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India and Pakistan: a primer on the similarities and differences

Updated on March 21, 2013

Two Birds of a Feather or Apples and Oranges?

"India" and "Pakistan" are often used in the same sentence and the two nations are often compared to each other. While they did at one time form a single country, to compare the two now is like comparing the proverbial apples to oranges. The territory of what is now Bangladesh also formed part of that single country.

India is several times larger than Pakistan in both land area and population. True, the two countries are rivals in many respects and neighbors as well -- that may account for them both being referred to in the same sentence. However, India is a predominantly Hindu country whose religious traditions bear a greater similarity to countries further east. Pakistan is a Muslim country whose religion is shared by countries to its west.

India has a very significant Muslim minority and that it where the similarities to Pakistan begin. Although there are many shades of gray, it is possible to generalize that Hindus use the Hindi language and Muslims use Urdu. The Hindi and Urdu languages are mutually intelligible to a great extent. The grammar and syntax of the languages differ little on a colloquial level. This mutually intelligible language is called Hindustani.

The differences come up when the speech becomes less colloquial and more refined. Hindi will borrow more words of Sanskrit derivation while Urdu will utilize a Persianate vocabulary. Hindi is of course written using the Devanagari writing system, the script that Sanskrit is written in. Urdu is written in a version of the Arabic script. So from there do some of the causes of the rivalry arise: Sanskritized Hindi and Persianized Urdu create a language barrier that exacerbates the religious divide.

The Hindu religion is an ancient tradition that predates Islam by several thousand years. Indian religious concepts spread to the countries of East Asia primarily through Buddhism. Abrahamic religious traditions were spread to many countries through Islam. So in this light, to use phrases such as "India and Pakistan," "Indians and Pakistanis" is like comparing apples and oranges. Fortunately, we are lately hearing a lot more "India and China." And "Pakistan and Afghanistan" rarely goes without mention in the news these days.

That is not to say India and Pakistan do not have many things in common. It is all a matter of seeing what you want to see. If you want to see similarities, you will find them. If you look for differences, you will find them too. India and Pakistan shared a common history for over a thousand years. It is just that in recent memory the history of the subcontinent has been altered. In partitioning off chunks of its land both to the west and east that had Muslim majorities, the resultant nation in the center of the subcontinent now has a decidedly Hindu character.

There are both centripetal and centrifugal forces at work. One is unifying and one is dividing. Based on an analysis of recent history, the forces of division appear to be winning. India and Pakistan will not be uniting anytime soon. That is the present trend.


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      M.Hamza Asim 

      4 years ago

      Pakistan Zindabad


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