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home  > about india index > india in brief

India in brief

India is (after China) the second most populous country in the world, and as the Indians are always so fond of saying, the biggest democracy on earth. It’s huge, it’s vast, the area it covers is roughly that of Western Europe (or even a bit bigger). As big as India is it is diverse - diverse in all respects:

• in languages: there are 22 official languages recognised by the constitution plus another estimated 1600 minor languages and dialects spoken. Although Hindi is the official national language, only about 20% of India’s populace speak it as a mother tongue. It is widely spoken in the North, but most people you’ll meet in the South won’t speak Hindi at all. That’s one of the reasons (British imperialism being the other) English is so widely spoken and serves as a lingua franca.

• in religion: a massive number of religions are represented among India’s population. 81.3% of the population is Hindu (by the way, you have to be born a Hindu, you can’t convert to Hinduism), 12% Muslim, 2.3 % Christian (a lot of whom are former Hindus of the scheduled class (untouchables) who converted to get out of the caste system), 1.9% Sikh (easily recognisable by their turban and their surname Singh if it’s a man or Kaur if it’s a woman), 0.4% Jain (a religion founded in India around 500 BC), 0.01% Zoroastrians or Parsis (an ancient Persian religion); and even a few Jews can be found in Kochi, where there is a tiny old Jewish community which was established about 2000 years ago.

• in people: the looks, their clothes, their religious ceremonies, their art, their culture, their kind of life varies immensely depending on where you are. A mongoloid featured Buddhist Ladakhi in the North doesn’t have anything in common with a dark skinned Hindu Dravidian of the South.

• in transport: all kinds of vehicles can be seen, depending on where you are: the sturdy Ambassador car (an old relic from the British, known in England as the Morris Oxford), colourful and overloaded Tata trucks with threadbare tyres, the ubiquitous Maruti car, flashy new Four-Wheel-Drives, bullock carts, horse carts, camel carts, elephants, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaw, you name it…

Political System

India parliament building in New Delhi

India is a constitutional democracy with a Parliament consisting of two houses: the lower house, "Lok Sabha" (House of the people), whose 545 members are normally elected every 5 years in the General Election and the upper house, "Rajya Sabha" (Council of State) with 245 members, which are elected or appointed in different ways. The President is elected by both houses and the states legislature every five years.

After 6 continuous years of the right wing BJP-led NDA as the governing coalition, the general election in May 2004 swept the Congress party and allies back into power in a surprise election result that shocked the nation. The Congress party formed a government at the head of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition under India's first Sikh Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who was sworn in on the 22 May 2004. As of 25 July 2007 the president is Pratibha Patil, successor to the former rocket scientist APJ Kalam.

Women’s position

By law women and men have equal rights. Practically it looks different though. The dowry system (even though illegal) is still widely spread. Very often families prefer boys to girls. Female infanticide still happens, prenatal sex determination (made illegal in the 1990s) is easily obtainable with the result that if it turns out to be a girl, it’ll be aborted. This of course causes problems: India is one of the few countries in the world where there are more men then women. The national sex ratio is about 935 females to 1000 males, that means in effect that there are roughly 30 million men (more than half of the UKs population!), who won’t be able to find a wife. In some areas the gender ratio is alarming, as for example in Chandigarh where there are 790 women to 1000 men.

Kirsten Mar 03 / updated May 04, Aug 07

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 Weblog updates
 India blog 29 Sep 04
 Photo diary 24 Jan 09
 India Stats
 national country name: Bharat (Hindi)
 capital: New Delhi
 population: 1.06 billion
 area: 3,166,414 sq km (appr. equiv to Western Europe)
 population density: 310 persons per sq km
 urban: 26.8%
 rural: 73.2%
 GNI (GNP): USD 470 per capita per year
 highest point: 8598m (Kanchenjunga)
 languages: 22 official + 1600 minor languages and dialects (dec2003)
 national language: Hindi
 major languages: 40.2% Hindi; 8.3% Bengali; 7.9% Telugu (1991)
 number of states: 28 + 7 union territories
 money: Indian rupee
 time: GMT + 5,5 hours
 electricity: 240V, 50Hz
 government form: constitutional democracy
 government: Congress party led UPA coalition
 Prime Minister: Manmohan Singh
 President: Pratibha Patil
 religion: 80.5% Hindu, 13.4% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, 1.9% Sikh, 0.8% Buddhist, 0.4% Jain, 0.01% Zoroastrian, 1.3% other (2001)
 literacy rate: 64.8% (male 75.3; fem 53.7%) (2001)
 gender ratio: 933 fem to 1000 male (2001)
 child (0-6 yrs) gender ratio: 927 fem to 1000 male (2001)
 life expectancy: 61.5yr male; 62.7yr fem
 daily calories intake: 2,388 per capita
 see full stats page
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