More than one-fifth of the world's population lives in South Asia. A complex mix of religious, social, and cultural influences reflect the diversity of this region.
Population Patterns South Asia's population density is almost seven times the world average, with the population concentrating in areas where the climate, vegetation, and physical features are favorable. Most people live in rural areas, where life has changed little over hundreds of years. In recent years, however, growing numbers of South Asians have been migrating to urban areas for better jobs and wages. The region's cities have turned into population centers where modern buildings contrast with slums and temporary shelters.
History and Government Among the earliest settlers in the region were the Aryans, who established a complex social structure that grew into the "caste" system. Their culture and religion developed into Hinduism. Buddhism, which rejects this rigid social system, is the other great religion in the region. Other groups invaded the region and established empires. Islam was brought by missionaries, traders, and later the Mogul Empire and spread throughout the region. The British became the major European power in the late 1700s. They granted independence to their former colonies in the mid-1900s, following years of Mohandas K. Gandhi's fight for self-rule. The region continues to experience border conflicts and ethnic and religious tensions.
Cultures and Lifestyles There are 19 major languages and hundreds of local dialects, most of which fall into the Indo-European language family. English is a common language, and Hindi is spoken by half of India's people as their primary language. Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism are the major religions in the region and influence daily life and the arts and architecture. Mumbai has developed the world's largest film industry. HIV and AIDS and the scarcity of clean water keep the mortality rate in the region high, and despite improved farming techniques, poor nutrition is still a problem.