
In today’s globalised world, economic trade, culture and faiths transcends borders. India has always been a peak trading hub in the Asian region, considered a part of Asia’s shared economy. Historically India has been a hub in the Maritime Silk Road and a major spice trade centre as early as 3000 BC. Today India is ranked as a major power in the Asian region according to the Asia Power Index; it is a nation with vast economic resources (minerals, banking, logistical systems). New Delhi is Singapore’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN group and in 2018 there were lower tariffs on more than 30 products under a free trade agreement.
Alongside a shared economy, there are numerous shared lifestyle traits between India and Asian countries, and no surprise why India is considered a part of Asia. For instance, in Chinese, Japan and Korean cultures, listening to one’s elders is esteemed and togetherness over individuality is valued. Many communities in India share these same sentiments in a time where arranged marriages, family consent, paying respects to ancestors at temples and celebrating festive occasions with large family gatherings and lots of food is still the norm. There’s not forgetting faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism are followed widely throughout India and the rest of Asia, and celebrations such as Diwali and Thaipusam are celebrated all over the region as well.
When asked what comes to mind about India, life philosophy writer and author Nihar from Makeup and Breakup sums it up as, ‘Family, food and festival…the moment I think about India. It is the country where relationships are love of family that matters more than anything, the country where cuisine culture is an art and the country where festivals are celebrated throughout the year.’
Similarly, photographer Arv over at JaipurThruMyLens thinks India is undoubtedly a part of Asia. He feels, ‘Unlike the west, where material possessions are paramount, in India like other Asian countries, people and relationships matter the most.’
Another photographer from India, Sreejith from Santiago the Shepherd also adds, ‘More than the similarities in physical features, the real connection is culture and tradition. We could very well relate to the family values, parent-child relations, joint family structure of people of other Asian countries.’
Share the same lifestyles and values, share the same outlook on life. And chances are you feel part of a tribe.
Standout landmarks and stereotypes
The architecture and natural surroundings of a country is enriched in history and embedded with stories of how it came about and evolved over time as its own place. As such, a country’s notable landmarks and tourism sector might very well make it memorable and stand out on its own. What a country is known for and projects to the world often leaves impressions on travellers passing through and also those afar who follow current affairs.
Today India is very much a tourist hotspot, attracting over 10 million foreign visitors in 2017. For one, India has scenic landscapes and bustling side-streets to take in and roam. As former teacher, writer and author Balroop Singh over at Emotional Shadows describes India, ‘Tourism puts India at the top of the world, as it offers incredible beauty – the magnificence of the Himalayas in the north, the grandeur of the Thar desert in the west, the spectacular backwaters of Kerala in the south.’
Common stereotypes heard (normally shared through word of mouth) tends to give a certain impression of a country over the other. Cultural stereotypes seemingly separates and segregates India from the rest of Asia. For instance, Arv points out his state of Jaipur could improve on cleanliness and traffic – and it has been reported Jaipur might lose points in a national cleanliness ranking amidst absence of urban maintenance funds.
This is quite true though, but changing: on the political front, Narenda Modi was elected Prime Minister in a 2014 historic election based on hope and promise of inclusive politics, however there is still not enough jobs created.
In 2012 India’s Planning Commission said 29.8% of India’s 1.2 billion people live below the poverty line. If recent findings are to be believed, last year’s Brookings Institution report found India is no longer the country with the most people facing extreme poverty; the World Poverty Clock predicts those living in extreme poverty is slated to fall to just 5% of India’s 70.6 million population.
As such, it’s not hard to see how India may be seen as backwards and less developed compared to Singapore, Japan and South Korea – a world away from first world developed places.
When asked to ponder about how others perceive India, HR Professional Parul from Happiness and Food mentions there are many snake charmers in India, but that doesn’t make India a land of snake charmers. She also brought up the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire and says, ‘Though the movie made millions it showed India in a very bad light. Yes there are slums in India but then the movie extrapolated a lot.’
When asked about how others around the world perceive India, Sreejith offers, ‘It’s largely based on their exposure to the world around. Most of the people whom I interact consider India is very much part of Asia.’
Dark vs light skin Asians
Are Indians considered non-Asian because of the shade of their skin which is usually darker than those who live in other parts of Asia? In a world where racism exists, there’s stereotypes and social discrimination surrounding skin colour. Fair skin is usually associated with those living in the developed West and darker skin with those from developing countries or countries in the Middle-East and African regions.
Can a certain skin colour identify with a certain race and country? Maybe. However more realistically, our skin colour doesn’t necessarily define our heritage or where we come from. It’s important to remember in the era of debating colourlines, identities are fluid and the spectrum of skin colour is incredibly wide.
Fair skin has long been popular in India and in fact using skin whitening beauty products is an accepted norm here. Indeed the spectrum of skin colour is vastly varying, and some Indians possess darker or lighter skin tones over other Indians – some possess the fairer-skin-gene SLC24A5 which is a gene some Europeans possess too. At the end of the day, Indians see themselves as one and recognises their differences which at times, aren’t afraid to talk about. That said, Somali suggests we should be cautious about talking about culture, colour and diversity:
‘Mostly different Indian communities get along well. There are jokes about different communities, which are commonly shared and generally people don’t seem to mind those. Nowadays, (we) should refrain from jokes targeted towards a particular community as however harmless these may seem, such jokes may perpetuate bias against a community.’
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India is a country constantly evolving with the times. Certain parts of India are seemingly leading the way towards a more progressive country just like many other countries in Asia, and hence a progressive Asia. The southwestern state of Kerala is an example: it’s the only state in India which lies high in the Human Development Index (HDI), has a high literacy rate, low infant mortality rate due to advanced health and education facilities and opened India’s first transgender school. Rajagopal proudly states his hometown Kerala ‘serves as a model for the rest of India’.
One doesn’t have to be away from a certain state in India to see that it has changed in a short span of time. Having relocated to Bangalore, Parul observes, ‘In bigger cities, the life is so fast that there is no time to find out how your neighbor is. Now when I go back home, I feel that it has changed. (Some) people who made my hometown a home are no longer around. There is change and there is also no change.’
Also, Somali’s hometown is Delhi and she shifted base to Mumbai almost 25 years ago, and adds, ‘Every year or two, when I go to Delhi, it appears alien to me as I feel it has changed a lot, in terms of structures, layout and traffic.’
Today’s generation will lead the way in the years to come. The millennials are leading the way in India: over 400 million of them are increasingly tech-savvy, turning to the Internet to live lives of convenience while making a living, becoming part of a rising middle class.
Interestingly enough, many of India’s open-minded younger generation are respectful of long-held Asian traditions. For instance, arranged marriages are still the norm but modern arranged marriages are becoming more common where both parties meet each other prior to marriage. In a sense, Indians proudly carry their culture with them wherever they go. Balroop sums it up, ‘Generation Z is more open minded, tolerant and focused. They do follow the main traditions but are daring enough to question what seems illogical to them.’
Only time will tell where India is headed in terms of developing a sustainable economy and becoming one of the world’s most liveable places.
But as for cultural identity, for many India is indeed a part of Asia, and Asia a part of India.
What comes to mind when you think of India?
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Thank you very much to these bloggers for helping me understand India better and contributing to this post:
Rajagopal – Graleview | Somali K Chakrabarti – Life11 (Scribble and Scrawl) | Nihar R Pradhan – Makeup and Breakup | Arv – JaipurThruMyLens | Sreejith P Nair – Santiago the Shepherd | Balroop Singh – Emotional Shadows | Parul – Happiness and Food