What's In a Name?

Plenty of opportunity for mischief, as Juliet found out. In California a dispute has broken out over what the Indian subcontinent should be called in the school curriculum. The more generic "South Asia" is popular among scholars and others who prefer not to offend Pakistanis, but Hindu activists here and in India are determined to be offended.

The name has an ancient history, deriving from the Sanskrit word "Sindhu," but referred originally to the Indus river, a river which is now mostly in Pakistan. Apparently the Persians were the the first to apply it more generically, referring to the people of the Indus river. Greeks and other colonial invaders adopted the term, but it wasn't the only word used for the whole land until fairly recently. Much or all of India has often been known as Bharat, one of the official names used in the Indian constitution.

If there were no Pakistan, very few would object to calling the subcontinent by the ancient name, but there is a Pakistan and my opinion is that the school officials in California have no business getting involved in the bitter dispute between India and its neighbor. Reserve the name India for the nation of that name and pick something generic for the region - even if it's "that big old triangle hanging down from the Himalayas."


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