Why Indians must call out on the usage of the term “South Asia” to represent Indians? and Why we must stop it from being used as an excuse to misrepresent India on the global platform?

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Namo Namaha, today I will begin this unpopular opinion post with an apology. Apology for deviating a little from my usual bookish posts, also, for taking the liberty of posting about a rather controversial but pertinent topic. Is it about books at all? yes, but it’s much more than that. It’s more about our community as a whole. And, the labels that each community uses for itself and others. It might be a heavy topic but I think it’s high time we discussed it.

Let me back up here a little bit. It all started with a tweet. Somebody tweeted their excitement about some upcoming novels. The seemingly innocuous tweet went something like this:

“Can we just take a moment to appreciate these upcoming YA fantasy novels by South Asian authors? ”

That got me curious and I immediately checked them all up and… Out of the 8 “South Asian” countries, can you guess how many countries were actually represented via those books? A solid number of ONE. Which country? India. Now that piqued my interest further and I replied to them (rather sarcastically and not so politely 🙁 ) asking why they didn’t simply mention it as Indian representation rather than giving a misleading South Asian reference? (Because honestly wasn’t it just Indian rep?).

The best part of this saga? The ones tweeting about the books and the ones tagged in the tweet were all Indians or of Indian origin. So the question that begs for an answer is, who exactly was this “South Asia” reference meant for?

(Representation could be of two types it could be either the authors or the characters in the book. All three books, in this case, are by Indian/Indian-origin authors. I have no idea about the characters in the books. So forgive me if the other South Asian countries are represented in the books. But I doubt it and I don’t regret starting this topic, IT IS still quite important and is so rarely discussed.)

And as expected, I got the following usual dismissive response from one of the Indian authors:

For the record, I have no problem saying “Indian,” but when I mean all the countries that share our literature, traditions, and mythologies, I use “South Asian.” It’s being inclusive. And the countries you mentioned are often referred to with the blanket term “Asian.”

The above statement bothered me even more, hence I reverted with:

I am a little doubtful on the inclusive part ma’am. Would u use a blanket term of Korea to refer both South Korea & North Korea? Using South Asia for Pak, India & Bangladesh is offensive. Words r important as you as an author might definitely know. Give credit where due.

Sidenote: ( I am surprised I even got a response, Authors are generally very busy and they don’t engage with people they deem to be “trolls”, the keyword here is ‘troll’ because let’s be honest, an assertive Indian is almost always labeled as a troll. I mean, how can a person from Gandhi’s India be assertive? Shouldn’t they just show their other cheek for a slap or better yet roll over and die?)

Now you may ask “Why all the fuss RRK? It’s a normal tweet, nothing offensive, why are you getting all worked up?” Was I a tad too touchy? Maybe? Was I wrong in calling out the usage of South Asia to refer to India? Ah! That’s where I request your patience in listening to my case.

My problem is: The habit of normalizing not-so-innocent intentions under the garb of innocuous names, also, the perpetuating of the names by the very masses that it’s detrimental to.

  1. All the Authors are either Indian, NRI or of Indian origin. None of them represent the seven other countries that are part of “South Asia” as the author puts it.
  2. When it comes to demeaning India on world platform nobody has an issue with writing “India” in bold but when it comes to giving credit it must be shared with the other countries? Could you spare a thought on why diplomatic, intellectual and media circles, specifically in the west, do this? On the agenda?
  3. My major problem with the term can only be summed up by this genius tweet by another tweeter @majorlyp

Indians are Indians and Pakistanis when caught in tight situations (like in Airports) are Indians too. In other circumstances they are South Asians. Being “South Asian” offers many advantages. Such as an overwhelming numerical advantage. Example: When faced with the question “Is radicalization a problem”? South Asians can reply with a straight face “Only 170 million, or less than 10% of the South Asians are radicalized“. Which sounds entirely reasonable.

A truer statement hasn’t been said. No, Pakistan is not similar and not equal to India by a long shot. To be compared with such a rogue state, and to be in the company of a country that’s the birthland of terrorism should put any Indian to shame. I can understand why Pakis would like to refer to themselves as South Asians and pretend to be benign, but why on earth would Indians refer to themselves as South Asians alongside the Pakis? Why?

How do you see Dharma and Adharma on the same scale? How can you, as an Indian talk about, a country birthed on zealotry AND a country based on democratic values, in the same breath? Would you use a “blanket” term for North Korea and South Korea? A blanket term to refer the Jews and Nazis just because they shared similar tastes in food, clothing, language and probably ancestry? No, that’s offensive? Then why doesn’t it occur to you that letting a Pakistani get away with mischief and worse, under this “blanket” term is offensive, belittling and demeaning to the very country you represent?

I also understand why the West prefers this term. The long political, diplomatic history behind this term suggests that none of the intentions were/still are benign. Giving legitimacy and validation to a rogue state like Pakistan and to an extent even to Bangladesh using the term South Asia is unacceptable. If Pakistan and Bangladesh do come up with literary gems I doubt anybody will obfuscate it by saying “South Asian rep books”, will they?

I request Indian authors to stand up to this. Be proud of your heritage. Indian rep, Asian rep, etc is fine but, don’t fall into the South Asian rep trap. It’s almost always to the benefit of the undeserving and to the detriment of India.

The westerners, Pakis will continue using it. What baffles me is the usage of a term that’s detrimental to us by Indians themselves. Can somebody please explain to me the logic behind this?

If somebody else calls me a bozo, should I internalize that and start using it as my name? or should I reflect, resist, reject and reverse? (It’s a rhetorical question, don’t answer that or preferably send me a mail? 🙂 ) My name is not Bozo and I refuse to be identified that way. I refuse to be represented that way. How hard is that? Putting my beloved, benign motherland in the same group as a terror state is offensive, demeaning and devious.

Every Indian must resist this usage, or bare minimum reflect and begin a discussion/debate on the origins and necessity of its usage. Please don’t voluntarily or involuntarily perpetuate and condone this vicious cycle.

Names are important, they are the basis of identity. Ask any Asian. Every country has it’s own tradition of naming their kids with great forethought. Meaningful names that parents hope will symbolize the future life and nature of the child.

If “South Asia” is a blanket term used to refer India along with Pakistan then that term must be categorically rejected.

Indian authors and publishers. It is my sincere request to you to give this some serious thought. Who do you align with? What are your core principles? When people refuse to use blood money/diamonds it is their principles they are calling upon. Do not taint your country by association and refrain from referring to yourself as a South Asian. Is it so hard to represent India? Your country?

I know people may ask me about SAARC, about how the Indian government and other diplomatic circles condone the usage of South Asia.
One, I am a common person who can only put out my thoughts and appeal to your conscience.
Two, the other six countries too deserve their distinct representation.
Though culturally they are similar to India, they are proud, capable countries that deserve equal or more representation. So ideally I would want this term South Asia to be scrapped if Pakistan is a part of it or bare minimum I would appeal Indians from not perpetuating its usage by using it to refer to themselves. Not an impractical request is it?

I know this isn’t a bookish view and is a deeply personal post. Many people might have gotten offended by my rant/opinion. But, I had to call this out. This isn’t fair to my country and it’s hardworking people. Lakhs of Indians abroad have shown nothing but their best side in the countries they have naturalized in. They have been law-abiding, amazing citizens. It pains me to see them and their efforts associated with a state that’s not even worth a mention. Reflect, Resist, Reject and Reverse people!

This post might seem like a terrible brain dump. But this ‘issue-non-issue(depends on how you see it) reminded me of an interesting anecdote from Mahabharatha. I am sure most of you know that Pandavas were also Kauravas? How? The cousins were all descendants of Kuru hence they were collectively referred to as Kauravas, so technically both the sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandu were Kauravas.

But Duryodhana and his coterie brought such disrepute to the name of Kauravas that people rarely referred to the sons of Pandu, as Kauravas, though they too were inheritors of that name.

They were and are always Pandavas. Ever wonder why? Because the cousins were incomparable. If one was Dharma, the other was the epitome of Adharma. If one was everything a human must aspire to be, the other was everything a human shouldn’t be.

When people of those times knew the value of a name, of how nobody in their right mind would club the Pandavas along with Kauravas. Shouldn’t the current policymakers be a little more prudent in their usage of names and labels? In a society where everything is measured with worthiness does the blanket term “South Asia” really do justice to India? Indians who use this term casually please give it a thought.

If somebody has managed to stay with me till now on this post. I congratulate you for your patience. I am sure not many agree with me and maybe you have something to counter me with? If so, do debate, do give me constructive criticism, do educate me on some biases that you think I might have, do let me know in the comments section. I am all for civil and open-minded conversations. Till then, stay blessed and happy. Om Shanti.

Photo credit: Photo by shashank chauhan on Unsplash

Some references on this topic, the internet is crawling with such articles if you would like:


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