Do we have a regional identity in South Asia? 

South Asia is unique in terms of having multiple identities. Gender, Caste, Class, Language, Sub-region, Race and Religion – all these factor play a substantial role in defining our identity. While, this is not unique only to South Asia, what makes the region special is – all these identities sit comfortably with every one of us. What is even more fascinating is, these identities shift depending on a particular time, particular place and particular crowd.

South Asia is home to multiple identities in a single person. But, do we have a “regional identity” as “We, the South Asians”?

An earlier RCSS multilogue focused on regional integration in South Asia. Economically and politically, we are one of the least integrated regions, despite strong emotional linkages. Shared history and common cultural identity exist more in paper and conference circles. Despite the multiplicity of media platforms, we still prefer to blame the State as a primary villain. Perhaps, the State is. But, can we do something as a region?

We are also highly critical of the SAARC, our regional organization. When compared to other regional organizations, true SAARC has not performed well. But should we blame only the organization, and the State in South Asia for it?

Are the problems of regional integration and the slow progress of the SAARC – an expression of a larger problem in South Asia? Are they a symptom of our collective failure? Does the lack of “regional identity” play a limiting role in taking South Asia forward?

Can there be innovative approaches at the civil society level in South Asia to have a regional identity? Can we learn from other regions in evolving a regional identity and avoid pitfalls in doing so? Can we add one more identity to the long list we already have, and make effective use of it in collectively taking the region forward?

We, the South Asians. Can we make it happen? How?

by D. Suba Chandran, PhD

National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
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