The continental location of some countries causes confusion. The countries that cause this confusion tend to be large ones such as Russia, Turkey, and India. Some people even think that India is its own continent. So, what continent is India in? Part of the confusion comes from the fact that India’s borders have changed over the years. So, a look at India’s more recent history will go some way to explain its geographical location.
During the 19th century and until late 1947, India was much larger than the present-day country. As a key part of the British Empire, it was known as the British Indian Empire. It comprised present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as well as parts of present-day China, Myanmar, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.
Indian independence also meant partition in 1947. Partition is the term used to define the breaking up of colonial or British India into two different countries: India, and Pakistan. Pakistan then had two territories: West Pakistan, which is present-day Pakistan, and East Pakistan, which is present-day Bangladesh. Without going into it in too much detail, the rationale behind the partition of India was to divide the former colony along religious lines. India was supposed to be a Hindu majority country and Pakistan (both East and West Pakistan).
What continent is India officially in?
- The Asia continent
Although this article is about present-day India, the answer to the question “what continent India is?” would be the same for present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh.
|Area||3,287,263 square km|
|Democracy||Largest democracy in the world|
|Gender ratio||933 females per 1000 males|
|Independence||August 15th, 1947|
|Most common religion||79.8% Hinduism|
|Official languages||Hindi and English|
|Per capita GDP||$7,749|
|Rank In Size||7th largest in the world|
|Size||1/3 the size of the United States|
Can India Be Considered A Continent In Its Own Right?
Some people mistakenly think of India as a continent. Because of its sheer side, when people without solid geographical knowledge are tempted to call India a continent.
But there are also scientific reasons to consider India a continent. India sits on its own tectonic plate, which is one of the main seven tectonic plates on planet Earth: the Pacific Plate, the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate, the African Plate, the Antarctic Place, the Indian Plate, and the South American plate. Sometimes the Indian Plate is considered as part of a larger Indo-Australian Plate, but sometimes scientists think of them as two separate plates: the Indian Plate, and the Australian Plate.
About 75 million years ago, the Indian Plate was part of what is knows as the Gondwana or Gondwanaland supercontinent. This supercontinent broke up into the several continents over thousands of years: Africa, North America, South America, Australia, Antarctica, but also Arabia (Western Asia), India (Southeast Asia), and the Balkans (Southeast Europe).
The current tectonic plates that broker up were the African Plate, the Antarctica Plate, the South American Plate, and the Indo-Australian Plate.
In the case of the Indian Plate (or the Indo-Australian Plate) collided with the Eurasian tectonic plate. This very slow collision created the mountain range that separates present-day India from China and where the mountain nations of Bhutan and Nepal sit: The Himalayas.
Okay, So India Is Not Continent But It Is A Subcontinent, Right?
India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the Equator. – Winston Chruchill
Yes, that is correct. India is not its own continent but because it is a self-contained and distinct large landmass, it can be correctly considered a subcontinent.
But India is not the only subcontinent on planet Earth. Other examples could include Greenland or the Alaskan peninsula in North America, the southern cone of South America (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay), the Arabian Peninsula in Asia (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates). Having said all of that, it would be inaccurate to equate the present-day country of India with the subcontinent. While it is true that India takes up more of the geographical space of the subcontinent, this part of South Asia also includes Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.
A useful way of think of the subcontinent is as any contiguous land south of (and including) the Himalaya mountain range. Although an island, the nation of Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon under British colonial rule until 1972) is also considered part of the subcontinent.
But the Himalayans are not the only mountain range that separates the subcontinent from the rest of Asia. There are also the Karakorum mountains (spanning the borders of China, India Pakistan, and stretching all the way west to Afghanistan and Tajikistan), and Hindu Kush (known also historically as the Caucus Indicus), near the Afghan-Pakistan border. And this is when we must consider partition again. It is useful to know a bit of the history of partition in order to understand that most of the subcontinent used to form one country in the days of the British Raj until it was divided in what has resulted in present-day Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.
That is why, at the height of the British Empire, this subcontinent was widely known as the Indian Subcontinent. This term had currency globally, although mostly in Great Britain and other parts of the British Empire (Canada, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand, India itself, etc.). Because partition is still a relatively recent event in world history some people, particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations that resulted from the break up of the British Empire may still refer to the continent as the Indian subcontinent.
This term has become problematic since 1947 as referring to the subcontinent were three different independent sovereign countries sit, as the Indian Subcontinent may seem insensitive or inappropriate.
Currently, the terms South Asia or Asian subcontinent are preferred. Another term that many media and news organizations, international diplomats, and academics use is that of Southern Asia. Southern Asia is not the same as the subcontinent as it not only includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, but also Afghanistan, and the Maldives. Sometimes, even Iran is included.
India Is Part of Asia
But, whichever term you choose, the undeniable fact is that India is in Asia. In terms of both sheer size and demography, India is the second largest country in Asia, only behind China.
It is true, however, that India (and the other modern-day countries in the subcontinent) has historically been more isolated to the rest of Asia because of the Himalayas, which has resulted in its own very distinct cultural identity with the rest of Asia. As a former part of the British Empire, India, which is a part of the Commonwealth, continues to have close links with other nations outside of Asia.