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|THE INDIA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of India within the continent of Asia
Map of India
Flag Description of India:The India flag was officially adopted on July 22, 1947, as the Indian subcontinent divided into India and Pakistan.
The orange represents courage and sacrifice, green symbolizes faith and chivalry, and white idealizes peace and truth. The Buddhist spinning wheel ( Chakra) is centered.
Official name Bharat (Hindi); Republic of India (English)
Form of government multiparty federal republic with two legislative houses (Council of States ; House of the People )
Head of state President: Pranab Mukherjee
Head of government Prime Minister: Narendra Modi
Capital New Delhi
Official languages Hindi; English
Official religion none
Monetary unit Indian rupee ₹3
Population (2013 est.) 1,255,230,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 1,222,559
Total area (sq km) 3,166,414
- Urban: (2012) 30.2%
- Rural: (2012) 69.8%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2011) 63.9 years
- Female: (2011) 67.1 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2007) 76.9%
- Female: (2007) 54.5%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 1,530
1Includes 12 members appointed by the president.
2Includes 2 Anglo-Indians appointed by the president.
3The first symbol for the rupee was officially approved in July 2010, and coins and banknotes with the new symbol began being issued in late 2011.
The Indus Valley civilization, one of the world's oldest, flourished during the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C. and extended into northwestern India. Aryan tribes from the northwest infiltrated the Indian subcontinent about 1500 B.C.; their merger with the earlier Dravidian inhabitants created the classical Indian culture. The Maurya Empire of the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. - which reached its zenith under ASHOKA - united much of South Asia. The Golden Age ushered in by the Gupta dynasty (4th to 6th centuries A.D.) saw a flowering of Indian science, art, and culture. Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of 700 years. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established the Delhi Sultanate. In the early 16th century, the Emperor BABUR established the Mughal Dynasty which ruled India for more than three centuries. European explorers began establishing footholds in India during the 16th century. By the 19th century, Great Britain had become the dominant political power on the subcontinent. The British Indian Army played a vital role in both World Wars. Years of nonviolent resistance to British rule, led by Mohandas GANDHI and Jawaharlal NEHRU, eventually resulted in Indian independence, which was granted in 1947. Large-scale communal violence took place before and after the subcontinent partition into two separate states - India and Pakistan. The neighboring nations have fought three wars since independence, the last of which was in 1971 and resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. India's nuclear weapons tests in 1998 emboldened Pakistan to conduct its own tests that same year. In November 2008, terrorists originating from Pakistan conducted a series of coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India's financial capital. Despite pressing problems such as significant overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption, economic growth following the launch of economic reforms in 1991 and a massive youthful population are driving India's emergence as a regional and global power.
India country that occupies the greater part of South Asia. It is a constitutional republic consisting of 29 states, each with a substantial degree of control over its own affairs; 6 less fully empowered union territories; and the Delhi national capital territory, which includes New Delhi, India’s capital. With roughly one-sixth of the world’s total population, India is the second most populous country, after China.--->>>>>Read On.<<<<
Geography of India
India’s frontier, which is roughly one-third coastline, abuts six countries. It is bounded to the northwest by Pakistan, to the north by Nepal, China, and Bhutan; and to the east by Myanmar (Burma). Bangladesh to the east is surrounded by India to the north, east, and west. The island country of Sri Lanka is situated some 40 miles (65 km) off the southeast coast of India across the Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar.
The land of India—together with Bangladesh and most of Pakistan—forms a well-defined subcontinent, set off from the rest of Asia by the imposing northern mountain rampart of the Himalayas and by adjoining mountain ranges to the west and east. In area, India ranks as the seventh largest country in the world.
Much of India’s territory lies within a large peninsula, surrounded by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east; Cape Comorin, the southernmost point of the Indian mainland, marks the dividing line between these two bodies of water. India has two union territories composed entirely of islands: Lakshadweep, in the Arabian Sea, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which lie between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
Relief-India It is now generally accepted that India’s geographic position, continental outline, and basic geologic structure resulted from a process of plate tectonics—the shifting of enormous, rigid crustal plates over the Earth’s underlying layer of molten material. India’s landmass, which forms the northwestern portion of the Indian-Australian Plate, began to drift slowly northward toward the much larger Eurasian Plate several hundred million years ago (after the former broke away from the ancient southern-hemispheric supercontinent known as Gondwana, or Gondwanaland). When the two finally collided (approximately 50 million years ago), the northern edge of the Indian-Australian Plate was thrust under the Eurasian Plate at a low angle. The collision reduced the speed of the oncoming plate, but the underthrusting, or subduction, of the plate has continued into contemporary times.--->>>>>Read More<<<<
More than 70 percent of India’s territory drains into the Bay of Bengal via the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system and a number of large and small peninsular rivers. Areas draining into the Arabian Sea, accounting for about 20 percent of the total, lie partially within the Indus drainage basin (in northwestern India) and partially within a completely separate set of drainage basins well to the south (in Gujarat, western Madhya Pradesh, northern Maharashtra, and areas west of the Western Ghats). Most of the remaining area, less than 10 percent of the total, lies in regions of interior drainage, notably in the Great Indian Desert of Rajasthan state (another is in the Aksai Chin, a barren plateau in a portion of Kashmir administered by China but claimed by India). Finally, less than 1 percent of India’s area, along the border with Myanmar, drains into the Andaman Sea via tributaries of the Irrawaddy River.
- DRAINAGE INTO THE BAY OF BENGAL
- THE GANGES-BRAHMAPUTRA RIVER SYSTEM
The Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, together with their tributaries, drain about one-third of India. The Ganges (Ganga), considered sacred by the country’s Hindu population, is 1,560 miles (2,510 km) long. Although its deltaic portion lies mostly in Bangladesh, the course of the Ganges within India is longer than that of any of the country’s other rivers. It has numerous headstreams that are fed by runoff and meltwater from Himalayan glaciers and mountain peaks. The main headwater, the Bhagirathi River, rises at an elevation of about 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) at the foot of the Gangotri Glacier, considered sacred by Hindus.
The Ganges enters the Indo-Gangetic Plain at the city of Haridwar (Hardwar). From Haridwar to Kolkata it is joined by numerous tributaries. Proceeding from west to east, the Ghaghara, Gandak, and Kosi rivers, all of which emerge from the Himalayas, join the Ganges from the north, while the Yamuna and Son are the two most important tributaries from the south. The Yamuna, which also has a Himalayan source (the Yamunotri glacier) and flows roughly parallel to the Ganges throughout its length, receives the flow of several important rivers, including the Chambal, Betwa, and Ken, which originate in India’s peninsular foreland. Of the northern tributaries of the Ganges, the Kosi, India’s most destructive river (referred to as the “Sorrow of Bihar”), warrants special mention. Because of its large catchment in the Himalayas of Nepal and its gentle gradient once it reaches the plain, the Kosi is unable to discharge the large volume of water it carries at its peak flows, and it frequently floods and changes its course.
The seasonal flows of the Ganges and other rivers fed by meltwaters from the Himalayas vary considerably less than those of the exclusively rain-fed peninsular rivers. This consistency of flow enhances their suitability for irrigation and—where the diversion of water for irrigation is not excessive—for navigation as well.
Although the total length of the Brahmaputra (about 1,800 miles [2,900 km]) exceeds that of the Ganges, only 450 miles (725 km) of its course lies within India. The Brahmaputra, like the Indus, has its source in a trans-Himalayan area about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Mapam Lake in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The river runs east across Tibet for more than half its total length before cutting into India at the northern border of Arunachal Pradesh. It then flows south and west through the state of Assam and south into Bangladesh, where it empties into the vast Ganges-Brahmaputra delta. The narrow Brahmaputra basin in Assam is prone to flooding because of its large catchment areas, parts of which experience exceedingly heavy precipitation.
- PENINSULAR RIVERS
The peninsular drainage into the Bay of Bengal includes a number of major rivers, most notably the Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri. Except for the Mahanadi, the headwaters of these rivers are in the high-rainfall zones of the Western Ghats, and they traverse the entire width of the plateau (generally from northwest to southeast) before reaching the Bay of Bengal. The Mahanadi has its source at the southern edge of the Chhattisgarh Plain.
India’s peninsular rivers have relatively steep gradients and thus rarely give rise to floods of the type that occur in the plains of northern India, despite considerable variations in flow from the dry to wet seasons. The lower courses of a number of these rivers are marked by rapids and gorges, usually as they cross the Eastern Ghats. Because of their steep gradients, rocky underlying terrain, and variable flow regimes, the peninsular rivers are not navigable.
- DRAINAGE INTO THE ARABIAN SEA
A substantial part of northwestern India is included in the Indus drainage basin, which India shares with China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Indus and its longest tributary, the Sutlej, both rise in the trans-Himalayan region of Tibet. The Indus initially flows to the northwest between towering mountain ranges and through Jammu and Kashmir state before entering the Pakistani-administered portion of Kashmir. It then travels generally to the southwest through Pakistan until it reaches the Arabian Sea. The Sutlej also flows northwest from its source but enters India farther south, at the border of Himachal Pradesh. From there it travels west into the Indian state of Punjab and eventually enters Pakistan, where it flows into the Indus.
Between the Indus and the Sutlej lie several other major Indus tributaries. The Jhelum, the northernmost of these rivers, flows out of the Pir Panjal Range into the Vale of Kashmir and thence via Baramula Gorge into Pakistani-administered Kashmir. The three others—the Chenab, Ravi, and Beas—originate in the Himalayas within the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The Chenab travels across Jammu and Kashmir state before flowing into Pakistan; the Ravi forms a part of the southern boundary between Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh states and thereafter a short stretch of the India-Pakistan border prior to entering Pakistan; and the Beas flows entirely within India, joining the Sutlej in the Indian state of Punjab. The area through which the five Indus tributaries flow has traditionally been called the Punjab (from Persian panj, “five,” and āb, “water”). That area currently falls in the Indian state of Punjab (containing the Sutlej and the Beas) and the Pakistani province of Punjab. Despite low rainfall in the Punjab plains, the moderately high runoff from the Himalayas ensures a year-round flow in the Indus and its tributaries, which are extensively utilized for canal irrigation.
Farther to the south, another notable river flowing into the Arabian Sea is the Luni of southern Rajasthan, which in most years has carried enough water to reach the Great Rann of Kachchh in western Gujarat. Also flowing through Gujarat is the Mahi River, as well as the two most important west-flowing rivers of peninsular India—the Narmada (drainage basin 38,200 square miles [98,900 square km]) and Tapi (Tapti; 25,000 square miles [65,000 square km]). The Narmada and its basin are undergoing large-scale multipurpose development. Most of the other peninsular rivers draining into the Arabian Sea have short courses, and those that flow westward from headwaters in the Western Ghats have seasonally torrential flows.
- LAKES AND INLAND DRAINAGE
For such a large country, India has few natural lakes. Most of the lakes in the Himalayas were formed when glaciers either dug out a basin or dammed an area with earth and rocks. Wular Lake in Jammu and Kashmir, by contrast, is the result of a tectonic depression. Although its area fluctuates, Wular Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in India.
Inland drainage in India is mainly ephemeral and almost entirely in the arid and semiarid part of northwestern India, particularly in the Great Indian Desert of Rajasthan, where there are several ephemeral salt lakes—most prominently Sambhar Salt Lake, the largest lake in India. These lakes are fed by short, intermittent streams, which experience flash floods during occasional intense rains and become dry and lose their identity once the rains are over. The water in the lakes also evaporates and subsequently leaves a layer of white saline soils, from which a considerable amount of salt is commercially produced. Many of India’s largest lakes are reservoirs formed by damming rivers.
There is a wide range of soil types in India. As products of natural environmental processes, these can be broadly divided into two groups: in situ soils and transported soils. The in situ soils get their distinguishing features from the parent rocks, which are sieved by flowing water, sliding glaciers, and drifting wind and are deposited on landforms such as river valleys and coastal plains. The process of sieving such soils has led to deposition of materials in layers without any marked pedologic horizons, though it has altered the original chemical composition of the in situ soils.
Among the in situ soils are the red-to-yellow (including laterite) and black soils known locally as regur. After these the alluvial soil is the third most common type. Also significant are the desert soils of Rajasthan, the saline soils in Gujarat, southern Rajasthan, and some coastal areas, and the mountain soils of the Himalayas. The type of soil is determined by numerous factors, including climate, relief, elevation, and drainage, as well as by the composition of the underlying rock material.
- IN SITU SOILS'
- RED-TO-YELLOW SOILS
These soils are encountered over extensive nonalluvial tracts of peninsular India and are made up of such acidic rocks as granite, gneiss, and schist. They develop in areas in which rainfall leaches soluble minerals out of the ground and results in a loss of chemically basic constituents; a corresponding proportional increase in oxidized iron imparts a reddish hue to many such soils. Hence these are commonly described as ferralitic soils. In extreme cases, the concentration of oxides of iron leads to formation of a hard crust, in which case they are described as lateritic (for later, the Latin term meaning “brick”) soils. The heavily leached red-to-yellow soils are concentrated in the high-rainfall areas of the Western Ghats, the western Kathiawar Peninsula, eastern Rajasthan, the Eastern Ghats, the Chota Nagpur Plateau, and other upland tracts of northeastern India. Less-leached red-to-yellow soils occur in areas of low rainfall immediately east of the Western Ghats in the dry interior of the Deccan. Red-to-yellow soils are usually infertile, but this problem is partly ameliorated in forested tracts, where humus concentration and the recycling of nutrients help restore fertility in the topsoil.
- BLACK SOILS
Among the in situ soils of India, the black soils found in the lava-covered areas are the most conspicuous. These soils are often referred to as regur but are popularly known as “black cotton soils,” since cotton has been the most common traditional crop in areas where they are found. Black soils are derivatives of trap lava and are spread mostly across interior Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh on the Deccan lava plateau and the Malwa Plateau, where there is both moderate rainfall and underlying basaltic rock. Because of their high clay content, black soils develop wide cracks during the dry season, but their iron-rich granular structure makes them resistant to wind and water erosion. They are poor in humus yet highly moisture-retentive, thus responding well to irrigation. These soils are also found on many peripheral tracts where the underlying basalt has been shifted from its original location by fluvial processes. The sifting has only led to an increased concentration of clastic contents.
- ALLUVIAL SOILS
Alluvial soils are widespread. They occur throughout the Indo-Gangetic Plain and along the lower courses of virtually all the country’s major rivers (especially the deltas along the east coast). The nondeltaic plains along India’s coasts are also marked by narrow ribbons of alluvium.
New alluvium found on much of the Indo-Gangetic floodplain is called khadar and is extremely fertile and uniform in texture; conversely, the old alluvium on the slightly elevated terraces, termed bhangar, carries patches of alkaline efflorescences, called usar, rendering some areas infertile. In the Ganges basin, sandy aquifers holding an enormous reserve of groundwater ensure irrigation and help make the plain the most agriculturally productive region of the country.
India provides the world’s most-pronounced example of a monsoon climate. The wet and dry seasons of the monsoon system, along with the annual temperature fluctuations, produce three general climatic periods over much of the country: (1) hot, wet weather from about mid-June to the end of September, (2) cool, dry weather from early October to February, and (3) hot, dry weather (though normally with high atmospheric humidity) from about March to mid-June. The actual duration of these periods may vary by several weeks, not only from one part of India to another but also from year to year. Regional differences, which are often considerable, result from a number of internal factors—including elevation, type of relief, and proximity to bodies of water.
- THE MONSOONS
A monsoon system is characterized by a seasonal reversal of prevailing wind directions and by alternating wet and dry seasons. In India the wet season, called the southwest monsoon, occurs from about mid-June to early October, when winds from the Indian Ocean carry moisture-laden air across the subcontinent, causing heavy rainfall and often considerable flooding. Usually about three-fourths of the country’s total annual precipitation falls during those months. During the driest months (called the retreating monsoon), especially from November through February, this pattern is reversed, as dry air from the Asian interior moves across India toward the ocean. October and March through May, by contrast, are typically periods of desultory breezes with no strong prevailing patterns.
- THE SOUTHWEST MONSOON
Although the winds of the rainy season are called the southwest monsoon, they actually follow two generally distinct branches, one initially flowing eastward from the Arabian Sea and the other northward from the Bay of Bengal. The former begins by lashing the west coast of peninsular India and rising over the adjacent Western Ghats. When crossing these mountains, the air cools (thus losing its moisture-bearing capacity) and deposits rain copiously on the windward side of that highland barrier. Annual precipitation in parts of this region exceeds 100 inches (2,540 mm) and is as high as 245 inches (6,250 mm) at Mahabaleshwar on the crest of the Western Ghats. Conversely, as the winds descend on the leeward side of the Western Ghats, the air’s moisture-bearing capacity increases and the resultant rain shadow makes for a belt of semiarid terrain, much of it with less than 25 inches (635 mm) of precipitation per year.
The Bay of Bengal branch of the monsoon sweeps across eastern India and Bangladesh and, in several areas, gives rise to rainfall in much the same way as occurs along the Western Ghats. The effect is particularly pronounced in the Shillong (Meghalaya) Plateau, where at Cherrapunji the average annual rainfall is 450 inches (11,430 mm), one of the heaviest in the world. The Brahmaputra valley to the north also experiences a rain-shadow effect; the problem is mitigated, however, by the adjacent Himalayas, which cause the winds to rise again, thereby establishing a parallel belt of heavy precipitation. Blocked by the Himalayas, the Bay of Bengal branch of the monsoon is diverted westward up the Gangetic Plain, reaching Punjab only in the first week of July.
In the Gangetic Plain the two branches merge into one. By the time they reach the Punjab their moisture is largely spent. The gradual reduction in the amount of rainfall toward the west is evidenced by the decline from 64 inches (1,625 mm) at Kolkata to 26 inches (660 mm) at Delhi and to desert conditions still farther west. Over the northeastern portion of peninsular India, the two branches also intermittently collide, creating weak weather fronts with sufficient rainfall to produce patches of fairly high precipitation (more than 60 inches [1,520 mm]) in the Chota Nagpur Plateau.
- RAINFALL DURING THE RETREATING MONSOON
Much of India experiences infrequent and relatively feeble precipitation during the retreating monsoon. An exception to this rule occurs along the southeastern coast of India and for some distance inland. When the retreating monsoon blows from the northeast across the Bay of Bengal, it picks up a significant amount of moisture, which is subsequently released after moving back onto the peninsula. Thus, from October to December the coast of Tamil Nadu state receives at least half of its roughly 40 inches (1,000 mm) of annual precipitation. This rainy extension of the generally dry retreating monsoon is called the northeast, or winter, monsoon.
Another type of winter precipitation occurs in northern India, which receives weak cyclonic storms originating in the Mediterranean basin. In the Himalayas these storms bring weeks of drizzling rain and cloudiness and are followed by waves of cold temperatures and snowfall. The state of Jammu and Kashmir in particular receives much of its precipitation from these storms.
- TROPICAL CYCLONES
Fierce tropical cyclones occur in India during what may be called the premonsoon, early monsoon, or postmonsoon periods. Originating in both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, tropical cyclones often attain velocities of more than 100 miles (160 km) per hour and are notorious for causing intense rain and storm tides (surges) as they cross the coast of India. The Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and West Bengal coasts are especially susceptible to such storms.
- IMPORTANCE TO AGRICULTURE
Monsoons play a pivotal role in Indian agriculture, and the substantial year-to-year variability of rainfall, in both timing and quantity, introduces much uncertainty in the country’s crop yield. Good years bring bumper crops, but years of poor rain may result in total crop failure over large areas, especially where irrigation is lacking. Large-scale flooding can also cause damage to crops. As a general rule, the higher an area’s average annual precipitation, the more dependable its rainfall, but few areas of India have an average precipitation high enough to be free from the possibility of occasional drought and consequent crop failure.
Temperatures in India generally are the warmest in May or June, just prior to the cooling downpours of the southwest monsoon. A secondary maximum often occurs in September or October when precipitation wanes. The temperature range tends to be significantly less along the coastal plains than in interior locations. The range also tends to increase with latitude. Near India’s southern extremity the seasonal range is no more than a few degrees; for example, at Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), in Kerala, there is an average fluctuation of just 4.3 °F (2.4 °C) around an annual mean temperature of 81 °F (27 °C). In the northwest, however, the range is much greater, as, for example, at Ambala, in Haryana, where the temperature fluctuates from 56 °F (13 °C) in January to 92 °F (33 °C) in June. Temperatures are also moderated wherever elevations are significant, and many Himalayan resort towns, called hill stations (a legacy of British colonial rule), afford welcome relief from India’s sometimes oppressive heat.
Plant and animal life
The flora of India largely reflect the country’s distribution of rainfall. Tropical broad-leaved evergreen and mixed, partially evergreen forests grow in areas with high precipitation; in successively less rainy areas are found moist and dry deciduous forests, scrub jungle, grassland, and desert vegetation. Coniferous forests are confined to the Himalayas. There are about 17,000 species of flowering plants in the country. The subcontinent’s physical isolation, caused by its relief and climatic barriers, has resulted in a considerable number of endemic flora.
Roughly one-fourth of the country is forested. However, beginning in the late 20th century, forest depletion accelerated considerably to make room for more agriculture and urban-industrial development. This has taken its toll on many Indian plant species. About 20 species of higher-order plants are believed to have become extinct, and already some 1,300 species are considered to be endangered.
Tropical evergreen and mixed evergreen-deciduous forests generally occupy areas with more than 80 inches (2,000 mm) of rainfall per year, mainly in upper Assam, the Western Ghats (especially in Kerala), parts of Orissa, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Common trees in these tall multistoried forests include species of Mesua, Toona ciliata, Hopea, and Eugenia, as well as gurjun (Dipterocarpus turbinatus), which grows to over 165 feet (50 metres) on the Andaman Islands and in Assam. The mixed evergreen-deciduous forests of Kerala and the Bengal Himalayas have a large variety of commercially valuable hardwood trees, of which Lagerstroemia lanceolata, East Indian, or Malabar, kino (Pterocarpus marsupium), and rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) are well known.
Tropical moist deciduous forests generally occur in areas with 60 to 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 mm) of rainfall, such as the northern part of the Eastern Ghats, east-central India, and western Karnataka. Dry deciduous forests, which grow in places receiving less than 60 inches (1,500 mm) of precipitation, characterize the subhumid and semiarid regions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan, central Andhra Pradesh, and western Tamil Nadu. Teak, sal (Shorea robusta), axle-wood (Anogeissus latifolia), tendu, ain, and Adina cardifolia are some of the major deciduous species.
Tropical thorn forests occupy areas in various parts of the country, though mainly in the northern Gangetic Plain and southern peninsular India. These forests generally grow in areas with less than 24 inches (600 mm) of rain but are also found in more humid areas, where deciduous forests have been degraded because of unregulated grazing, felling, and shifting agriculture. In those areas, such xerophytic (drought-tolerant) trees as species of acacia (babul and catechu) and Butea monosperma predominate.
The important commercial species include teak and sal. Teak, the foremost timber species, is largely confined to the peninsula. During the period of British rule, it was used extensively in shipbuilding, and certain forests were therefore reserved as teak plantations. Sal is confined to the lower Himalayas, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Assam, and Madhya Pradesh. Other species with commercial uses are sandalwood (Santalum album), the fragrant wood that is perhaps the most precious in the world, and rosewood, an evergreen used for carving and furniture.
Many other species are noteworthy, some because of special ecological niches they occupy. Deltaic areas, for example, are fringed with mangrove forests, in which the dominant species—called sundri or sundari (Heritiera fomes), which is not, properly speaking, a mangrove—is characterized by respiratory roots that emerge from the tidal water. Conspicuous features of the tropical landscape are the palms, which are represented in India by some 100 species. Coconut and betel nut (the fruit of which is chewed) are cultivated mainly in coastal Karnataka and Kerala. Among the common, majestic-looking trees found throughout much of India are the mango—a major source of fruit—and two revered Ficus species, the pipal (famous as the Bo tree of Buddha) and the banyan. Many types of bamboo (members of the grass family) grow over much of the country, with a concentration in the rainy areas.
Vegetation in the Himalayas can be generally divided into a number of elevation zones. Mixed evergreen-deciduous forests dominate the foothill areas up to a height of 5,000 feet (1,500 metres). Above that level subtropical pine forests make their appearance, followed by the Himalayan moist-temperate forests of oak, fir, deodar (Cedrus deodara), and spruce. The highest tree zone, consisting of alpine shrubs, is found up to an elevation of about 15,000 feet (4,500 metres). Rhododendrons are common at 12,000 feet (3,700 metres), above which occasional junipers and alpine meadows are encountered. Zones overlap considerably, and there are wide transitional bands.
- ANIMAL LIFE
India forms an important segment of what is known as the Oriental, or Sino-Indian, biogeographic region, which extends eastward from India to include mainland and much of insular Southeast Asia. Its fauna are numerous and quite diverse.
Mammals of the submontane region include Indian elephants (Elephas maximus)—associated from time immemorial with mythology and the splendour of regal pageantry—the great one-horned Indian rhinoceroses, a wide variety of ruminants, and various primates. There are also numerous predators represented by various genera.
Wild herds of elephants can be observed in several areas, particularly in such renowned national parks as Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, in Kerala, and Bandipur, in Karnataka. The Indian rhinoceros is protected at Kaziranga National Park and Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam.
Examples of ruminants include the wild Indian bison, or gaur (Bos gaurus), which inhabits peninsular forests; Indian buffalo; four-horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis), known locally as chousingha; blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), or Indian antelope; antelope known as the nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), or bluebuck; and Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), or ghorkhar. There are also several species of deer, such as the rare Kashmir stag (hangul), swamp deer (barasingha), spotted deer, musk deer, brow-antlered deer (Cervus eldi eldi; an endangered species known locally as the sangai or thamin), and mouse deer.
Among the primates are various monkeys, including rhesus monkeys and gray, or Hanuman, langurs (Presbytis entellus), both of which are found in forested areas and near human settlements. The only ape found in India, the hoolock gibbon, is confined to the rainforests of the eastern region. Lion-tailed macaques of the Western Ghats, with halos of hair around their faces, are becoming rare because of poaching.
The country’s carnivores include cats, dogs, foxes, jackals, and mongooses. Among the animals of prey, the Asiatic lion—now confined to the Gir Forest National Park, in the Kathiawar Peninsula of Gujarat—is the only extant subspecies of lion found outside of Africa. The majestic Indian, or Bengal, tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), the national animal of India, is known for its rich colour, illusive design, and formidable power. Of the five extant tiger subspecies worldwide, the Bengal tiger is the most numerous. Tigers are found in the forests of the Tarai region of northern India, Bihar, and Assam; the Ganges delta in West Bengal; the Eastern Ghats; Madhya Pradesh; and eastern Rajasthan. Once on the verge of extinction, Indian tigers have increased to several thousand, thanks largely to Project Tiger, which has established reserves in various parts of the country. Among other cats are leopards, clouded leopards, and various smaller species.
The Great Himalayas have notable fauna that includes wild sheep and goats, markhor (Capra falconeri), and ibex. Lesser pandas and snow leopards are also found in the upper reaches of the mountains.
Oxen, buffalo, horses, dromedary camels, sheep, goats, and pigs are common domesticated animals. The cattle breed Brahman, or zebu (Bos indicus), a species of ox, is an important draft animal.
India has more than 1,200 species of birds and perhaps 2,000 subspecies, although some migratory species are found in the country only during the winter. This amount of avian life represents roughly one-eighth of the world’s species. The major reason for such a high level of diversity is the presence of a wide variety of habitats, from the cold and dry alpine tundra of Ladakh and Sikkim to the steamy, tangled jungles of the Sunderbans and wet, moist forests of the Western Ghats and the northeast. The country’s many larger rivers provide deltas and backwaters for aquatic animal life, and many smaller rivers drain internally and end in vast saline lakes that are important breeding grounds for such birds as black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis), barheaded geese (Anser indicus), and great crested grebes, as well as various kinds of terns, gulls, plovers, and sandpipers. Herons, storks, ibises, and flamingos are well represented, and many of these birds frequent Keoladeo National Park, near Bharatpur, Rajasthan (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985). The Rann of Kachchh forms the nesting ground for one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of flamingos.
Birds of prey include hawks, vultures, and eagles. Vultures are ubiquitous consumers of carrion. Game birds are represented by pheasants, jungle fowl, partridges, and quails. Peacocks (peafowl) are also common, especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan, where they are kept as pets. Resplendently feathered, the peacock has been adopted as India’s national bird.
Other notable birds in India include the Indian crane, commonly known as the sarus (Grus antigone); a large gray bird with crimson legs, the sarus stands as tall as a human. Bustards inhabit India’s grasslands. The great Indian bustard (Choriotis nigriceps), now confined to central and western India, is an endangered species protected by legislation. Sand grouse, pigeons, doves, parakeets, and cuckoos are found throughout the country. The mainly nonmigratory kingfisher, living close to water bodies, is considered sacred in many areas. Hornbills, barbets, and woodpeckers also are common, as are larks, crows, babblers, and thrushes.
- REPTILES, FISH, AND INSECTS
Reptiles are well represented in India. Crocodiles inhabit the country’s rivers, swamps, and lakes. The estuarine crocodile (Crocodilus porosus)—once attaining a maximum length of 30 feet (9 metres), though specimens exceeding 20 feet (6 metres) are now rare—usually lives on the fish, birds, and crabs of muddy deltaic regions. The long-snouted gavial, or gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), a species similar to the crocodile, is endemic to northern India; it is found in a number of large rivers, including the Ganges and Brahmaputra and their tributaries. Of the nearly 400 species of snakes, one-fifth are poisonous. Kraits and cobras are particularly widespread poisonous species. King cobras often grow to at least 12 feet (3.6 metres) long. The Indian python frequents marshy areas and grasslands. Lizards also are widespread, and turtles are found throughout India, especially along the eastern coast.
Of some 2,000 species of fish in India, about one-fifth live in fresh water. Common edible freshwater fish include catfish and several members of the carp family, notably the mahseer, which grows up to 6.5 feet (2 metres) and 200 pounds (90 kg). Sharks are found in India’s coastal waters and sometimes travel inland through major estuaries. Commercially valuable marine species include shrimps, prawns, crabs, lobsters, pearl oysters, and conchs.
Among the commercially valuable insects are silkworms, bees, and the lac insect (Laccifer lacca). The latter secretes a sticky, resinous material called lac, from which shellac and a red dye are produced. Many other insects, such as various species of mosquitoes, are vectors for disease (e.g., malaria and yellow fever) or for human parasites (e.g., certain flatworms and nematodes).
The movement for the protection of forests and wildlife is strong in India. A number of species, including the elephant, rhinoceros, and tiger, have been declared endangered, and numerous others—both large and small—are considered vulnerable or at risk. Legislative measures have declared certain animals protected species, and areas with particularly rich floral diversity have been adopted as biosphere reserves. Virtually no forests are left in private hands. Projects likely to cause ecological damage must be cleared by the national government’s Ministry of the Environment and Forests. Despite such measures, the reduced areas of forests, savannas, and grasslands provide little hope that India’s population of animals can be restored to what it was at the end of the 19th century.
Demography of India
- Ethnic groups
India is a diverse, multiethnic country that is home to thousands of small ethnic and tribal groups. This complexity developed from a lengthy and involved process of migration and intermarriage. The great urban culture of the Indus civilization, a society of the Indus River valley that is thought to have been Dravidian-speaking, thrived from roughly 2500 to 1700 bce. An early Aryan civilization—dominated by peoples with linguistic affinities to peoples in Iran and Europe—came to occupy northwestern and then north-central India over the period from roughly 2000 to 1500 bce and subsequently spread southwestward and eastward at the expense of other indigenous groups. Despite the emergence of caste restrictions, this process was attended by intermarriage between groups that probably has continued to the present day, despite considerable opposition from peoples whose own distinctive civilizations had also evolved in early historical times. Among the documented invasions that added significantly to the Indian ethnic mix are those of Persians, Scythians, Arabs, Mongols, Turks, and Afghans. The last and politically most successful of the great invasions—namely, that from Europe—vastly altered Indian culture but had relatively little impact on India’s ethnic composition.
Broadly speaking, the peoples of north-central and northwestern India tend to have ethnic affinities with European and Indo-European peoples from southern Europe, the Caucasus region, and Southwest and Central Asia. In northeastern India, West Bengal (to a lesser degree), the higher reaches of the western Himalayan region, and Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir state), much of the population more closely resembles peoples to the north and east—notably Tibetans and Burmans. Many aboriginal (“tribal”) peoples in the Chota Nagpur Plateau (northeastern peninsular India) have affinities to such groups as the Mon, who have long been established in mainland Southeast Asia. Much less numerous are southern groups who appear to be descended, at least in part, either from peoples of East African origin (some of whom settled in historical times on India’s western coast) or from a population commonly designated as Negrito, now represented by numerous small and widely dispersed peoples from the Andaman Islands, the Philippines, New Guinea, and other areas.
There are probably hundreds of major and minor languages and many hundreds of recognized dialects in India, whose languages belong to four different language families: Indo-Iranian (a subfamily of the Indo-European language family), Dravidian, Austroasiatic, and Tibeto-Burman (a subfamily of Sino-Tibetan). There are also several isolate languages, such as Nahali, which is spoken in a small area of Madhya Pradesh state. The overwhelming majority of Indians speak Indo-Iranian or Dravidian languages.--->>>>>Read On.<<<<
Because religion forms a crucial aspect of identity for most Indians, much of India’s history can be understood through the interplay among its diverse religious groups. One of the many religions born in India is Hinduism, a collection of diverse doctrines, sects, and ways of life followed by the great majority of the population. For an in-depth discussion of the major indigenous religions of India, see the articles Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Philosophical ideas associated with these religions are treated in Indian philosophy. For further discussion of other major religions, see Islam and Christianity.
In 1947, with the partition of the subcontinent and loss of Pakistan’s largely Muslim population, India became even more predominantly Hindu. The concomitant emigration of perhaps 10 million Muslims to Pakistan and the immigration of nearly as many Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan further emphasized this change. Hindus now make up about three-fourths of India’s population. Muslims, however, are still the largest single minority faith (more than one-ninth of the total population), with large concentrations in many areas of the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala, and many cities. India’s Muslim population is greater than that found in any country of the Middle East and is only exceeded by that of Indonesia and, slightly, by that of Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Other important religious minorities in India include Christians, most heavily concentrated in the northeast, Mumbai (Bombay), and the far south; Sikhs, mostly in Punjab and some adjacent areas; Buddhists, especially in Maharashtra, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir; and Jains, most prominent in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. Those practicing the Bahāʾī faith, formerly too few to be treated by the census, have dramatically increased in number as a result of active proselytization. Zoroastrians (the Parsis), largely concentrated in Mumbai and in coastal Gujarat, wield influence out of all proportion to their small numbers because of their prominence during the colonial period. Several tiny but sociologically interesting communities of Jews are located along the western coast. India’s tribal peoples live mostly in the northeast; they practice various forms of animism, which is perhaps the country’s oldest religious tradition.
Hindus are in the majority in every Indian state except Jammu and Kashmir (where Muslims form roughly two-thirds of the population); Punjab (roughly three-fifths Sikh); Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland (mainly Christian); and Arunachal Pradesh (predominantly animist). Hindus also form the majority in every union territory except Lakshadweep (more than nine-tenths Muslim). Almost everywhere, however, significant local minorities are present. Only in the states of Orissa and Himachal Pradesh do Hindus constitute virtually the entire population.
Reliable statistics on the sectarian affiliations among India’s leading faiths are not available. Within Hinduism, such affiliations tend to be rather loose, nonexclusive, and nebulous. Vaishnavas, who worship in temples dedicated to the god Vishnu or one of his avatars (e.g., Rama and Krishna) or who follow one of the many associated cults, tend to be more concentrated in northern and central India, while Shaivas, or devotees of Shiva, are concentrated in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, western Maharashtra, and much of the Himalayan region. Cults associated with Shaktism, the worship of various forms of Shakti (the mother goddess, consort of Shiva), are particularly widespread in West Bengal (along with Vaishnavism), Assam, and Himalayan Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Hinduism also encompasses scores of smaller sects advocating religious revival and reform, promoting the uplift of disadvantaged groups, or focusing on the teachings of charismatic religious leaders. Some of the latter have attracted an international following.
In Islam, Sunni Muslims are the majority sect almost everywhere. There are, however, influential Shīʿite minorities in Gujarat, especially among such Muslim trading communities as the Khojas and Bohras, and in large cities, such as Lucknow and Hyderabad, that were former capitals of preindependence Muslim states in which much of the gentry was of Persian origin.
Roman Catholics form the largest single Christian group, especially on the western coast and in southern India. The many divisions among Protestants have been substantially reduced since independence as a result of mergers creating the Church of North India and the Church of South India. Many small fundamentalist sects, however, have maintained their independence. Converts to Christianity, especially since the mid-19th century, have come largely from the lower castes and tribal groups.
Buddhists living near the Chinese (Tibetan) border generally follow Tibetan Buddhism, sometimes designated as Vajrayana (Sanskrit: “Vehicle of the Thunderbolt”), while those living near the border with Myanmar adhere to the Theravada (Pali: “Way of the Elders”). Neo-Buddhists in Maharashtra do not have a clear sectarian affiliation.
In South Asia the caste system has been a dominating aspect of social organization for thousands of years. A caste, generally designated by the term jati (“birth”), refers to a strictly regulated social community into which one is born. Some jatis have occupational names, but the connection between caste and occupational specialization is limited. In general, a person is expected to marry someone within the same jati, follow a particular set of rules for proper behaviour (in such matters as kinship, occupation, and diet), and interact with other jatis according to the group’s position in the social hierarchy. Based on names alone, it is possible to identify more than 2,000 jati. However, it is common for there to be several distinct groups bearing the same name that are not part of the same marriage network or local caste system.
In India virtually all nontribal Hindus and many adherents of other faiths (even Muslims, for whom caste is theoretically anathema) recognize their membership in one of these hereditary social communities. Among Hindus, jatis are usually assigned to one of four large caste clusters, called varnas, each of which has a traditional social function: Brahmans (priests), at the top of the social hierarchy, and, in descending prestige, Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (originally peasants but later merchants), and Sudras (artisans and labourers). The particular varna in which a jati is ranked depends in part on its relative level of “impurity,” determined by the group’s traditional contact with any of a number of “pollutants,” including blood, menstrual flow, saliva, dung, leather, dirt, and hair. Intercaste restrictions were established to prevent the relative purity of a particular jati from being corrupted by the pollution of a lower caste.
A fifth group, the Panchamas (from Sanskrit panch, “five”), theoretically were excluded from the system because their occupations and ways of life typically brought them in contact with such impurities. They were formerly called the untouchables (because their touch, believed by the upper castes to transmit pollution, was avoided), but the nationalist leader Mohandas K. Gandhi referred to them as Harijan (“Children of God”), a name that gained popular usage. More recently, members of this class have adopted the term Dalit (“Oppressed”) to describe themselves. Officially, such groups are referred to as Scheduled Castes. Those in Scheduled Castes, collectively accounting for nearly one-sixth of India’s total population, are generally landless and perform most of the agricultural labour, as well as a number of ritually polluting caste occupations (e.g., leatherwork, among the Chamars, the largest Scheduled Caste).
While inherently nonegalitarian, jatis provide Indians with social support and, at least in theory, a sense of having a secure and well-defined social and economic role. In most parts of India, there is one or perhaps there are several dominant castes that own the majority of land, are politically most powerful, and set a cultural tone for a particular region. A dominant jati typically forms anywhere from one-eighth to one-third of the total rural population but may in some areas account for a clear majority (e.g., Sikh Jats in central Punjab, Marathas in parts of Maharashtra, or Rajputs in northwestern Uttar Pradesh). The second most numerous jati is usually from one of the Scheduled Castes. Depending on its size, a village typically will have between 5 and 25 jatis, each of which might be represented by anywhere from 1 to more than 100 households.
Although it is not as visible as it is among Hindus, caste is found among Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Jews. In the 1990s the Dalit movement began adopting a more aggressive approach to ending caste discrimination, and many converted to other religions, especially Buddhism, as a means of rejecting the social premises of Hindu society. At the same time, the “Other Backward Classes” (other social and tribal groups traditionally excluded) also began to claim their rights under the constitution. There has been some relaxation of caste distinction among young urban dwellers and those living abroad, but caste identity has remained strong—especially since groups such as the Scheduled Castes have a guaranteed percentage of representation in national and state legislatures.
- POPULATION DENSITY
Only a tiny fraction of India’s surface area is uninhabited. More than half of it is cultivated, with little left fallow in any given year. Most of the area classified as forest—roughly one-fifth of the total—is used for grazing, for gathering firewood and other forest products, for commercial forestry, and, in tribal areas, for shifting cultivation (often in defiance of the law) and hunting. The areas too dry for growing crops without irrigation are largely used for grazing. The higher elevations of the Himalayas are the only places with substantial continuous areas not in use by humans. Although India’s population is overwhelmingly rural, the country has three of the largest urban areas in the world—Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi—and these and other large Indian cities have some of the world’s highest population densities.--->>>>>Read On.<<<<]]
- DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS
A population explosion in India commenced following the great influenza epidemic of 1918–19. In subsequent decades there was a steadily accelerating rate of growth up to the census of 1961, after which the rate leveled off (though it remained high). The total population in 1921 within the present borders of India (i.e., excluding what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh) was 251 million, and in 1947, at the time of independence, it was about 340 million. India’s population doubled between 1947 and the 1981 census, and by the 2001 census it had surpassed one billion; the increase between 1991 and 2001 alone—some 185 million—was greater than the total present-day population of all but the world’s most populous countries. Although there has been a considerable drop in the birth rate, a much more rapid decline in the death rate has accounted for the rise in the country’s rate of population growth. Moreover, the increasing proportion of females attaining and living through their childbearing years continues to inhibit a marked reduction in the birth rate.
The effect of emigration from or immigration to India on the overall growth of population has been negligible throughout modern history. Within India, however, migration from relatively impoverished regions to areas, especially cities, offering some promise of economic betterment has been largely responsible for the differential growth rates from one state or region to another. In general, the larger a city, the greater its proportion of migrants to the total population and the more cosmopolitan its population mix. In Mumbai, for example, more than half of the population speaks languages other than Marathi, the principal language of the state of Maharashtra. The rates of migration to Indian cities severely tax their capacity to cope with the newcomers’ needs for housing, safe drinking water, and sanitary facilities, not to mention amenities. The result is that many migrants live in conditions of appalling squalor in bastis or, even worse, with no permanent shelter at all.
Refugees constitute another class of migrants. Some date from the 1947 partition of India and many others, especially in Assam and West Bengal, from the violent separation in 1971 of Bangladesh from Pakistan. Still others are internal refugees from the communal violence and other forms of ethnic strife that periodically beset many parts of India.
Economy of India
India has one of the largest, most highly diversified economies in the world, but, because of its enormous population, it is—in terms of income and gross national product (GNP) per capita—one of the poorest countries on Earth. Since independence, India has promoted a mixed economic system in which the government, constitutionally defined as “socialist,” plays a major role as central planner, regulator, investor, manager, and producer. Starting in 1951, the government based its economic planning on a series of five-year plans influenced by the Soviet model. Initially, the attempt was to boost the domestic savings rate, which more than doubled in the half century following the First Five-Year Plan (1951–55). With the Second Five-Year Plan (1956–61), the focus began to shift to import-substituting industrialization, with an emphasis on capital goods. A broad and diversified industrial base developed. However, with the collapse of the Soviet system in the early 1990s, India adopted a series of free-market reforms that fueled the growth of its middle class, and its highly educated and well-trained workforce made India one of the global centres of the high-technology boom that began in the late 20th century and produced significant annual growth rates. The agricultural sector remains the country’s main employer (about half of the workforce), though, with about one-fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP), it is no longer the largest contributor to GDP. Manufacturing remains another solid component of GDP. However, the major growth has been in trade, finance, and other services, which, collectively, are by far the largest component of GDP.
Many of the government’s decisions are highly political, especially its attempts to invest equitably among the various states of the union. Despite the government’s pervasive economic role, large corporate undertakings dominate many spheres of modern economic activity, while tens of millions of generally small agricultural holdings and petty commercial, service, and craft enterprises account for the great bulk of employment. The range of technology runs the gamut from the most traditional to the most sophisticated.
There are few things that India cannot produce, though much of what it does manufacture would not be economically competitive without the protection offered by tariffs on imported goods, which have remained high despite liberalization. In absolute terms and in relation to GDP, foreign trade traditionally has been low. Despite continued government regulation (which has remained strong in many sectors), trade expanded greatly beginning in the 1990s.
Probably no more than one-fifth of India’s vast labour force is employed in the so-called “organized” sector of the economy (e.g., mining, plantation agriculture, factory industry, utilities, and modern transportation, commercial, and service enterprises), but that small fraction generates a disproportionate share of GDP, supports most of the middle- and upper-class population, and generates most of the economic growth. It is the organized sector to which most government regulatory activity applies and in which trade unions, chambers of commerce, professional associations, and other institutions of modern capitalist economies play a significant role. Apart from rank-and-file labourers, the organized sector engages most of India’s professionals and virtually all of its vast pool of scientists and technicians.
Roughly half of all Indians still derive their livelihood directly from agriculture. That proportion only relatively recently has been declining from levels that were fairly consistent throughout the 20th century. The area cultivated, however, has risen steadily and has come to encompass considerably more than half of the country’s total area, a proportion matched by few other countries in the world. In the more fertile regions, such as the Indo-Gangetic Plain or the deltas of the eastern coast, the proportion of cultivated to total land often exceeds nine-tenths.--->>>>>Read On.<<<
Although India possesses a wide range of minerals and other natural resources, its per capita endowment of such critical resources as cultivable land, water, timber, and known petroleum reserves is relatively low. Nevertheless, the diversity of resources, especially of minerals, exceeds that of all but a few countries and gives India a distinct advantage in its industrial development.-->>>>>Read On.<<<
India’s manufacturing industry is highly diversified. A substantial majority of all industrial workers are employed in the millions of small-scale handicraft enterprises. These mainly household industries—such as spinning, weaving, pottery making, metalworking, and woodworking—largely serve the local needs of the villages where they are situated.
In terms of total output and value added, however, mechanized factory production predominates. Many factories, especially those manufacturing producers’ goods (e.g., basic metals, machinery, fertilizers, and other heavy chemicals), are publicly owned and operated by either the central or the state governments. There also are thousands of private producers, including a number of large and diversified industrial conglomerates. The steel industry, for example, is one in which a privately owned corporation, the Tata Iron and Steel Company (Tata Steel), at Jamshedpur (production began in 1911), is among the largest and most successful producers. In the Middle East, East Africa, and Southeast Asia, some Indian corporations have established “turnkey operations,” which are turned over to local management after a stipulated period. Foreign corporations, however, have been slow to invest in Indian industry because of excessive regulation (subsequently relaxed) and rules limiting foreign ownership of controlling shares.
The long-established textile industries—especially cotton but also jute, wool, silk, and synthetic fibres—account for the greatest share of manufacturing employment. Few large cities are without at least one cotton mill. Jute milling, unlike cotton, is highly concentrated in “Hugliside,” the string of cities along the Hugli (Hooghly) River just north of Kolkata. Even more widespread than textile mills are initial processing plants for agricultural and mining products. In general, these are fairly small, seasonal enterprises located close to places of primary production. They include plants for cotton ginning, oil pressing, peanut shelling, sugar refining, drying and cold storage of foodstuffs, and crushing and initial smelting of ores. Consumer goods industries, though widely dispersed, are largely concentrated in large cities. To spread the benefits of development regionally and to alleviate metropolitan congestion, state governments have sponsored numerous industrial parks (or estates), for which entrepreneurs are offered various concessions, including cheap land and reduced taxes. Such programs have been fairly successful.
Among the heavy industries, metallurgical plants, such as iron and steel mills, typically are located close either to raw materials or to coal, depending on the relative mix of materials needed and transportation costs. India is fortunate in having several sites, especially in the Chota Nagpur Plateau, where abundant coal supplies are in close proximity to high-grade iron ore. Within easy reach of the Kolkata market, the Chota Nagpur Plateau has become India’s principal area for heavy industry, including many interconnected chemical and engineering enterprises. Production of heavy transportation equipment, such as locomotives and trucks, is also concentrated there.
India’s government-regulated and largely government-owned banking system is well developed. Its principal institution is the Reserve Bank of India (founded 1935), which regulates the circulation of banknotes, manages the country’s reserves of foreign exchange, and operates the currency and credit system. With the nationalization of the country’s 14 largest commercial banks in 1969 and further nationalizations in 1980, most commercial banking passed into the public sector. In 1975 the government instituted a system of regional rural banks, the principal purpose of which was to meet the credit needs of small farmers and tenants. This has gone a long way toward lessening the strength of rapacious village moneylenders, whose rates of interest were typically so exorbitant that their borrowers were left interminably in their debt. Other banks have been established by the central government to provide credits promoting various types of industry and foreign trade. Many foreign banks maintain branch offices in India, and Indian banks maintain offices in numerous foreign countries.
Stock exchanges do not play the prominent role in India that they do in more affluent capitalist societies. Nevertheless, they do exist in most of the largest Indian cities and facilitate the flow of capital in the form of securities under rules set down by the Ministry of Finance.
The volume of India’s foreign trade, given the diversity of its economic base, is low. There is, moreover, a chronic and large foreign trade deficit, which is aggravated by substantial imports of smuggled goods, mostly luxuries.
Among the wide range of exports, no single type of commodity occupies a dominant position. In terms of value, gems and jewelry (particularly for the Middle Eastern market) long held the leading position, followed by ready-made garments (reflecting India’s large pool of cheap labour) and leather and leather products (owing to both cheap labour and the country’s large number of cattle). However, since the turn of the 21st century, engineering products have become the leading export, and chemicals and chemical products and food and agricultural products have slipped in behind gems and jewelry. Imports are highly diverse and include petroleum and petroleum products, precious metals, and chemicals and chemical products.
India’s trade links are worldwide. The United States and the former Soviet Union were long the principal destinations for India’s exports (often, in the latter case, under barter arrangements). The United States remains a major destination of Indian goods, while the countries of the European Union (EU), China (including Hong Kong), and the United Arab Emirates have also been important. The main import sources are China, the EU, and the United States.
Like most countries with a socialist tradition, India has an extensive bureaucracy, but it is also one that has contributed significantly to social and economic growth. The country’s economic growth, for instance, has been greatly facilitated by its considerable engineering expertise. Most large-scale building activities—such as the construction of railroads, national and state highways, harbours, hydroelectric and irrigation projects, and government-owned factories and hotels—have been built by government-managed construction agencies, the largest of which is the Central Department of Public Works.
Beginning in the 1990s, the private sector contributed greatly to the growth of services with the establishment of a robust computer software and services industry, located largely in the urban areas of Bengaluru (Bangalore) and Hyderabad. With a large number of English speakers, India also emerged as a low-cost alternative for U.S. telecommunications companies and other enterprises to establish telephone call centres. India has remained a prime destination for tourists from both Europe and the Americas, and tourism has been a major source of foreign exchange.
Labour and taxation
Much of the organized sector is unionized, and strikes are frequent and often protracted. Many of the unions are affiliated with one of a number of government-recognized and regulated all-India “central” trade union organizations, several of which have membership in the millions. The more important of these are affiliated with national political parties.
Taxes are levied in India at the federal, state, and local levels. At the national level, the Union government collects income tax, customs duties, and tariffs and assesses value-added taxes such as sales tax. The states raise much of their revenue through the collection of stamp taxes (for the issuance of various licenses) and through the collection of agricultural tax. Local governments collect income in the form of property taxes and fees for services.
Transportation and telecommunications
At independence, India had a transportation system superior to that of any other large postcolonial region. In the decades that followed, it built steadily on that base, and railroads in particular formed the sinews that initially bound the new nation together. Although railroads have continued to carry the bulk of goods traffic, there has been a steady increase in the relative dependence on roads and motorized transport, and all modes of transport—from human porters and animal traction (India still has millions of bullock carts) to the most modern aircraft—find niches in which they are the preferred and sometimes the sole means for moving people and goods.
- RAILWAYS AND ROADS
With some 39,000 miles (62,800 km) of track length, India’s rail system, entirely government-owned, is one of the most extensive in the world, while in terms of the distance traveled each year by passengers it is the world’s most heavily used system. India’s mountain railways were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Railway administration is handled through nine regional subsystems. Routes are mainly broad-gauge (5.5 feet [1.68 metres]) single-track lines, and the remaining metre and narrow-gauge routes are being converted to the broad-gauge standard. There has also been conversion to double-track lines, as well as a shift from steam locomotives to diesel-electric or electric power. Electrified lines have become especially important for urban commuter traffic, and in 1989 South Asia’s first subway line began operation in Kolkata. Delhi followed with a new system in the early 21st century.
Although relatively few new rail routes have been built since independence, the length and capacity of the road system and the volume of road traffic by truck, bus, and automobile have all undergone phenomenal expansion. The length of hard-surfaced roads, for example, has increased from only 66,000 to some 950,000 miles (106,000 to 1,530,000 km) since 1947, but this still represented less than half of the national total of all roads. During the same period, the increased volume of road traffic for both passengers and goods was even more dramatic, increasing exponentially. A relatively small number of villages (almost entirely in tribal regions) are still situated more than a few hours’ walk from the nearest bus transport. Bus service is largely owned and controlled by state governments, which also build and maintain most hard-surfaced routes. The grid of national highways connects virtually all Indian cities.
- WATER AND AIR TRANSPORT
A small number of major ports, led by Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai, are centrally managed by the Indian government, while a much larger number of intermediate and minor ports are state-managed. The former handle the great bulk of the country’s maritime traffic. Of the country’s shipping companies engaged in either overseas or coastal trade, the largest is the publicly owned Shipping Corporation of India. Only about one-third of India’s more than 3,100 miles (5,000 km) of navigable inland waterways, including both rivers and a few short stretches of canals, are commercially used, and those no longer carry a significant volume of traffic.
Civil aviation, once entirely in private hands, was nationalized in 1953 into two government-owned companies: Air India, for major international routes from airports at New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai; and Indian Airlines, for routes within India and neighbouring countries. The government has tightly restricted access to Indian air routes for foreign carriers, and several small domestic airlines have attempted to service short-haul, low-capacity routes. The networks and volume of traffic are expanding rapidly, and all large and most medium-size cities now have regular air service.
The telecommunications sector has traditionally been dominated by the state; even after the liberalization of the 1990s, the government—through several state-owned or operated companies and the Department of Telecommunications—has continued to control the industry. Although telephone service is quite dense in some urban areas, throughout the country as a whole there are relatively few main lines per capita. Many rural towns and villages have no telephone service. Cellular telephone service is available in major urban centres through a number of private vendors. The state dominates television and radio broadcasting through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The number of personal computers—though large in raw numbers—is relatively small given the country’s population. Although many individuals have Internet service subscriptions, cybercafes located in most major urban areas provide access for a great proportion of users.
Government and Society of India
- Constitutional framework
The architects of India’s constitution, though drawing on many external sources, were most heavily influenced by the British model of parliamentary democracy. In addition, a number of principles were adopted from the Constitution of the United States of America, including the separation of powers among the major branches of government, the establishment of a supreme court, and the adoption, albeit in modified form, of a federal structure (a constitutional division of power between the union [central] and state governments). The mechanical details for running the central government, however, were largely carried over from the Government of India Act of 1935, passed by the British Parliament, which served as India’s constitution in the waning days of British colonial rule.
The new constitution promulgated on January 26, 1950, proclaimed India “a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.” With 395 articles, 10 (later 12) schedules (each clarifying and expanding upon a number of articles), and more than 90 amendments, it is one of the longest and most detailed constitutions in the world. The constitution includes a detailed list of “fundamental rights,” a lengthy list of “directive principles of state policy” (goals that the state is obligated to promote, though with no specified timetable for their accomplishment [an idea taken from the Irish constitution]), and a much shorter list of “fundamental duties” of the citizen.
The remainder of the constitution outlines in great detail the structure, powers, and manner of operation of the union (central) and state governments. It also includes provisions for protecting the rights and promoting the interests of certain classes of citizens (e.g., disadvantaged social groups, officially designated as “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes”) and the process for constitutional amendment. The extraordinary specificity of India’s constitution is such that amendments, which average nearly two per year, have frequently been required to deal with issues that in other countries would be handled by routine legislation. With a few exceptions, the passage of an amendment requires only a simple majority of both houses of parliament, but this majority must form two-thirds of those present and voting.
The three lists contained in the constitution’s seventh schedule detail the areas in which the union and state governments may legislate. The union list outlines the areas in which the union government has exclusive authority, which include foreign policy, defense, communications, currency, taxation on corporations and nonagricultural income, and railroads. State governments have the sole power to legislate on such subjects as law and order, public health and sanitation, local government, betting and gambling, and taxation on agricultural income, entertainment, and alcoholic beverages. The items on the concurrent list include those on which both the union government and state governments may legislate, though a union law generally takes precedence; among these areas are criminal law, marriage and divorce, contracts, economic and social planning, population control and family planning, trade unions, social security, and education. Matters requiring legislation that are not specifically covered in the listed powers lie within the exclusive domain of the central government.
An exceedingly important power of the union government is that of creating new states, combining states, changing state boundaries, and terminating a state’s existence. The union government may also create and dissolve any of the union territories, whose powers are more limited than those of the states. Although the states exercise either sole or joint control over a substantial range of issues, the constitution establishes a more dominant role for the union government.
The three branches of the union government are charged with different responsibilities, but the constitution also provides a fair degree of interdependence. The executive branch consists of the president, vice president, and a Council of Ministers, led by the prime minister. Within the legislative branch are the two houses of parliament—the lower house, or Lok Sabha (House of the People), and the upper house, or Rajya Sabha (Council of States). The president of India is also considered part of parliament. At the apex of the judicial branch is the Supreme Court, whose decisions are binding on the higher and lower courts of the state governments.
India’s head of state is the president who is elected to a five-year renewable term by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of both houses of parliament and the elected members of the legislative assemblies of all the states. The vice president, chosen by an electoral college made up of only the two houses of parliament, presides over the Rajya Sabha. If the president dies or otherwise leaves office, the vice president assumes the position until an election can be held.
The powers of the president are largely nominal and ceremonial, except in times of emergency, and the president normally acts on the advice of the prime minister. The proper limits of the president’s power are sometimes a matter for debate. The president may, however, proclaim a national state of emergency when there is perceived to be a grave threat to the country’s security or impose direct presidential rule at the state level when it is thought that a particular state legislative assembly has become incapable of functioning effectively. The president may also dissolve the Lok Sabha and call for new parliamentary elections after a prime minister loses a vote of confidence.
Effective executive power rests with the Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, who is chosen by the majority party or coalition in the Lok Sabha and is formally appointed by the president. The Council of Ministers, also formally appointed by the president, is selected by the prime minister. The most important group within the council is the cabinet. Cabinet portfolios are assigned partly on the basis of interest and competence but also on the basis of demonstrated loyalty to the ruling party or party leader and on the implicit need to represent the country’s major regions and population groups (e.g., based on religion, language, caste, and gender). The prime minister and the Council of Ministers remain in power throughout the term of the Lok Sabha, unless they lose a vote of confidence.
Of the two houses of parliament, the more powerful is the Lok Sabha, in which the prime minister leads the ruling party or coalition. The constitution limits the number of elected members of the Lok Sabha to 530 from the states and 20 from the union territories, allotted roughly in proportion to their population. The president may also nominate two members of the Anglo-Indian community if it appears that this community is not being adequately represented. Members of the Lok Sabha serve for terms of five years, unless the house is dissolved before that.
Membership in the Rajya Sabha is not to exceed 250. Of these members, 12 are nominated by the president to represent literature, science, art, and social service, and the balance are proportionally elected by the state legislative assemblies. The Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution, but one-third of its members retire at the end of every second year. Legislative bills may originate in either house—except for financial bills, which may originate only in the Lok Sabha—and require passage by simple majorities in both houses in order to become law.
The day-to-day functioning of the government is performed by permanent ministries and other public service agencies. These are led by members of the Indian Administrative Service and other specialized services, who are chosen by competitive examination. Rules of recruitment and retirement and conditions of service are determined by the Union Public Service Commission (or, for state governments, by state public service commissions). There has been a steady proliferation of agencies and growth in the size of the bureaucracy since independence, with a concomitant increase in regulations, which often impede—rather than facilitate—administration.
- Foreign policy
India’s foreign policy has been officially one of nonalignment with any of the world’s major power blocs. The country was a founding member of the Nonaligned Movement during the Cold War. India has also been a major player among the group of more than 100 low-income countries, loosely described as the “Global South,” that have sought to deal collectively in economic matters with the industrialized states of the “Global North.”
India has maintained its membership in the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth of Nations), and in 1950 it became the first Commonwealth country to change from a dominion to a republic. It was a charter member, even though not yet independent, of the United Nations (as it was of the earlier League of Nations) and has played an active role in virtually all the organs within the United Nations system. In 1985 India joined six neighbouring countries in launching the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
- State and local governments
The government structure of the states, defined by the constitution, closely resembles that of the union. The executive branch is composed of a governor—like the president, a mostly nominal and ceremonial post—and a council of ministers, led by the chief minister.
All states have a Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly), popularly elected for terms of up to five years, while a small (and declining) number of states also have an upper house, the Vidhan Parishad (Legislative Council), roughly comparable to the Rajya Sabha, with memberships that may not be more than one-third the size of the assemblies. In these councils, one-sixth of the members are nominated by the governor, and the remainder are elected by various categories of specially qualified voters. State governors are also regarded as members of the legislative assemblies, which they may suspend or dissolve when no party is able to muster a working majority.
Each Indian state is organized into a number of districts, which are divided for certain administrative purposes into units variously known as tahsils, taluqs, or subdivisions. These are further divided into community development blocks, each typically consisting of about 100 villages. Superimposed on these units is a three-tiered system of local government. At the lowest level, each village elects its own governing council (gram pancayat). The chairman of a gram pancayat is also the village representative on the council of the community development block (pancayat samiti). Each pancayat samiti, in turn, selects a representative to the district-level council (zila parishad). Separate from this system are the municipalities, which generally are governed by their own elected councils.
From the state down to the village, government appointees administer the various government departments and agencies. Financial grants from higher levels, often made on a matching basis, provide developmental incentives and facilitate the execution of desired projects. Approving, withholding, or manipulating grants, however, often serves as a lever for the accumulation of personal power and as a vehicle of corruption.
The tradition of an independent judiciary has taken strong root in India. The Supreme Court, whose presidentially appointed judges may serve until the age of 65, determines the constitutional validity of union government legislation, adjudicates disputes between the union and the states (as well as disputes between two or more states), and handles appeals from lower-level courts. Each state has a high court and a number of lower courts. The high courts may rule on the constitutionality of state laws, issue a variety of writs, and serve as courts of appeal from the lower courts, over which they exercise general oversight.
- Political process
Oversight of the electoral process is vested in the Election Commission. There is universal adult suffrage, and the age of eligibility is 18. Seats are allocated from constituencies of roughly equal population. A certain number of constituencies in each state are reserved for members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes based on their proportion of the total state population. Those reserved constituencies shift from one election to the next. As candidates do not have to be and frequently are not residents of the areas they seek to represent, none runs the risk of losing a seat solely by virtue of the allocation procedure.
The Indian party system is complex. Based on performance in past elections, some parties are recognized as national parties and others as state parties. Parties are allocated symbols (e.g., a cow or a hammer and sickle), and ballots are printed with these symbols to help illiterate voters. The only party that has enjoyed a nationwide following continuously from the time of independence (in fact, since its founding in 1885) is the Indian National Congress. There have been several party schisms, however, and the Indian National Congress–Indira, or simply the Congress (I)—created in 1978 by the former prime minister Indira Gandhi and her supporters—has been by far the most successful of its derivative entities. Parties to the left of the Congress have included not only the Communist Party of India, which generally followed the lead of the Soviet Union, and the subsequently formed Communist Party of India (Marxist), more inclined toward policies espoused by China, but also an assortment of small, mainly short-lived Marxist and socialist groups. Parties to the right of the Congress have largely appealed either to Hindu sentiments (such as the Bharatiya Janata [“Indian People’s”] Party; BJP) or those of other communally defined groups, and some have sought to further the interests of landed constituencies (the preindependence princely families or the more recently affluent peasant factions).
Over time there has been a steady increase in the number and power of parties promoting the parochial interests of individual states. As a result, political bargains and alliances between parties with widely divergent platforms are made and dissolved frequently. Moreover, expedient defections from one party to another in pursuit of personal political ambitions have become a feature of the political system. Legislation aimed at discouraging this practice has had only limited success.
Most police functions in India are handled through the states. There are, however, a number of centrally controlled police forces, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (to deal with certain breaches of union laws), the Border Security Force, the volunteer auxiliary force of Home Guards (to help in times of emergency, such as riots or natural disasters), the Central Reserve Police Force, and the Central Industrial Security Force. There are also several paramilitary forces deployed to provide internal security and border defense.
The combined Indian armed forces—comprising the army, navy, coast guard, and air force—are among the largest in the world. The army is the largest of these, with more than four-fifths of military personnel. Each of the services consists solely of volunteers and is led by a well-trained, professional corps of officers that historically has eschewed interfering with domestic politics.
Much of the military’s equipment was obtained from the former Soviet Union. The army has several thousand main battle tanks (though many are relatively antiquated), a comparable number of artillery pieces (both towed and self-propelled), and large numbers of armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles. The air force is equipped with numerous high-performance aircraft, including fighters and fighter/ground-attack jets, helicopters, and various fixed-wing support aircraft. The navy has a large submarine fleet and boasts a single aircraft carrier, but its remaining surface vessels consist mainly of smaller craft such as destroyers, frigates, and patrol craft. The country’s nuclear arsenal—thought to consist of several dozen relatively small devices—is controlled by Strategic Forces Command; the military also deploys short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
- Health and welfare
India’s medical and public health services have improved dramatically since independence. As a result, average life expectancy at birth has risen by more than 25 years since World War II, although it still lags behind expectancies in the world’s more affluent societies.
While death from starvation has become rare, malnutrition has remained widespread. Much of the population lacks access to safe drinking water, seasonally if not year-round. Dysentery and other diseases caused by waterborne organisms are major killers, especially of children. Poorly treated and improperly disposed sewage pose serious health problems. Most diseases endemic to tropical regions are significant causes of morbidity in India. The rate of tuberculosis is high, and the incidence of blindness, mainly caused by trachoma, is even higher. Great strides, however, have been made in combating certain diseases. Smallpox, once a leading cause of death, was declared eradicated in 1977. The vigorous National Malaria Eradication Programme, launched in 1958, almost succeeded in ridding India of this once very common disease, but the development of resistance to DDT among mosquitoes caused a resurgence of the problem. This led to renewed public health efforts and, subsequently, to a slow but steady decline in the number of affected individuals. AIDS and HIV infection have increased; although the overall proportion of the population affected is quite tiny, the number of people infected is one of the highest for any country in the world.
Apart from numerous programs directed against specific diseases, there has been a considerable expansion in the number of union- and state-maintained hospitals and rural primary health centres. The latter generally are staffed by minimally trained paramedical personnel and are poorly equipped. Many are visited each week by a trained government doctor. Supplementing these government services are private medical practitioners, a great many of whom follow a variety of traditional medical systems. Of these, the ancient Ayurvedic system is by far the most widespread. Several dozen colleges teach Ayurvedic medicine, often with government support. Throughout India, the government uses its network of hospitals and clinics for immunizing children against various diseases and for promoting family planning. Family planning efforts, including the encouragement of voluntary sterilization of both males and females, have met with mixed success.
Welfare services have proliferated in number and type since independence. Many programs target specific sections of the population, such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, nomadic populations, women, children, and the disabled. The resources for such services, however, are inadequate, and a large proportion of the budgets for specific programs goes toward maintaining the service staff and their generally meagre facilities. Pension plans for retirees exist only for government workers and a portion of the organized sector of the economy.
Existing housing stock does not meet India’s current needs and is continually challenged by the country’s growing population. Homelessness is common, particularly in major urban centres, and large numbers of city dwellers reside in unregistered and makeshift slums. Housing prices in the largest cities—Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai—are among the highest in the world, and even modest apartments are beyond the means of many residents. Despite government efforts to alleviate these problems, relatively few government housing projects have been undertaken.
Rural housing is somewhat less pressed, despite the fact that most of the country’s population continues to live in the countryside. Traditional building materials vary from region to region; adobe edifices are common in arid regions, for example, and high-roofed thatch buildings are standard in areas with greater annual precipitation. These are often augmented with walls and roofs made of such materials as sheet metal, cinder blocks, or stone. Throughout the country, the use of materials such as concrete, blocks, and stucco has become common in more affluent villages, towns, and cities.
Piped water is mainly limited to large towns and cities, but even there it seldom reaches all neighbourhoods and cannot be depended on in all seasons. Otherwise, reliance is on wells, rivers, reservoirs, and tanks (usually inundated borrow pits), with minimal, if any, treatment. Sewage facilities are even more limited. Professional scavengers, publicly and privately employed, fill the need for waste disposal in most urban areas and, along with pigs, in many villages as well. Piped gas is a rarity. Those who cook with gas generally rely on purchased gas cylinders. An increasing number of villages, however, have installed simple cow-dung gas plants, which enable them to generate methane and still utilize the fermented dung for fertilizer.
The provision of free and compulsory education for all children up to age 14 is among the directive principles of the Indian constitution. The overall rate of literacy has increased markedly since the late 20th century, but a noticeable disparity has remained between males and females (roughly three-fourths and about half, respectively). There is also a considerable disparity in literacy rates between the states. The state of Kerala has the highest rate, where nearly all are literate, in contrast to Bihar, where the proportion is about half.
Preuniversity education generally consists of five years of primary education (classes I through V), normally for pupils aged 6 to 11; middle level (classes VI through VIII); lower secondary (classes IX and X); and higher secondary (classes XI to XII). The great majority of all children of primary-school age are enrolled, though many, especially girls, may not attend regularly. Enrollment thereafter falls off precipitously, to about half of all children aged 11 to 14, despite the fact that education is free in most states for students of both sexes at least until class X.
Formerly a state responsibility, education was made a joint responsibility of the union and state governments by constitutional amendment. The union government has subsequently played a larger role in promoting the education of girls and other socially disadvantaged groups, largely through fiscal grants for the support of particular programs (e.g., reimbursement of tuition, where it is charged, for girls in classes IX–XII), and in launching a variety of progressive educational initiatives. In addition to publicly financed schools, there are at all levels private and church-run schools (largely by Christian missions), for which tuition is required. Entrance into these often prestigious, predominantly English-language institutions is eagerly sought for the children of those parents who can afford them.
Numerous key universities, institutes of technology, and other specialized institutions of higher education are under union government control, while a much larger number of universities are controlled by the state governments. A disproportionate share of India’s total educational budget goes toward higher education. The number of universities and equivalent institutions increased more than sevenfold in the first four decades after independence, while the number of students enrolled increased more than 15 times during the same period. Each of those numbers has continued to grow dramatically since then. At the same time, funding for libraries, laboratories, and other facilities has been a constant and serious problem. Critics of the unabated growth of higher education have asserted that the quality of university education has steadily declined and have noted the increasingly large proportion of graduates who are unable to find employment, especially among those with liberal arts degrees. Among the established universities are three founded by the British in 1857, at Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai.
In the past, virtually all higher instruction was in English, but, as new universities and their thousands of affiliated colleges have spread out to smaller cities and towns, state languages increasingly have been used, notwithstanding the paucity of textbooks in such languages. Reserved quotas in universities and lower admission standards for members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes—whose prior education often has been less than adequate—have put additional stress on the system. The fact that India’s best students often take their higher degrees abroad, many never to return, further exacerbates the problem of quality. Nevertheless, elite institutions continue to exist, and, in absolute terms, the output of well-educated individuals is substantial.
Culture Life of India
India is a large and diverse polyglot nation whose tempo of life varies from region to region and from community to community. By the early 21st century the lifestyle of middle-class and affluent urban families differed little from that of urbanites in Europe, East Asia, or the Americas. For the most part, however, the flow of rural life continued much as it always had. Many small villages remained isolated from most forms of media and communications, and work was largely done by hand or by the use of animal power. Traditional forms of work and recreation only slowly have given way to habits and pastimes imported from the outside world. The pace of globalization was slow in much of rural India, and even in urban areas Western tastes in food, dress, and entertainment were adopted with discrimination. Indian fashions have remained the norm; Indians have continued to prefer traditional cuisine to Western fare; and, though Indian youths are as obsessed as those in the West with pop culture, Indians produce their own films and music (albeit, strongly influenced by Western styles), which have been extremely popular domestically and have been successfully marketed abroad.
Throughout India, custom and religious ritual are still widely observed and practiced. Among Hindus, religious and social custom follows the samskara, a series of personal sacraments and rites conducted at various stages throughout life. Observant members of other confessional communities follow their own rites and rituals. Among all groups, caste protocols have continued to play a role in enforcing norms and values, despite decades of state legislation to alleviate caste bias.
Daily life and social customs
- FAMILY AND KINSHIP
Chariot Festival, Jagannatha temple, Puri, India [Credit: © Dinodia/Dinodia Photo Library]For almost all Indians the family is the most important social unit. There is a strong preference for extended families, consisting of two or more married couples (often of more than a single generation), who share finances and a common kitchen. Marriage is virtually universal, divorce rare, and virtually every marriage produces children. Almost all marriages are arranged by family elders on the basis of caste, degree of consanguinity, economic status, education (if any), and astrology. A bride traditionally moves to her husband’s house. However, nonarranged “love marriages” are increasingly common in cities.
Within families, there is a clear order of social precedence and influence based on gender, age, and, in the case of a woman, the number of her male children. The senior male of the household—whether father, grandfather, or uncle—typically is the recognized family head, and his wife is the person who regulates the tasks assigned to female family members. Males enjoy higher status than females; boys are often pampered while girls are relatively neglected. This is reflected in significantly different rates of mortality and morbidity between the sexes, allegedly (though reliable statistics are lacking) in occasional female infanticide, and increasingly in the abortion of female fetuses following prenatal gender testing. This pattern of preference is largely connected to the institution of dowry, since the family’s obligation to provide a suitable dowry to the bride’s new family represents a major financial liability. Traditionally, women were expected to treat their husbands as if they were gods, and obedience of wives to husbands has remained a strong social norm. This expectation of devotion may follow a husband to the grave; within some caste groups, widows are not allowed to remarry even if they are bereaved at a young age.
Hindu marriage has traditionally been viewed as the “gift of a maiden” (kanyadan) from the bride’s father to the household of the groom. This gift is also accompanied by a dowry, which generally consists of items suitable to start a young couple in married life. In some cases, however, dowries demanded by grooms and their families have become quite extravagant, and some families appear to regard them as means of enrichment. There are instances, a few of which have been highly publicized, wherein young brides have been treated abusively—even tortured and murdered—in an effort to extract more wealth from the bride’s father. The “dowry deaths” of such young women have contributed to a reaction against the dowry in some modern urban families.
A Muslim marriage is considered to be a contractual relationship—contracted by the bride’s father or guardian—and, though there are often dowries, there is formal reciprocity, in which the groom promises a mahr, a commitment to provide his bride with wealth in her lifetime.
Beyond the family the most important unit is the caste. Within a village all members of a single caste recognize a fictive kinship relation and a sense of mutual obligation, but ideas of fictive kinship extend also to the village as a whole. Thus, for example, a woman who marries and goes to another village never ceases to be regarded as a daughter of her village. If she is badly treated in her husband’s village, it may become a matter of collective concern for her natal village, not merely for those of her own caste.
- FESTIVALS AND HOLIDAYS
Kolkata: children celebrating Holi [Credit: Kaushik Sengupta/AP]Virtually all regions of India have their distinctive places of pilgrimage, local saints and folk heroes, religious festivals, and associated fairs. There are also innumerable festivals associated with individual villages or temples or with specific castes and cults. The most popular of the religious festivals celebrated over the greater part of India are Vasantpanchami (generally in February, the exact date determined by the Hindu lunar calendar), in honour of Sarasvati, the goddess of learning; Holi (February–March), a time when traditional hierarchical relationships are forgotten and celebrants throw coloured water and powder at one another; Dussehra (September–October), when the story of the Ramayana is reenacted; and Diwali (Divali; October–November), a time for lighting lamps and exchanging gifts. The major secular holidays are Independence Day (August 15) and Republic Day (January 26).
Although there is considerable regional variation in Indian cuisine, the day-to-day diet of most Indians lacks variety. Depending on income, two or three meals generally are consumed. The bulk of almost all meals is whatever the regional staple might be: rice throughout most of the east and south, flat wheat bread (chapati) in the north and northwest, and bread made from pearl millet (bajra) in Maharashtra. This is usually supplemented with the puree of a legume (called dal), a few vegetables, and, for those who can afford it, a small bowl of yogurt. Chilies and other spices add zest to this simple fare. For most Indians, meat is a rarity, except on festive occasions—the cow is considered sacred in Hinduism (see sanctity of the cow). Fish, fresh milk, and fruits and vegetables, however, are more widely consumed, subject to regional and seasonal availability. In general, tea is the preferred beverage in northern and eastern India, while coffee is more common in the south.
dhoti: men wearing dhotis, 19th-century painting [Credit: Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London]Clothing for most Indians is also quite simple and typically untailored. Men (especially in rural areas) frequently wear little more than a broadcloth dhoti, worn as a loose skirtlike loincloth, or, in parts of the south and east, the tighter wraparound lungi. In both cases the body remains bare above the waist, except in cooler weather, when a shawl also may be worn, or in hot weather, when the head may be protected by a turban. The more-affluent and higher-caste men are likely to wear a tailored shirt, increasingly of Western style. Muslims, Sikhs, and urban dwellers generally are more inclined to wear tailored clothing, including various types of trousers, jackets, and vests.
sari [Credit: Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London]Although throughout most of India women wear saris and short blouses, the way in which a sari is wrapped varies greatly from one region to another. In Punjab, as well as among older female students and many city dwellers, the characteristic dress is the shalwar-kamiz, a combination of pajama-like trousers and a long-tailed shirt (saris being reserved for special occasions). Billowing ankle-length skirts and blouses are the typical female dress of Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat. Most rural Indians, especially females, do not wear shoes and, when footwear is necessary, prefer sandals.
The modes of dress of tribal Indians are exceedingly varied and can be, as among certain Naga groups, quite ornate. Throughout India, however, Western dress is increasingly in vogue, especially among urban and educated males, and Western-style school uniforms are worn by both sexes in many schools, even in rural India.
Few areas of the world can claim an artistic heritage comparable to that developed in India over the course of more than four millennia. For a detailed discussion of Indian literature, music, dance, theatre, and visual arts, see South Asian arts.
Kailasa [Credit: Frederick M. Asher]Architecture is perhaps India’s greatest glory. Among the most-renowned monuments are many cave temples hewn from rock (of which those at Ajanta and Ellora are most noteworthy); the Sun Temple at Konarak (Konarka); the vast temple complexes at Bhubaneshwar, Khajuraho, and Kanchipuram (Conjeeveram); such Mughal masterpieces as Humayun’s tomb and the Taj Mahal; and, from the 20th century, buildings such as the High Court in the planned city of Chandigarh, designed by the Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier, and the Bhopal State Assembly building in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, designed by the Indian architect and urban planner Charles Correa. Also notable are stepwells, such as the Rani ki Vav (“Queen’s Stepwell”) in Patan (northern Gujarat), now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Radha; Krishna [Credit: P. Chandra]Other traditional art forms in India—painting, embroidery, pottery, ornamental woodworking and metalworking, sculpture, lacquerware, and jewelry—are also well represented. Much of the best work resulted from patronage by the court (often being produced in royally endowed workshops), by temples, and by wealthy individuals. Vigorous folk traditions have a very long history, as witnessed by the ancient rock paintings found in scores of caves across India.
- DANCE AND MUSIC
bharata natyam [Credit: Mohan Khokar]The performing arts also have a long and distinguished tradition. Bharata natyam, the classical dance form originating in southern India, expresses Hindu religious themes that date at least to the 4th century ce (see Natya-shastra). Other regional styles include odissi (from Orissa), manipuri (Manipur), kathakali (Kerala), kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), and kathak (Islamicized northern India). In addition, there are numerous regional folk dance traditions. One of these is bhangra, a Punjabi dance form that, along with its musical accompaniment, has achieved growing national and international popularity since the 1970s. Indian dance was popularized in the West by dancer and choreographer Uday Shankar.
Shankar, Ravi: playing a sitar [Credit: Express Newspapers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]Traditional Indian music is divided between the Hindustani (northern) and Carnatic (southern) schools. (The Hindustani style is influenced by musical traditions of the Persian-speaking world.) Instrumental and vocal music is also quite varied and frequently is played or sung in concert (usually by small ensembles). It is a popular mode of religious expression, as well as an essential accompaniment to many social festivities, including dances and the narration of bardic and other folk narratives. Some virtuosos, most notably Ravi Shankar (composer and sitar player) and Ali Akbar Khan (composer and sarod player), have gained world renown. The most popular dramatic classical performances, which are sometimes choreographed, relate to the great Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Regional variations of classical and folk music abound. All of these genres have remained popular—as has devotional Hindu music—but interest in Indian popular music has grown rapidly since the late 20th century, buoyed by the great success of motion picture musicals. Western classical music is represented by such institutions as the Symphony Orchestra of India, based in Mumbai, and some individuals (notably conductor Zubin Mehta) have achieved international renown.
- THEATRE, FILM, AND LITERATURE
“Bunty aur Babli” [Credit: Yash Raj Films/The Kobal Collection]In modern times, Bengali playwrights—especially Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, who was also a philosopher, poet, songwriter, choreographer, essayist, and painter—have given new life to the Indian theatre. Playwrights from a number of other regions also have gained popularity.
To a great extent, however, Indian interest in theatre has been replaced by the Indian motion-picture industry, which now ranks as the most popular form of mass entertainment. In some years India—whose film industry is centred in Mumbai (Bombay), thus earning the entire movie-making industry the sobriquet “Bollywood” in honour of Hollywood, its U.S. counterpart—makes more feature-length films than any other country in the world. The lives of film heroes and heroines, as portrayed in film magazines and other media, are subjects of great popular interest. While most films are formulaic escapist pastiches of drama, comedy, music, and dance, some of India’s best cinematographers, such as Satyajit Ray, are internationally acclaimed. Others, such as filmmakers Ismail Merchant, M. Night Shyamalan (Manoj Shyamalan), and Mira Nair, gained their greatest success making films abroad. Radio, television and Internet broadcasts, and digital and videocassette recordings are popular among those affluent enough to afford them.
The corpus of Indian literature is vast, especially in religion and philosophy. The roots of Indian literary tradition are found in the Vedas, a collection of religious hymns probably dating from the mid-2nd millennium bce but not written down until many centuries later. Many of the ancient texts still provide core elements of Hindu rituals and, despite their great length, are memorized in their entirety by Brahman priests and scholars.
Desai, Anita [Credit: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images]Literature languished during much of the period of British rule, but it experienced a new awakening with the so-called Hindu Renaissance, centred in Bengal and beginning in the mid-19th century. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee established the novel, previously unknown in India, as a literary genre. Chatterjee wrote in Bengali, and most of his literary successors, including the popular Hindi novelist Prem Chand (pseudonym of Dhanpat Rai Srivastava), also preferred to write in Indian languages; however, many others, including Tagore, were no less comfortable writing in English. The works of some Indian authors—such as the contemporary novelists Mulk Raj Anand, Bharati Mukherjee, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, and R.K. Narayan; the essayist Nirad C. Chaudhuri; the poet and novelist Vikram Seth; Booker Prize winners Salman Rushdie (1981), Arundhati Roy (1997), and Kiran Desai (2006); as well as the novelist Vikram Chandra and the poets Meena Alexander and Kamala Das—are exclusively or almost exclusively in English.
Although India abounds in museums (many in proximity to major architectural and archaeological sites) and has numerous theatres and libraries, few, if any, are world famous. Art galleries are confined almost exclusively to major cities and cater to a small, affluent, often foreign clientele. Among learned societies, the most prominent is the Asiatic Society, founded in Kolkata in 1784.
Sports and recreation
The history of sports in India dates to thousands of years ago, and numerous games, including chess, wrestling, and archery, are thought to have originated there. Contemporary Indian sport is a diverse mix, with traditional games, such as kabaddi and kho-kho, and those introduced by the British, especially cricket, football (soccer), and field hockey, enjoying great popularity.
Kabaddi, primarily an Indian game, is believed to be some 4,000 years old. Combining elements of wrestling and rugby, the team sport has been a regular part of the Asian Games since 1990. Kho-kho, a form of tag, ranks as one of the most popular traditional sports in India, and its first national championship was held in the early 1960s.
Tendulkar, Sachin [Credit: Gurinder Osan/AP]Indians are passionate about cricket, which probably appeared on the subcontinent in the early 18th century. The country competed in its first official test in 1932 and in 1983—led by captain Kapil Dev, one of the most successful cricketers in history—won the Cricket World Cup. The Indian team repeated as World Cup champions in 2011, captained by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Golf is also played throughout India. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club, established in Kolkata in 1829, is the oldest golf club in India and the first outside Great Britain.
India made its Olympic Games debut at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, though it did not form an Olympic association until 1927. The following year, in Amsterdam, India competed in field hockey, its national game, for the first time. The national team’s victory that year was the first of six consecutive gold medals in the event between 1928 and 1956; they won again in 1964 and 1980.
Media and publishing
Several thousand daily newspapers are published in India. Although English-language dailies and journals remain highly influential, the role of the vernacular press is increasing steadily in absolute and relative importance. Among the largest-circulating dailies are The Times of India and Hindustan Times (both in English), the Hindustan and the Navbharat Times (Hindi), and the Anandabazar Patrika (Bengali). Book publishing is a thriving industry. Academic titles account for a large portion of all works published, but there is also a considerable market for literature. On the whole, the press functions with little government censorship, and serious controls have been imposed only in matters of national security, in times of emergency, or when it is deemed necessary to avoid inflaming passions (e.g., after communal riots or comparable disturbances). The country’s largest news agency, the Press Trust of India, was founded in 1947. The United News of India was founded in 1961.
Radio broadcasting began privately in 1927 but became a monopoly of the colonial government in 1930. In 1936 it was given its current name, All India Radio, and since 1957 it also has been known as Akashvani. The union government provides radio service throughout the country via hundreds of transmitters. Television was introduced experimentally by Akashvani in 1959, and regular broadcasting commenced in 1965. In 1976 it was made a separate service under the name Doordarshan, later changed to Doordarshan India (“Television India”). Television and educational programming are transmitted via the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system. The country’s first Hindi-language cable channel, Zee TV, was established in 1992, and this was followed by other cable and satellite services.
There is relatively dense telephone service in most urban areas, but many rural areas remain isolated. The same is true of cellular telephones, which are common in major cities. Internet cafés can be found in many affluent areas, and millions of Indian households are connected to the Internet via telephone and cable connections. There are numerous high-technology centres in the country, and India is connected to the outside world via international cables and across satellite networks.
History of India
From the Indus Valley to the Fall of the Mughal Empire
One of the earliest civilizations of the world, and the most ancient on the Indian subcontinent, was the Indus valley civilization, which flourished c.2500 B.C. to c.1700 B.C. It was an extensive and highly sophisticated culture, its chief urban centers being Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. While the causes of the decline of the Indus Valley civilization are not clear, it is possible that the periodic shifts in the courses of the major rivers of the valley may have deprived the cities of floodwaters necessary for their surrounding agricultural lands. The cities thus became more vulnerable to raiding activity. At the same time, Indo-Aryan peoples were migrating into the Indian subcontinent through the northwestern mountain passes, settling in the Punjab and the Ganges valley.
Over the next 2,000 years the Indo-Aryans developed a Brahmanic civilization (see Veda), out of which Hinduism evolved. From Punjab they spread east over the Gangetic plain and by c.800 B.C. were established in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Bengal. The first important Aryan kingdom was Magadha, with its capital near present-day Patna; it was there, during the reign of Bimbisara (540–490 B.C.), that the founders of Jainism and Buddhism preached. Kosala was another kingdom of the period.
In 327–325 B.C., Alexander the Great invaded the province of Gandhara in NW India that had been a part of the Persian empire. The Greek invaders were eventually driven out by Chandragupta of Magadha, founder of the Mauryan empire (see Maurya). The Mauryan emperor Asoka (d. 232 B.C.), Chandragupta's grandson, perhaps the greatest ruler of the ancient period, unified all of India except the southern tip. Under Asoka, Buddhism was widely propagated and spread to Sri Lanka and SE Asia. During the 200 years of disorder and invasions that followed the collapse of the Mauryan state (c.185 B.C.), Buddhism in India declined. S India enjoyed greater prosperity than the north, despite almost incessant warfare; among the Tamil-speaking kingdoms of the south were the Pandya and Chola states, which maintained an overseas trade with the Roman Empire.
Indian culture was spread through the Malay Archipelago and Indonesia by traders from the S Indian kingdoms. Meanwhile, Greeks following Alexander had settled in Bactria (in the area of present-day Afghanistan) and established an Indo-Greek kingdom. After the collapse (1st cent. B.C.) of Bactrian power, the Scythians, Parthians, Afghans, and Kushans swept into NW India. There, small states arose and disappeared in quick succession; among the most famous of these kingdoms was that of the Kushans, which, under its sovereign Kanishka, enjoyed (2d cent. A.D.) great prosperity.
In the 4th and 5th cent. A.D., N India experienced a golden age under the Gupta dynasty, when Indian art and literature reached a high level. Gupta splendor rose again under the emperor Harsha of Kanauj (c.606–647), and N India enjoyed a renaissance of art, letters, and theology. It was at this time that the noted Chinese pilgrim Hsüan-tsang visited India. While the Guptas ruled the north in this, the classical period of Indian history, the Pallava kings of Kanchi held sway in the south, and the Chalukyas controlled the Deccan.
During the medieval period (8th–13th cent.) several independent kingdoms, notably the Palas of Bihar and Bengal, the Sen, the Ahoms of Assam, a later Chola empire at Tanjore, and a second Chalukya dynasty in the Deccan, waxed powerful. In NW India, beyond the reach of the medieval dynasties, the Rajputs had grown strong and were able to resist the rising forces of Islam. Islam was first brought to Sind, W India, in the 8th cent. by seafaring Arab traders; by the 10th cent. Muslim armies from the north were raiding India. From 999 to 1026, Mahmud of Ghazna several times breached Rajput defenses and plundered India.
In the 11th and 12th cent. Ghaznavid power waned, to be replaced c.1150 by that of the Turkic principality of Ghor. In 1192 the legions of Ghor defeated the forces of Prithivi Raj, and the Delhi Sultanate, the first Muslim kingdom in India, was established. The sultanate eventually reduced to vassalage almost every independent kingdom on the subcontinent, except that of Kashmir and the remote kingdoms of the south. The task of ruling such a vast territory proved impossible; difficulties in the south with the state of Vijayanagar, the great Hindu kingdom, and the capture (1398) of the city of Delhi by Timur finally brought the sultanate to an end.
The Muslim kingdoms that succeeded it were defeated by a Turkic invader from Afghanistan, Babur, a remote descendant of Timur, who, after the battle of Panipat in 1526, founded the Mughal empire. The empire was consolidated by Akbar and reached its greatest territorial extent, the control of almost all of India, under Aurangzeb (ruled 1659–1707). Under the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal empire a large Muslim following grew and a new culture evolved in India (see Mughal art and architecture); Islam, however, never supplanted Hinduism as the faith of the majority.
- The Arrival of the Europeans
Only a few years before Babur's triumph, Vasco da Gama had landed at Calicut (1498) and the Portuguese had conquered Goa (1510). The splendor and wealth of the Mughal empire (from it comes much of India's greatest architecture, including the Taj Mahal) attracted British, Dutch, and French competition for the trade that Portugal had at first monopolized. The British East India Company (see East India Company, British), which established trading stations at Surat (1613), Bombay (now Mumbai; 1661), and Calcutta (now Kolkata; 1691), soon became dominant and with its command of the sea drove off the traders of Portugal and Holland. While the Mughal empire remained strong, only peaceful trade relations with it were sought; but in the 18th cent., when an Afghan invasion, dynastic struggles, and incessant revolts of Hindu elements, especially the Marathas, were rending the empire, Great Britain and France seized the opportunity to increase trade and capture Indian wealth, and each attempted to oust the other. From 1746 to 1763, India was a battleground for the forces of the two powers, each attaching to itself as many native rulers as possible in the struggle.
- India under British Rule
Robert Clive's defeat of the Nawab of Bengal at Plassey in 1757 traditionally marks the beginning of the British Empire in India (recognized in the Treaty of Paris of 1763). Warren Hastings, Clive's successor and the first governor-general of the company's domains to be appointed by Parliament, did much to consolidate Clive's conquests. By 1818 the British controlled nearly all of India south of the Sutlej River and had reduced to vassalage their most powerful Indian enemies, the state of Mysore (see Haidar Ali and Tippoo Sahib) and the Marathas. Only Sind and Punjab (the Sikh territory) remained completely independent.
The East India Company, overseen by the government's India Office, administered the rich areas with the populous cities; the rest of India remained under Indian princes, with British residents in effective control. Great Britain regarded India as an agricultural reservoir and a market for British goods, which were admitted duty free. However, the export of cotton goods from India suffered because of the Industrial Revolution and the production of cloth by machine. On the other hand, the British initiated projects to improve transportation and irrigation.
British control was extended over Sind in 1843 and Punjab in 1849. Social unrest, added to the apprehensions of several important native rulers about the aggrandizing policies of Governor-General Dalhousie, led to the bloody Indian Mutiny of 1857. It was suppressed, and Great Britain, determined to prevent a recurrence, initiated long-needed reforms. Control passed from the East India Company to the crown. The common soldiers in the British army in India were drawn more and more from among the Indians, and these troops were later also used overseas. Sikhs and Gurkhas became famous as British soldiers. Native rulers were guaranteed the integrity of their domains as long as they recognized the British as paramount. In 1861 the first step was taken toward self-government in British India with the appointment of Indian councillors to advise the viceroy and the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members. But the power of Britain was symbolized and reinforced when Queen Victoria was crowned empress of India in 1877.
- India Moves toward Independence
With the setting up of government universities, an Indian middle class had begun to emerge and to advocate further reform. Among the leaders who organized the Indian National Congress in 1885 were Allan Octavian Hume, retired from the Indian Civil Service, Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, and W. C. Bonnerjee. Later in the century, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Surendranath Banerjea, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, and Aurobindo Ghose also rose to prominence. The nationalist movement had been foreshadowed earlier in the century in the writings of Rammohun Roy.
Popular nationalist sentiment was perhaps most strongly aroused when, for administrative reasons, Viceroy Curzon partitioned (1905) Bengal into two presidencies; newly created Eastern Bengal had a Muslim majority. (The partition was ended in 1911.) In the early 1900s the British had widened Indian participation in legislative councils (the Morley-Minto reforms). Separate Muslim constituencies, introduced for the first time, were to be a major factor in the growing split between the two communities. Muslim nationalist sentiment was expressed by Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, and Muhammad Ali.
At the outbreak of World War I all elements in India were firmly united behind Britain, but discontent arose as the war dragged on. The British, in the Montagu declaration (1917) and later in the Montagu-Chelmsford report (1918), held out the promise of eventual self-government. Crop failures and an influenza epidemic that killed millions plagued India in 1918–19. Britain passed the Rowlatt Acts (1919), which enabled authorities to dispense with juries, and even trials, in dealing with agitators. In response, Mohandas K. Gandhi organized the first of his many passive-resistance campaigns. The massacre of Indians by British troops at Amritsar further inflamed the situation. The Government of India Act (late 1919) set up provincial legislatures with "dyarchy," which meant that elected Indian ministers, responsible to the legislatures, had to share power with appointed British governors and ministers. Although the act also provided for periodic revisions, Gandhi felt too little progress had been made, and he organized new protests.
Imperial conferences concerning the status of India were held in 1930, 1931, and 1932, and led to the Government of India Act of 1935. The act provided for the election of entirely Indian provincial governments and a federal legislature in Delhi that was to be largely elected. In the first elections (1937) held under the act, the Congress, led by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, won well over half the seats, mostly in general constituencies, and formed governments in 7 of the 11 provinces. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, won 109 of the 485 Muslim seats and formed governments in three of the remaining provinces. Fearing Hindu domination in a future independent India, Muslim nationalists in India began to argue for special safeguards for Muslims.
World War II found India by no means unified behind Great Britain. There was even an "Indian national army" of anti-British extremists, led by Subhas Bose, which fought in Myanmar on the Japanese side. To procure India's more wholehearted support, Sir Stafford Cripps, on behalf of the British cabinet, in 1942 proposed establishing an Indian interim government, in which Great Britain would maintain control only over defense and foreign policy, to be followed by full self-government after the war. The Congress adamantly demanded that the British leave India and, when the demand was refused, initiated civil disobedience and the Quit India movement. Great Britain's response was to outlaw the Congress and jail Gandhi and other leaders. Jinnah gave conditional support to the war but used it to build up the Muslim League.
Independence and the India-Pakistan Split The British Labour government of Prime Minister Attlee in 1946 offered self-government to India, but it warned that if no agreement was reached between the Congress and the Muslim League, Great Britain, on withdrawing in June, 1948, would have to determine the apportionment of power between the two groups. Reluctantly the Congress agreed to the creation of Pakistan, and in Aug., 1947, British India was divided into the dominions of India and Pakistan. The princely states were nominally free to determine their own status, but realistically they were unable to stand alone. Partly by persuasion and partly by coercion, they joined one or the other of the new dominions. Hyderabad, in S central India, with a Muslim ruler and Hindu population, held out to the last and was finally incorporated (1948) into the Indian union by force. The future of Kashmir was not resolved.
Nehru became prime minister of India, and Jinnah governor-general of Pakistan. Partition left large minorities of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and Muslims in India. Widespread hostilities erupted among the communities and continued while large numbers of people—about 16 million in all—fled across the borders seeking safety. More than 500,000 people died in the disorders (late 1947). Gandhi was killed by a Hindu fanatic in Jan., 1948. The hostility between India and Pakistan was aggravated when warfare broke out (1948) over their conflicting claims to jurisdiction over the princely state of Kashmir.
India became a sovereign republic in 1950 under a constitution adopted late in 1949. In addition to staggering problems of overpopulation, economic underdevelopment, and inadequate social services, India had to achieve the integration of the former princely states into the union and the creation of national unity from diverse cultural and linguistic groups. The states of the republic were reorganized several times along linguistic lines. India consolidated its territory by acquiring the former French settlements (see Puducherry) in 1956 and by forcibly annexing the Portuguese enclaves of Goa and Daman and Diu in Dec., 1961. In 1987, Goa became a separate state and Daman and Diu became a union territory. In world politics, India has been a leading exponent of nonalignment.
- Problems on India's Borders
The republic's major foreign problems have been a border dispute with China that first surfaced in 1957 and continual difficulties with Pakistan. The Chinese controversy climaxed on Oct. 20, 1962, when the Chinese launched a massive offensive against Ladakh in Kashmir and in areas on the NE Indian border. The Chinese announced a cease-fire on Nov. 21 after gaining some territory claimed by India. In the late 1960s there was friction with Nepal, which accused India of harboring Nepalese politicians hostile to the Nepalese monarchy. In Aug., 1965, fighting between India and Pakistan broke out in the Rann of Kachchh frontier area and in Kashmir. The United Nations proclaimed a cease-fire in September, but clashes continued. India's Prime Minister Shastri, who succeeded Nehru after the latter's death in 1964, and Pakistan's President Ayub Khan met (1966) under Soviet auspices in Tashkent, USSR (now in Uzbekistan), to negotiate the Kashmir problem. They agreed on mutual troop withdrawals to the lines held before Aug., 1965.
Shastri died in Tashkent and was succeeded, after bitter debate within the Congress party, by Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter. The Congress party suffered a setback in the elections of 1967; its parliamentary majority was sharply reduced and it lost control of several state governments. In 1969 the party split in two: Mrs. Gandhi and her followers formed the New Congress party, and her opponents on the right formed the Old Congress party. In the elections of Mar., 1971, the New Congress won an overwhelming victory. Rioting and terrorism by Maoists, known as Naxalites, flared in 1970 and 1971. The situation was particularly serious in West Bengal.
In Pakistan, attempts by the government (dominated by West Pakistanis) to suppress a Bengali uprising in East Pakistan led in 1971 to the exodus of millions of Bengali refugees (mostly Hindus) from East Pakistan into India. Caring for the refugees imposed a severe drain on India's slender resources. India supported the demands of the Awami League, an organization of Pakistani Bengalis, for the autonomy of East Pakistan, and in Dec., 1971, war broke out between India and Pakistan on two fronts: in East Pakistan and in Kashmir. Indian forces rapidly advanced into East Pakistan; the war ended in two weeks with the creation of independent Bangladesh to replace East Pakistan, and the refugees returned from India. India's relations with the United States were strained because of U.S. support of Pakistan.
- India in the Late Twentieth Century
In mid-1973, India and Pakistan signed an agreement providing for the release of prisoners of war captured in 1971 and calling for peace and friendship on the Indian subcontinent. Also in 1973, India's ties with the USSR were strengthened by a new aid agreement that considerably increased Soviet economic assistance; at the same time, relations with the United States improved somewhat. In 1974, India became the world's sixth nuclear power by exploding an underground nuclear device in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan state. Also in 1974, Gandhi's position was put under intense pressure by opponents who criticized her government for abusing its powers and in 1975 her 1971 election to the Lok Sabha was invalidated.
Despite the declaration of a state of emergency and the initiation of several relatively popular public policy programs, the opposition campaign and the growing power of her son Sanjay Gandhi contributed to a 1977 election defeat for Gandhi and the New Congress party at the hands of a coalition known as the Janata (People's) party. The Janata party soon became fractured, however, and in Jan., 1980, Indira Gandhi and her new Congress (Indira) party won a resounding election victory. Less than six months later Sanjay Gandhi, expected by many to be his mother's successor, was killed in a plane crash.
In 1982, Sikh militants began a terrorism campaign intended to pressure the government to create an autonomous Sikh state in the Punjab. Government response escalated until in June, 1984, army troops stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikh's holiest shrine and the center of the independence movement. Sikh protests across India added to the political tension, and Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh members of her personal guard in October. The resulting anti-Sikh riots (some incited by local Congress party leaders) prompted the government to appoint Indira's eldest son, Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister. Rajiv moved quickly to end the rioting and thereafter pursued a domestic policy emphasizing conciliation among India's various conflicting ethnic and religious groups. In 1989 he was defeated by the Janata Dal party under the leadership of Vishwanath Pratap Singh.
While India's economic performance was generally stable in the 1980s, it experienced continuing problems politically, including border and immigration disputes with Bangladesh, internal agitation by Tamil separatists, violent conflicts in Assam, strife caused by the Sikh question, and continued antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. From 1987 to 1990, the Indian military occupied the northern area of Sri Lanka in an unsuccessful attempt to quell the Tamil separatist insurgency.
In 1990, Singh resigned as prime minister; Chandra Shekhar, leader of the Samajwadi Janata party (a Janata Dal splinter party), became prime minister with Congress's support, but he resigned after several months and elections were called. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during an election rally in 1991 and was succeeded as head of the Congress party by P. V. Narasimha Rao. The Congress party won the ensuing election and Rao became prime minister. He immediately instituted sweeping economic reforms, moving away from the centralized planning that had characterized India's economic policy since Nehru to a market-driven economy, greatly increasing its foreign investment and trade.
Religious conflict sparked by militant Hindus and exploited by Hindu political parties was a persistent problem in the 1980s and led to bloody riots in 1992. In early 1996 a bribes-for-favors corruption scandal dating back to the early 1990s, described by some as the worst since independence, hit the Rao administration. Several ministers were forced to resign, and the Congress party, which had governed the country for all but four years since 1947, found itself in crisis. Rao himself was rumored to be involved in the scandal, and the main opposition political group, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), was also implicated.
The May, 1996, general elections proved a debacle for the Congress party, which finished third, its worst ever electoral showing. The BJP won the most parliamentary seats but fell well short of a majority, and the government it formed lasted for less than two weeks. An uneasy coalition government of leftist, regional, and lower-cast parties was then formed under the prime ministership of H. D. Deve Gowda. In Deve Gowda's United Front government, lower-caste Indians, southerners, and religious minorities assumed more important roles than ever before, but the coalition was dependent on the tacit support of the Congress party. Less than a year later, in Apr., 1997, the leadership changed hands again, and I. K. Gujral became prime minister; he resigned seven months later. Following elections held early in 1998, the BJP and its allies won the most seats and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was named prime minister. His government fell after losing a vote of confidence in Apr., 1999, but following a solid victory in the elections in September, he formed a new coalition government.
In May, 1998, India detonated three underground nuclear explosions, after which the United States imposed economic sanctions. Two more blasts followed, and Pakistan followed suit by conducting its own nuclear tests. In May, 1999, India launched a military campaign against Islamic guerrillas who were occupying strategic positions in the Indian-held part of Kashmir, and who India denounced as being sponsored by Pakistan; the rebels withdrew by the end of July. Portions of W Gujarat (in W India) were devastated by an earthquake early in 2001.
Talks in July, 2001, between Vajpayee and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, ended sourly, without any progress concerning Kashmir. In September the economic sanctions imposed by the United States were removed, as the Bush administration pursued closer relations with India. Relations with Pakistan, in contrast, were further aggravated by the suicide bombing of Kashmir's state assembly building by Pakistani-supported militant Muslim guerrillas in October, and reached a crisis point and diplomatic break in December after guerrillas launched a terror attack on the Indian parliament. India insisted the Pakistan end all such attacks. The border with Pakistan was closed, and Indian troops were mobilized along it.
Tensions eased somewhat when Pakistan moved to shut down the groups responsible for most terror attacks in India (although most arrested militants were later released) and Musharraf subsequently announced (Jan., 2002) that Pakistan would not tolerate any groups engaging in terrorism. Localized Hindu-Muslim violence, centered mainly in Gujarat and unrelated to events in Kashmir, erupted in early 2002, and BJP members and the BJP government there was accused of complicitiy in the riots.
War with Pakistan again loomed as a possibility in May, 2002, when attacks by Muslim guerrillas once again escalated. The chance that such a conflict might turn into a nuclear confrontation prompted international efforts to defuse the crisis. A pledge by Musharraf to stop infilitration across the line of control in Kashmir led to the apparent end of active government sponsorship of such infilitration, although it did not stop it. The move eased the crisis, and in October the two nations began a troop pullback. Diplomatic relations were restored in May, 2003, and situation slowly improved during the rest of 2003 and the following year. Also in 2003, India signed a border pact with China that represented an incremental improvement in their relations; a new agreement two years later called for the two nations to define their disputed borders through negotiations.
Indian parliamentary elections in the spring of 2004 resulted in an unexpected victory for the Congress party, which subsequently formed a 20-party coalition government. Sonia Gandhi, Congress's leader, declined to become prime minister,perhaps in part because of concerns over her foreign birth. Instead, Manmohan Singh, a technocrat and former finance minister, led the new government. In Dec., 2004, India's SE coast and Andaman and Nicobar Islands were devastated by an Indian Ocean tsunami. More than 14,000 people died, and hundreds of thousands were made homeless. Maoist rebels, largely insignficant since the 1980s, became an increasing problem for the government in E India, especially in Chattisgarh and neighboring states, beginning in 2004. By Apr., 2005, relations with Pakistan had improved to the point that Pakistani president Musharraf visited India, and during the subsequent months the two nations increased cross-border transport links, including in Kashmir, and improved intergovernmental cooperation and trade relations. Although the devastation from the Oct., 2005, earthquake in N Pakistan was much greater there, Indian Kashmir, where more than 1,300 died, and other parts of India were also affected by the temblor. After the earthquake India and Pakistan eased border crossing restrictions in Kashmir.
In Mar., 2006, India reached an agreement with the United States that ended a U.S. moratorium on reactor fuel and components sales to India. Under the pact India agreed to open most of its nuclear reactors to international inspections for the first time. U.S. critics of the deal pointed out, however, that the Indian military was permitted to retain uninspected control of fast-breeder reactors, enabling it to increase its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. The Communist allies of the Congress party also objected to the deal on the grounds that it infringed on India's sovereignty, and their objections to it threatened to bring down the government in 2007.
A series of bomb attacks on the Mumbai rail system on July 11, 2006, killed some 200 people and injured 700; it was initially unclear who mounted them, though the police suspected a Muslim terror group. The attack was the worst of several in 2006 and 2007. India-Pakistan peace talks were suspended as a result of the attack. In Sept., 2006, Indian police said that Pakistan's intelligence agency was involved in planning the attack, a charge Pakistan denied, but the Indian prime minister said the he would provide Pakistan with evidence of the agency's involvement. The peace talks resumed in Nov., 2006, and in Feb., 2007, an agreement intended to prevent an accidental nuclear war between the two nations was signed. The monsoons of 2007 brought serious flooding in parts of India, especially Assam, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. Assam was particularly hard-hit, experiencing three waves of flooding that affected some 12 million people. The same states were hit by serious monsoon flooding in 2008 as well.
The first negotiations with Pakistan since a civilian government came to power there occurred in May, 2008, but after a July terror attack against its embassy in Afghanistan India accused Pakistan of continuing to support terrorist violence against it. In July, 2008, the Communists withdrew from the governing coalition after the prime minister decided to proceed with the nuclear pact signed with the United States. With the support of the pro-business Samajwadi party, other small parties, and independents, the Congress-led minority government survived a confidence vote later in July, ending months of indecision on the pact. The opposition, however, accused the government of attempting bribery to win the relatively close vote. In September the International Atomic Energy Agency approved lifting a ban on nuclear trade with India, and the U.S. Congress ratified the nuclear agreement with India.
In 2008 India again experienced a series of terrorist bombings in which a number of cities were struck several times in one day; those attacks were apparently the work of Indian Islamic militants. In November, however, Islamic terrorists from Pakistan attacked several sites in Mumbai, killing more that 170 people. India demanded that Pakistan take action against those it said were linked to the attacks, leading to increased tensions with Pakistan.
Maoist rebels, which by 2009 were operating over a large area in E and central India, launched significantly more serious attacks in 2009, leading the government to begin a major counterinsurgency offensive against them later in the year. In Feb., 2009, Pakistan acknowledged that the Mumbai attack was partially planned in and launched from Pakistan, and said that it had arrested of number of individuals in connection with the attack; in 2010 the Indian government accused Pakistan intelligence agency of being involved in the planning of the attack. Congress and its allies won an increased plurality in the May, 2009, parliamentary elections, and again formed a coalition government with Singh as prime minister.
Beginning in 2010, the government was tarnished by a series of scandals, including one involving the 2010 Commonwealth Games and another involving telecommunications licenses in which Singh was queried by the supreme court concerning what it termed months of alleged inaction. The situation led to protests in 2011, including a hunger strike in August by activist Anna Hazare, in favor of stricter anticorruption legislation, but political divisions stymied attempts to pass legislation before the end of the year. A bill ultimately was passed in Dec., 2013. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan agreed in Feb., 2011, to resume formal peace talks, which had been suspended since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and in Apr., 2012, Pakistan's President Zadari made an unofficial visit to India.
A massive electrical power outage in July that affected half of India (the north, northeast, and east grids) highlighted the nation's generating capacity shortage; the nation's north grid failed two days in a row. In August a new scandal, concerning the sale of government coal fields on the basis of recommendations by the states, broke; the national auditor asserted that the government had lost large sums as a result of questionable sales. In Sept., 2012, the government launched reforms designed to increase investment in the economy. Unseasonably early heavy rains in June, 2013, led to flash flooding and landslides that killed some 6,000 people in Uttarakhand state, in N India; more than 100,000 people were stranded and needed to be evacuated.
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