Language: Hindi (30%); English; 14 other official languages: Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit

Capital: Delhi (12 million)

Population: 1,05 billion; growth rate of 1.47% – over 32% of population is under 14 yrs. old; Sex ratio at birth – 1.05 males/female; Sex ration – 65 yrs. and over: 1.03 males/female; Ethnic Groups: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3%

Area: 2.97 million sq. km. (slightly more than one-third the size of the USA)

Natural Features: Indian Ocean; Bay of Bengal; Arabian Sea; 21% forested land; tropical monsoon climate in south to temperate in north; desert in NW; Plains; Himalayas in North; borders Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, China, Nepal, Pakistan; droughts; flash floods; severe thunderstorms; earthquakes

President: Aavul Pakkiri Jainulabidin Abdul Kalam (2002) (elected for a 5-yr. term by an electoral college consisting of elected members of both houses of Parliament and the legislatures of the states)

Prime Minister: Atal Behari Vajpayee (1998) (elected by parliamentary members of the majority party following legislative elections)

Type of Government: Federal democracy
The Council of Ministers is appointed by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister. The legal system is based on English common law, and a Constituion was adopted in 1950. Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president. Suffrage is universal at 18 years of age.

Religion: Hindu 81.3%, Muslim 12%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi 2.5%

Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)

Health: Probability of dying before 5 (females) – 9.9%(9.9/100); Probability of not reaching 40: 16.7%; Underweight children: 18%

Life Expectancy at birth: (total population): 63.62 years; Female – 64.37 yrs.; Male 62.92 yrs. (world avg. is 67; 78 in rich countries)

Infant Mortality Rate: 61.47

Education: Overall Literacy: 59.5%; Female Literacy: 48.3%; Male Literacy: 70.2%; Average schooling: 5.1 yrs.; Duration of Compulsory Education: 8 yrs.

Food: Flavorful and generally spicy (more so in the south); many regional specialties; Curries and sauces with rice; Fruit (bananas, coconut, pineapple, papayas, mangoes,…); Natural Yogurt; Tea very common, especially in the North (Darjeeling tea or masala tea, made with milk and sugar); Many meals eaten with different types of bread, accoring to the region; Sweets often made of milk or served in syrup; Very difficult to find chocolate; it is very difficult to find any type of meat, even in the north (almost all of southern India is vegetarian); Meat most easily found in Mumbai, Goa, and West Bengal (Kolkata); Eastern India – variety of fish-based dishes; Western India – cuisine prepared in ghee (clarified butter); eat spicy potatoes, chickpeas, lentils; Goan cuisine has very spicy Vindaloo curries, fish and seafood, sweet and sour dishes, cashews, and mangoes; North India – rice dishes with korma (braised meat), kofta (spicy grilled meatballs); South India – rice served with spicy curries made with chillies, mustard oil, coconut oil, mustard oil, other seeds; alcohol is prohibited in certain states; people eat with their hands – spoons and forks are rarely served, and knives never

Economy: Income Category: Low; Population under $1 per day: 44.2%; Population under $2 per day: 86.2%; Gross National Income (per capita): $454.41 per person ($1.24 per day)

India’s economy encompasses traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a large range of modern industries, and many support services. Overpopulation severely handicaps the economy and about a quarter of the population is too poor to be able to afford an adequate diet. Government controls have been reduced on imports and foreign investment, and privatization has proceeded slowly. The economy has posted an average growth rate of 6% since 1990, which has reduced poverty by about 10 %. India has large numbers of well-educated people and is a major exporter of software services and software workers. The information technology sector is growing at a rapid rate. Deep-rooted problems persist, notably conflicts among political and cultural groups.

Important industries include textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, and software. Commodity exports include textile goods, gems and jewelry, engineering goods, chemicals, and leather manufactures. India’s largest trading partner is the USA.


India is a country characterized by diversity – ethnically, linguistically, religiously, and geographically. Despite invasions, famines, and other cataclysms, the social and religious structures that have been in place for 4000 years still exist today. Two great world religions – Hinduism and Buddhism – were born in India. Though recent technological innovations have begun to be felt in parts of India, rural India has remained little changed for thousands of years, and traditions still dictate attitudes and actions today, both in the cities and in the countryside. For over 50 years, India has been the largest democracy in the world.

The Indus Valley civilization:

The first great civilization on the sub-continent was born 4500 years ago in the Indus Valley (modern-day Pakistan). The origins of Hinduism come from this epoch, when the priests – and not the kings – ruled society. At this point, certain animals were already sacred, such as the humped bull. The society fell after the invasion of the Aryans.

The First Invasions and Religious Evolution:

The Aryans arrived from central Asia between 1500 and 200 B.C. They were warrior nomads who eventually controlled the whole of northern India. The pushed the native Dravidians to the South, imposing their gods and also spreading the practice of cattle-raising (The natives were vegetarians, and it was during this period that a separation came between the meat-eating Northerners and the vegetarian Southerners. Most of South India remains vegetarian to this day). Between 1000 and 800 B.C., the caste of priests affirmed their supremacy through the writing of ritual texts. The caste system, extremely strict, was imposed to affirm the position of the Aryan priests. Rules and taboos were instituted to control marriage, eating and drinking habits, movement, and social relations. Each caste exercised its own rules to exert its supremacy over other, lower castes.

Buddhism and Jainism appeared at about the same time (500 B.C.), both rejecting the Hindu religious texts and the caste system. Buddhism gained enormous popularity, but lost influence between 200-800 A.D. Hinduism was always good at absorbing its religious competitors, and Buddha was eventually incorporated into the Hindu religion as one of many gods, whom Hindus still worship today.

Following dynasties:

Northern India was eventually divided into several distinct Hindu kingdoms, and knew several dynasties. The Gupta era (4th to 6th centuries), which favored the arts, is considered the Golden Age of Indian classicism. Northern India was not reunited until the Muslims’ arrival. The northern kingdoms had no relation with the southern kingdoms. The South was prosperous, due to commercial relations with other civilizations, especially the Egyptians, then the Romans, and later on, with Southeast Asia.

The Arrival of the Muslims:

The first Muslim invader came from Afghanistan in 1001, but it wasn’t until 1192 that a real Muslim power came to India (Rajasthan). They ruled Delhi from 1206, and in only 20 years, the whole of the Ganges Valley came under Muslim control. Then came the Moguls, the largest of the Muslim powers, who controlled almost all of northern India. They were never absorbed by the Hindus, and after 800 years of domination only 25% of the population converted.

The Moguls ruled northern India between the 16th to 19th centuries, ushering in a new golden age of arts, literature, and architecture. They left behind some of India’s greatest monuments and buildings, notably the Taj Mahal. Their fall, as their rise, was rapid. They ruled until the Great Mutiny of 1857-58, at which point the English exiled the last emperor and executed his sons.

During the Mogul period, the Hindus, and especially the Rajputs, conserved a large part of their power. Concentrated in Rajasthan, they formed a warrior caste and opposed all foreign incursion into their territory. The Maratas had popular support in the 17th century for defending the Hindu cause.

The British take Control:

Though the British exercised the most influence of the European powers in India, they were neither the first to come nor the last to leave. The Portuguese conquered Goa in 1510 and stayed until 1961.

In 1600, Elizabeth I accorded a monopoly agreement to the East India Company for all trade with India. The English and French fought for control of the Indian commerce in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it wasn’t until the 1750s that the French lost all influence. India at the time was undergoing incessant changes of power, due to the disintegration of the Mogul Empire. The East India Company exercised power in the country for 2 ½ centuries, until the 19th century, when the British government took power.

India at the time was a conglomeration of states, of which many were only independent in appearance, but which in reality found themselves under British domination. Princely states were maintained until the Independence. The English radically transformed agriculture by modernizing it. They introduced railways and exploited iron and coalmines, tea, coffee, and cotton. They gave India an effective administration and legislature, and English became the national administrative language.

In 1857, less than 50 years after taking control of the country, the first serious revolt took place. The Grand Mutiny was a series of bloody massacres, long sieges, and long fights. It was unsuccessful because the Indians did not have a common strategy. The British East India Company was absolved after the Mutiny and the Crown took control. Two things towards the end of the century prepared India for Independence. The first was a ceding of a part of executive power to the Indians. The second was allowing Indians to occupy key administrative posts in certain sectors.

The Indian opposition changed at the beginning of the 20th century, asking for a real independence. The English finally established an independence plan similar to the one for Canada and Australia, but it took a backseat after WWI. It was the Mahatma Gandhi who pushed for independence after the war. His success was due to the rallying of the farmers and villagers, because the cause until then had only interested the middle classes. The politic of non-cooperation and non-violence did not please everyone, as it signified the end of the exploitation of the masses by the zamindar, the traditional English allies.

WWII gave a final blow to colonialism, and the Congress party adopted the Quit India Resolution in 1942. The British imprisoned its two principal advocates, Gandhi and Nehru. Gandhi became known as the “Father of India” and Nehru became its first Prime Minister.


India was largely divided along religious lines, and with independence in 1948, was split into two different states: India and Pakistan. Muslim areas were at geometrically opposed parts of the country, and Pakistan was geographically divided in two: East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Twenty-five years later, East Pakistan broke from West Pakistan and became the state of Bangladesh.

The worst problems were caused in Punjab, the richest and most fertile part of the country, where 55% of the population was Muslim and 30% was Hindu. As the country divided, there was a mass exodus from one side of the dividing line to the other, and massacres took place. The first Indo-Pakistani war took place in 1948. Violence still persists to this day, especially in Cachemire, which is parted between the two countries.

Since Independence, India has followed a politic of non-alignment. The largest democracy in the world, it has not succumbed to a dictatorship or foreign invasion. There have been three Prime Ministers of real importance: Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi (the first woman prime minister, of no relation to the Mahatma Gandhi), and her son Rajiv Gandhi. Elected Prime Minister in 1966, Indira Gandhi effectively countered inflation and helped the economy. However, her opponents were frequently sent to prison, the judicial system seemed a puppetry, freedom of the press was restricted, and nepotism became very popular. With an increasing unpopularity, she organized general elections in 1977 and was voted out, though she won the elections in 1980 with the largest majority of her career. Her bodyguards assassinated her in 1984. Her son was propelled to power by popular support and came with new ideas, encouraging foreign investment and modern technology and reducing import restrictions. These measures helped the middle class. He was assassinated in 1989 in a terrorist attack by a separatist Sri-Lankist movement.

The 90s has seen an increasing religious radicalism, especially opposing the two largest groups – the Hindus and Muslims. The Cachemire issue once again came to the forefront in the 90’s. In 1998, after Pakistan went forward with nuclear tests, India responded in kind with five tests in the Rajasthani desert. The international community levied economic sanctions.