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Comparing Life in Different Locations in South Asia

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  • 0:00 Comparing Life in South Asia
  • 0:40 Life in India & Nepal
  • 2:40 Muslim Countries in South Asia
  • 3:55 Life in Sri Lanka & Bhutan
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe life in the different countries of South Asia, how they are the same, and how they are different. A short quiz will follow.

Comparing Life in South Asia

In today's lesson, we're going to look at what life is like in various parts of South Asia. South Asia is the area usually considered to include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

South Asia is a melting pot of cultures, religions, languages, and ethnicities. So comparing life in South Asia in a single lesson is difficult. After all, life will vary from one local area to another. But we can still make some general statements about each country in South Asia and talk about what life tends to be like there.

Life in India & Nepal

India is one of the most densely-populated countries in the world (though Bangladesh and the Maldives are more so). It is about a third the size of the United States and yet contains four times the population: 1.25 billion people in all. Space is therefore at a premium and people have to get used to not having much of it to themselves. The cities are busy, congested, and polluted, and living space is relatively expensive. The roads are also dangerous; basically, anyone can get a driver's license if they can afford the fee.

Indian and Nepalese society are especially hierarchical. India was traditionally split up into castes, which decided your social standing from birth, and this is still common practice in Nepal. People generally don't contradict their superiors in India or Nepal, even if they're clearly wrong. To do so would be to shame them and be disrespectful. Avoiding shame is an important part of the culture, and people try to avoid saying 'no' or rejecting ideas outright whenever they can.

The caste system stems from the main religion, Hinduism. Buddhism is the next most popular religion in Nepal and in a lot of ways, came into being as a rejection of the caste system. Both countries are patriarchal, and arranged marriages were extremely common until recently in India. A lot of respect is given to elders, and questioning them is frowned upon.

The cuisine in India is heavily spiced including ginger, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, hot peppers, and cinnamon. Some people are vegetarian for religious reasons, and some are not, but whether it's vegetables or meat, spices are used in similar ways. Nepalese cuisine is a mix of Tibetan and Indian, but heavily-spiced food is expensive in Nepal and tends to be saved for special occasions. Most Hindus do not eat beef because the cow is considered to be sacred. This is especially true in Nepal, where it's the national animal.

Life in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, & Bangladesh

Unlike India and Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, and Bangladesh are all Muslim countries. If it wasn't for this religious difference, life in some of these countries might be quite similar to India. They do, after all, share a lot in common: their love of spicy food, their interest in the sport of cricket, and the crowded living conditions. But being Muslim has a big impact on life here.

Probably the biggest cultural difference is the fact that Islam, like Buddhism, is egalitarian, which means that all people are considered to be born equal in the eyes of God. This means that India and Nepal's caste system would never be okay in a place like Pakistan, for example.

Islam also has a big effect on day to day life because of its rituals. For example, Muslims pray 3 or 5 times a day, depending on which group they belong to, and the call to prayer can be heard sounding out of mosques in every corner of these countries. Muslims do eat meat, but that meat must be prepared according to strict guidelines, and pork is never eaten. Drinking of alcohol is also frowned upon. In Muslim countries, Islamic law also usually plays a big role in the government's laws and punishments.

Life in Sri Lanka & Bhutan

Sri Lanka and Bhutan are Buddhist countries. But they're also mixed countries, with many different religions. Buddhists tend to be relatively laid back about other belief systems, and so life here (especially in Sri Lanka) involves more religious freedom and less pressure than other countries in South Asia.

Beyond this, the countries of Sri Lanka and Bhutan are very different. This is because while their religious beliefs are similar, Sri Lanka is a much richer country. While every country in East Asia is developing, Sri Lanka may be the first to be taken off that list. Bhutan, on the other hand, is one of the poorest countries in the world, and life there can be a struggle.

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