Retroactive Regionalism of Southasia

The following reference to India as “the South Asian country” in a Huffington Post article of 15 June 2013 provides an interesting window into the germinating regionalism in Southasia and how the world perceives us.The pull-quote from the article on UK’s Prince William’s ‘Indian’ ancestry goes thus:

“The royal’s connection to the South Asian country stems from Williams’ great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Eliza Kewark, who worked as ahousekeeper in India.”

Since 1947, India has stood more or less alone as a regional and world power, without having to be identified in tandem with the rest of the countries of southern Asia; most commentators did/do not feel it necessary to locate India as part of the region. This was/is because of India’s sheer size and centrality.

However, it is not that the other countries are that small. On a global scale, Bangladesh and Pakistan are 8th and 6th largest (India is, of course 2nd largest) in a world of 242 countries. So, it makes sense to locate India as a country in the southern quadrant to Asia, relative size alone need not make it an exclusive entity.

Locating India within a larger whole also also becomes easier when we bear in mind that India the nation-state cannot all by itself carry the legacy and meaning of ‘Jambudwipa’, ‘Hindustan’, the ‘Indic civilisation’ or even ‘India’. Given the takeover of the historical meaning of ‘India’ by India the nation-state with its capital in New Delhi, there is no doubt that ‘South Asia’ will gain more currency in future – a breakthrough moment arrived when New Delhi editorialists began to deign to use the term about a decade ago.

Granted, Southasia is an awkward, prescribed term with which it is hard to feel a historical or cultural connection, but we have nothing else to go with (which is why Himal has thought to at least try Southasia in English, or ”दक्षिणएशिया” in the languages using Nagari).

Once we get past the hurdle of rolling Southasia around on our tongues and brains, a lot of things will fall into place, including ‘retroactive regionalism’ – according to which Babur, Sher Shah Suri, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashok would all be ‘historically Indians’ but present-day ‘Southasians’. And who would deny, in this reading, that Gandhi was a Southasian rather than Indian. He lived only 5.5 months as a citizen of India the nation-state.

The increased currency use of the term ‘South Asia’ (including all linguistic terms of this demographic smorgasbord) will have ramifications for peace, development, identity, governance, federalism, global geopolitics, and most importantly, economic growth and equity. The scholars need to begin to take Southasia as an entity more seriously, without wishing any ill to the existing nation-states amongst us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *