South Asia, which consists of the nations of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, is ethnically diverse, with more than 2,000 ethnic entities with populations ranging from hundreds of millions to small tribal groups. South Asia has been invaded and settled by many ethnic groups over the centuries – including various Dravidian, Indo-Aryan and Iranian groups – and amalgamation of Dravidian, Indo-Aryan and native societies has produced composite cultures with many common traditions and beliefs. But, the traditions of different ethnic groups in South Asia have diverged throughout earlier times, sometimes giving rise to strong local traditions such as the distinct South Indian culture.
Other ethnic groups, successively streaming in later mainly from Central Asia and Iran, e.g. Sakas, Kushans, Huns etc. influenced pre-existing South Asian cultures. Among the last of these new arrivals were the Arabs followed by the Turks, the Pashtuns and the Moghuls. However, Arab influence remained relatively limited in comparison to that of the Turks, Pashtuns and Moghuls, who brought in much cultural influence and contributed to the birth of Urdu, a syncretic language of combined Indo-Persian heritage, which is widely spoken today. Ethnic Englishmen and other Britons are now practically absent after their two centuries long colonial presence, although they have left an imprint of western culture in the elite society.
See also: Languages of South Asia
The largest spoken language in this region is now Hindustānī, its speakers numbering almost 422 million; the second largest spoken language is Bengali, with about 210 million speakers. Urdu is also a major language spoken in the subcontinent, especially in Pakistan and India, and is similar linguistically to Hindi; Hindi and Urdu together make up Hindustānī. Although Hindi is spoken in some states of India, many people are not aware of the fact that most of the Indians speak local languages and are not familiar with Hindi. Other languages of this region fall into a few major linguistic groups: the Dravidian languages and the Indo-Aryan languages, a sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages.
The other great sub-branch of Indo-Iranian, the Iranian languages, also have significant minority representation in South Asia, with Pashto and Balochi being widely spoken along the northwestern fringes of the region, in modern-day Pakistan. Many Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups, who are speakers of their language-group, are found in northeast India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Other small groups, speaking Austro-Asiatic languages, are also present in South Asia. English is another language which dominates South Asia, especially as a medium of advanced education and government administration.
Most of South Asia writes using various abugidas of Brāhmī origin while languages such as Urdu, Pashto, and Sindhi use derivatives of the Perso-Arabic script. Not all languages in South Asia follow this strict dichotomy though. For example, Kashmiri is written in both the Perso-Arabic script and in the Devanagari script. The same can be said for Punjabi, which is written in both Shahmukhi and Gurmukhī. Dhivehi is written in a script called Tāna that shows characteristics of both the Arabic alphabet and of an abugida.
Further information: Religion in Bangladesh, Religion in Bhutan, Religion in India, Religion in Nepal, Religion in Pakistan, and Religion in Sri Lanka
Hindu priest saluting the sun in the Ganges, Varanasi, India Jama Masjid, the main mosque in Delhi, India.
About 64% of the South Asia population is Hindu, 33% is Muslim, 2% is Buddhist and 1% is Christians.
In South Asia Hinduism and Islam and in some of its countries Buddhism are the dominant religions. Other Indian religions and Christianity are practiced by significant number of people.
Historically, fusion of Indo-Aryan Vedic religion with native South Asian non-Vedic Shramana traditions and other Dravidian and local tribal beliefs gave rise to the ancient religions of Hinduism and Jainism. As a consequence, these two religions share many similar cultural practices, festivals and traditions.
Arabs brought the Abrahamic religion of Islam to South Asia, first in the present day Kerala, Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands and later in Sindh, Balochistan and much of Punjab. Subsequently, Muslim Turks/Pashtuns/Moghuls furthered it not only among the Punjabi and Kashmiri people but also throughout the Indo-Gangetic plains and farther east, and deep south up to the Deccan.AfghanistanIslam (99%), Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity (1%) BangladeshIslam (89.5%), Hinduism (9.5%), Buddhism (0.7%), Christianity (0.3%) British Indian Ocean TerritoryChristianity (45.55%), Hinduism (38.55%), Islam (9.25%), Others (6.65%) BhutanBuddhism (75%), Hinduism (25%)
BurmaTheravada Buddhism (89%), Islam (4%), Christianity (Baptist and Roman Catholic) (4%), Animism (1%), Others (including Hinduism) (2%) IndiaHinduism (80.5%), Islam (13.4%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.9%), Buddhism (0.8%), Jainism (0.4%), Others (0.6%) MaldivesSunni Islam (100%) (One must be a Sunni Muslim to be a citizen on the Maldives) NepalHinduism (80.6%), Buddhism (10.7%), Islam (4.2%), Kirat (1.5%) PakistanIslam (96.28%), Hinduism (1.85%), Christianity (1.59%), Ahmaddiyya (0.22%) Sri LankaTheravada Buddhism (70.19%), Hinduism (12.61%), ), Islam (9.71%), Christianity ( 7.45%).
Further information: Economy of Bangladesh, Economy of India, Economy of Nepal, Economy of Pakistan, and Economy of Sri Lanka
South Asia is the poorest region on the earth after Sub-Saharan Africa. Three South Asian nations — Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal — are characterized as least developed country. Poverty is commonly spread within this region. According to the poverty data of World Bank, more than 40% of the population in the region lived on less than the International Poverty Line of $1.25 per day in 2005, compared to 50% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Sri Lanka has the highest GDP per capita in the region, while Afghanistan has the lowest. India is the largest economy in the region (US$ 1.90 trillion) and makes up almost 82% of the South Asian economy; it is the world’s 11th largest in nominal terms and 3rd largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates. Pakistan has the next largest economy and the 5th highest GDP per capita in the region, followed by Bangladesh. According to a World Bank report in 2007, South Asia is the least integrated region in the world; trade between South Asian states is only 2% of the region’s combined GDP, compared to 20% in East Asia. The Economist has blamed this on Indian neglect of its neighbors. 
India and Pakistan are the dominant political powers in the region. India is by far the largest country in the area covering around three-fourths the land area of the subcontinent. It also has the largest population of around three times the combined population of the 6 other countries in the subcontinent. India is also the most populous democracy in the world and is a nuclear power.
The second largest country in the subcontinent in terms of area and population is Pakistan and has traditionally maintained the balance of power in the region due to its strategic relationships with nearby Arab states and neighboring China. Pakistan is the 6th most populous country in the world and is also a nuclear power. Bangladesh is the third largest populous country in the region. The single largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations is Pakistan.
Diplomacy among the countries of South Asia has been mainly driven by populist politics, with the center stage taken by India-Pakistan conflict ever since their independence in 1947, and then the creation of Bangladesh under tense circumstances in 1971. While the elite rulers of Pakistan chose the USA led bloc during the cold war era, India formed the Non-Aligned Movement.
The political situation in Sri Lanka has been dominated by an increasingly assertive Sinhalese nationalism, and the emergence of a Tamil separatist movement under LTTE, which was suppressed recently. Burma’s politics is dominated by a military Junta, which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi. 
Health and nutrition
There are 421 million MPI-poor people in eight Indian states alone – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – while there are 410 million in the 26 poorest African countries combined. Roughly 42% of Indian children under age 5 suffer from malnutrition.
According to the World Bank, 70% of the South Asian population and about 75% of South Asia’s poor live in rural areas and most rely on agriculture for their livelihood. According to the Global Hunger Index, South Asia has one of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world. In a latest report published by UNICEF in 2008 on global hunger shows that the actual number of child deaths was around 2.1 million. As of 2008 India is ranked 66th on the global hunger index.
The 2006 report stated that “the low status of women in South Asian countries and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight children in the region”. Corruption and the lack of initiative on the part of the government has been one of the major problems associated with nutrition in India. Illiteracy in villages has been found to be one of the major issues that need more government attention. The report mentioned that, although there has been a reduction in malnutrition due to the Green Revolution in South Asia, there is concern that South Asia has “inadequate feeding and caring practices for young children”.
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