It is bordered by the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean in the south, east and west. To the North, it borders Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma), China, Nepal, and Pakistan. India has a long and complex history reflected in its intricate mixture of ethnic groups, languages and cultures.
While, density populated, India is home to a wide range of varied ecoregions with important biodiversity. Its major environmental issues include:
- soil erosion;
- air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions;
- water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides and herbicides;
- tap water is not potable throughout the country; and, its huge and growing population is overstraining natural resources.
India is susceptible to droughts; flash floods, as well as widespread and destructive flooding from monsoonal rains; severe thunderstorms; and, earthquakes.
Aryan tribes from the northwest infiltrated onto 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.
Arab incursions starting in the 8th century and Turkic in the 12th were followed by those of European traders, beginning in the late 15th century.
By the 19th century, Britain had assumed political control of virtually all Indian lands. Indian armed forces in the British army played a vital role in both World Wars. Nonviolent resistance to British colonialism led by Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru brought independence in 1947.
The subcontinent was divided into the secular state of India and the smaller Muslim state of Pakistan.
A third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh.
India's nuclear weapons testing in 1998 caused Pakistan to conduct its own tests that same year.
Despite impressive gains in economic investment and output, India faces pressing problems such as significant overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption.
India's population growth is such that it is projected to become the world's most populous nation by 2030. While India has a population more than three-and-a-half times that of the United States, it has a land area about one-third of the US. It dominates South Asian subcontinent; near important Indian Ocean trade routes; Kanchenjunga, third tallest mountain in the world, lies on the border with Nepal.
Location: Southern Asia, bordering the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between Burma and Pakistan
Geographic Coordinates: 20 00 N, 77 00 E
Area: 3,287,590 km2 (land 2,973,190 km2 and 314,400 km2)
arable land: 48.83%
permanent crops: 2.8%
other: 48.37% (2005)
Land Boundaries: 14,103 km - border countries: Bangladesh 4053 km, Bhutan 605 km, Burma 1463 km, China 3380 km, Nepal 1690 km, Pakistan 2912 km
Coastline: 7000 km
Territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
Terrain: Upland plain (Deccan Plateau) in south, flat to rolling plain along the Ganges, deserts in west, Himalayas in north The highest point is Kanchenjunga (8,598 meters)
Climate: Varies from tropical monsoon in south to temperate in north
Topography of India. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ecology and Biodiversity
Ecoregions of India. Source: World Wildlife Fund
- Biological diversity in Indo-Burma
- Biological diversity in the Himalayas
- Biological diversity in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka
- Kaziranga National Park, India
- Keoladeo (Bharatpur) National Park, India
- Manas National Park, India
- Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park, India
- Sundarbans National Park, India
People and Society
Although India occupies only 2.4% of the world's land area, it supports over 15% of the world's population. Only China has a larger population. India's median age is 25, one of the youngest among large economies. About 70% live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in more than 200 towns and cities. Over the thousands of years of its history, India has been invaded from the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, Arabia, Afghanistan, and the West; Indian people and culture have absorbed and modified these influences to produce a remarkable racial and cultural synthesis.
Religion, caste, and language are major determinants of social and political organization in India today. However, with more job opportunities in the private sector and better chances of upward social mobility, India has begun a quiet social transformation in this area. The government has recognized 18 official languages; Hindi, the national language, is the most widely spoken, although English is a national lingua franca. Although about 80% of its people are Hindu, India also is the home of more than 138 million Muslims--one of the world's largest Muslim populations. The population also includes Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis.
The Hindu caste system reflects Indian occupational and socially defined hierarchies. Ancient Sanskrit sources divide society into four major categories, priests (Brahmin), warriors (Kshatriya), traders/artisans (Vaishya) and farmers/laborers (Shudra). Although these categories are understood throughout India, they describe reality only in the most general terms. They omit, for example, the tribal people and those outside the caste system formerly known as "untouchables”, or dalits. In reality, Indian society is divided into thousands of jatis--local, endogamous groups based on occupation--and organized hierarchically according to complex ideas of purity and pollution. Discrimination based on caste is officially illegal, but remains prevalent, especially in rural areas. Nevertheless, the government has made strong efforts to minimize the importance of caste through active affirmative action and social policies. Moreover, caste is often diluted if not subsumed in the economically prosperous and heterogeneous cities, where an increasing percentage of India's population lives. In the countryside, expanding education, land reform and economic opportunity through access to information, communication, transport, and credit are helping to lessen the harshest elements of the caste system.
Population: 1,205,073,612 (July 2012 est.)
Ethnic groups: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3% (2000)
Median age: 26.2 years
0-14 years: 29.7% (male 187,450,635/female 165,415,758)
15-64 years: 64.9% (male 398,757,331/female 372,719,379)
65 years and over: 5.5% (male 30,831,190/female 33,998,613) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 1.312% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 20.6 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 7.43 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: -0.05 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 67.14 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 2.58 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: English enjoys associate status but is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication; Hindi is the most widely spoken language and primary tongue of 41% of the people; there are 14 other official languages. Hindi 41%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%
female: 47.8% (2001 census)
The people of India have had a continuous civilization since at least 2500 BC, when the inhabitants of the Indus River valley developed an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade. The Harappan Civilization, as it came to be known, declined around 1500 BC, likely due to ecological changes.
During the second millennium BC, pastoral, Aryan-speaking tribes migrated from the northwest into the subcontinent, settled in the middle Ganges River valley, and adapted to antecedent cultures. Alexander the Great expanded across Central Asia during the 4th century BC, exposing India to Grecian influences. The Maurya Empire came to dominate the Indian subcontinent during the 3rd century BC, reaching its greatest height under Emperor Ashoka.
The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. At the height of the Roman Empire under Emperor Hadrian during the 2nd century AD, the Kushan Empire, originating in ancient Bactria, conquered north India and the trans-Indus region ushering in a period of trade and prosperity. In the 4th and 5th centuries AD, northern India was unified under the Gupta Dynasty. During this period, known as India's Golden Age, Hindu culture and political administration reached new heights.
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, Babur, a Turkish-Mongol adventurer and distant relative of Timurlane and Genghis Khan, established the Mughal Dynasty, which lasted for 200 years. South India followed an independent path, but by the 17th century large areas of South India came under the direct rule or influence of the expanding Mughal Empire. While most of Indian society in its thousands of villages remained untouched by the political struggles going on around them, Indian courtly culture evolved into a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim traditions.
The first British outpost in South Asia was established by the English East India Company in 1619 at Surat on the northwestern coast. Later in the century, the Company opened permanent trading stations at Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Calcutta (now Kolkata), each under the protection of native rulers.
The British expanded their influence from these footholds until, by the 1850s, they controlled most of present-day India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. In 1857, an unsuccessful rebellion in north India led by Indian soldiers seeking the restoration of the Mughal Emperor led the British Parliament to transfer political power from the East India Company to the Crown. Great Britain began administering most of India directly and maintained both political and economic control, while controlling the rest through treaties with local rulers. Imperial India became the “crown jewel” of the rapidly expanding British Empire.
In the late 1800s, the first steps were taken toward self-government in British India with the appointment of Indian councilors to advise the British Viceroy and the establishment of Provincial Councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in Legislative Councils. Beginning in 1920, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress political party into a mass movement to campaign against British colonial rule. The party used both parliamentary and nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation to agitate for independence. During this period, however, millions of Indians served with honor and distinction in the British Indian Army, including service in both World Wars and countless other overseas actions in service of the Empire.
With Indians increasingly united in their quest for independence, a war-weary Britain led by Labor Prime Minister Clement Attlee began in earnest to plan for the end of its suzerainty in India. On August 15, 1947, India became a dominion within the Commonwealth, with Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister. Strategic colonial considerations, as well as political tensions between Hindus and Muslims, led the British to partition British India into two separate states: India, with a Hindu majority; and Pakistan, which consisted of two "wings," East and West Pakistan--now Bangladesh and Pakistan--with Muslim majorities. India became a republic, but chose to continue as a member of the British Commonwealth, after promulgating its constitution on January 26, 1950.
After independence, the Indian National Congress, the party of Gandhi and Nehru, ruled India under the leadership first of Nehru and then his daughter (Indira Gandhi) and grandson (Rajiv Gandhi), with the exception of brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s and during a short period in 1996. From 1998-2004, a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party governed.
Prime Minister Nehru governed the nation until his death in May 1964. Nehru was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who also died in office in January 1966. In 1 month, power passed to Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. In June 1975, beset with deepening political and economic problems, Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties. Seeking a mandate at the polls for her policies, she called for elections in March 1977, only to be defeated by Morarji Desai, who headed the Janata Party, an amalgam of five opposition parties.
In 1979, Desai's government crumbled. Charan Singh formed an interim government, which was followed by Mrs. Gandhi's return to power in January 1980. On October 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, which led to the killings of thousands of Sikhs in New Delhi. Her son, Rajiv, was chosen by the Congress (I)--for "Indira"--Party to take her place. His Congress government was plagued with allegations of corruption resulting in an early call for national elections in November 1989.
Although Rajiv Gandhi's Congress Party won more seats than any other single party in the 1989 elections, he was unable to form a government with a clear majority. The Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties, then joined with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right and the Communists on the left to form the government. This loose coalition collapsed in November 1990, and the Janata Dal, supported by the Congress (I), came to power for a short period, with Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister. That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in June 1991.
While campaigning in Tamil Nadu on behalf of his Congress (I) party, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991 by Tamil extremists from Sri Lanka unhappy with India's military intervention in that country’s civil war. In the elections, Congress (I) won 213 parliamentary seats and returned to power at the head of a coalition, under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual process of economic liberalization under then-Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. These reforms opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India's domestic politics also took new shape, as the nationalist appeal of the Congress Party gave way to traditional caste, creed, regional, and ethnic alignments, leading to the founding of a plethora of small, regionally based political parties.
The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 were marred by several major corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history. The Hindu-nationalist BJP emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without a parliamentary majority. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the subsequent BJP coalition lasted only 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal formed a government known as the United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda. His government collapsed after less than a year, when the Congress Party withdrew its support in March 1997. Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister at the head of a 16-party United Front coalition.
In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support from the United Front. In new elections in February 1998, the BJP won the largest number of seats in parliament--182--but fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President approved a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, spurring U.S. President Bill Clinton to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.
In April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September-October. The National Democratic Alliance--a new coalition led by the BJP--won a majority to form the government with Vajpayee as Prime Minister in October 1999. The NDA government was the first coalition in many years to serve a full 5-year term, providing much-needed political stability.
The Kargil conflict in May-July 1999 and an attack by terrorists on the Indian parliament in December 2001 led to increased tensions with Pakistan.
Hindu nationalists supportive of the BJP agitated to build a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya, destroying a 17th-century mosque there in December 1992, and sparking widespread religious riots in which thousands, mostly Muslims, were killed. In February 2002, 57 Hindu volunteers returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive when their train caught fire. Alleging that the fire was caused by Muslim attackers, anti-Muslim rioters throughout the state of Gujarat killed over 2,000 people and left 100,000 homeless. The Gujarat state government and the police were criticized for failing to stop the violence and in some cases for participating in or encouraging it.
The ruling BJP-led coalition was defeated in a five-stage election held in April and May of 2004. The Congress Party, under the leadership Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, formed a coalition government, known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). It took power on May 22 with Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. The UPA's victory was attributed to dissatisfaction among poorer rural voters that the prosperity of the cities had not filtered down to them, and rejection of the BJP's Hindu nationalist agenda.
The Congress-led UPA government continued many of the BJP's foreign policies, particularly improving relations with the U.S. Prime Minister Singh and President George W. Bush concluded a landmark U.S.-India strategic partnership framework agreement on July 18, 2005. In March 2006, President Bush visited India to further the many initiatives underlying the agreement. The strategic partnership is anchored by a historic civil nuclear cooperation initiative and includes cooperation in the fields of space, high-technology commerce, health issues, democracy promotion, agriculture, and trade and investment.
In July 2008, the UPA won a confidence motion with 275 votes in its favor and 256 against. In late November 2008, terrorists killed at least 164 people in a series of coordinated attacks around Mumbai. Prime Minister Singh promised a thorough investigation and Home Minister Chidambaram pledged significant reforms to improve India’s counterterrorism agencies.
The Congress-led UPA coalition gained a more stable majority following May 2009 elections, riding mainly on the support of rural voters. Singh became the first prime minister since Nehru to return to power after completing a full 5-year term.
Government Type: Federal republic
According to its constitution, India is a "sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic." Like the United States, India has a federal form of government. However, the central government in India has greater power in relation to its states, and has adopted a British-style parliamentary system.
The government exercises its broad administrative powers in the name of the president, whose duties are largely ceremonial. A special electoral college elects the president and vice president indirectly for 5-year terms. Their terms are staggered, and the vice president does not automatically become president following the death or removal from office of the president.
Real national executive power is centered in the cabinet (senior members of the Council of Ministers), led by the prime minister. The president appoints the prime minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house). The president then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the prime minister.
India's bicameral parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Council of Ministers is responsible to the Lok Sabha.
The legislatures of the states and union territories elect 233 members to the Rajya Sabha, and the president appoints another 12. The members of the Rajya Sabha serve 6-year terms, with one-third up for election every 2 years. The Lok Sabha consists of 545 members, who serve 5-year terms; 543 are directly elected, and two are appointed.
Capital: New Delhi (population 21.72 million)
Other Major Cities and their Populations: Mumbai 19.695 million; Kolkata 15.294 million; Chennai 7.416 million; Bangalore 7.079 million (2009)
Administrative divisions: India is organized in 28 states and 7 union territories.
1. Andhra Pradesh,
The seven union territories are:
Each state also has a presidentially appointed governor, who may assume certain broad powers when directed by the central government. The central government exerts greater control over the union territories than over the states, although some territories have gained more power to administer their own affairs. Local governments in India have less autonomy than their counterparts in the United States. Some states are trying to revitalize the traditional village councils, or panchayats, to promote popular democratic participation at the village level, where much of the population still lives. Over half a million panchayats exist throughout India.
Independence Date: 15 August 1947 (from the UK)
Legal System: Based on English common law; judicial review of legislative acts; accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction with reservations; separate personal law codes apply to Muslims, Christians, and Hindus.
India's independent judicial system began under the British, and its concepts and procedures resemble those of Anglo-Saxon countries. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 25 other justices, all appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister.
International Environmental Agreements
India is party to international agreements on Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 1,907.8 cu km (1999)
Freshwater Withdrawal: 645.84 cu km/yr (8% Domestic, 5% Industrial, 86% agricultural). Per capita: 585 cu m/yr (2000)
Access to improved water sources:
urban: 96% of population
rural: 84% of population
total: 88% of population
urban: 54% of population
rural: 21% of population
total: 31% of population
Agricultural products: rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, lentils, onions, potatoes; dairy products, sheep, goats, poultry; fish
Irrigated Land: 558,080 km2 (2003)
Natural Resources: Coal (fourth-largest reserves in the world), iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, natural gas, diamonds, petroleum, limestone, arable land.
India is developing into an open-market economy, yet traces of its past autarkic policies remain.
Economic liberalization, including industrial deregulation, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and reduced controls on foreign trade and investment, began in the early 1990s and has served to accelerate the country's growth, which has averaged more than 7% per year since 1997. The economic growth has reduced poverty by about 10 percentage points.
India's diverse economy encompasses traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide range of modern industries, and a multitude of services.
Slightly more than half of the work force is in agriculture, but services are the major source of economic growth, accounting for more than half of India's output, with only one-third of its labor force.
India has capitalized on its large educated English-speaking population to become a major exporter of information technology services and software workers.
In 2010, the Indian economy rebounded robustly from the global financial crisis - in large part because of strong domestic demand - and growth exceeded 8% year-on-year in real terms. However, India's economic growth in 2011 slowed because of persistently high inflation and interest rates and little progress on economic reforms.
High international crude prices have exacerbated the government's fuel subsidy expenditures contributing to a higher fiscal deficit, and a worsening current account deficit.
Little economic reform took place in 2011 largely due to courruption scandals that have slowed legislative work. India's medium-term growth outlook is positive due to a young population and corresponding low dependency ratio, healthy savings and investment rates, and increasing integration into the global economy.
India has many long-term challenges that it has not yet fully addressed, including widespread poverty, inadequate physical and social infrastructure, limited non-agricultural employment opportunities, scarce access to quality basic and higher education, and accommodating rural-to-urban migration.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $4.463 trillion (2011 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $1.843 trillion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $3,700 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 55.6% (2011 est.)
Industries: textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, software, pharmaceuticals
Currency: Indian rupees (INR)