India -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of India
Capital City: New Delhi
Languages: Hindi, English (official)
Official Currency: Indian rupee (INR)
Religions: Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, others
Population: 1,132,446,000 (2008)
Land Area: 3,287,590 sq km
Landforms: High mountains, broad plains and tablelands, swampy lowlands and dry desert areas.
Land Divisions: 28 states and 7 Union Territories
India -- History --
Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh are the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3300 BCE in western India. It was followed by the Vedic period, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society, and ended in the 500s BCE. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the country. In the third century BCE, most of South Asia was united into the Maurya Empire by Chandragupta Maurya and flourished under Ashoka the Great. From the third century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient "India's Golden Age." Empires in Southern India included those of the Chalukyas, the Cholas and the Vijayanagara Empire. Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.
Following invasions from Central Asia between the tenth and twelfth centuries, much of North India came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, and later the Mughal Empire. Mughal emperors gradually expanded their empires to cover large parts of the subcontinent. However, in North-Eastern India, the dominant power was the Ahom kingdom of Assam, among the few kingdoms to have resisted Mughal subjugation.
From the sixteenth century, several European countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom, started arriving as traders and later took advantage of the fractious nature of relations between the kingdoms to establish colonies in the country. By 1856, most of India was under the control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nationwide insurrection of rebelling military units and kingdoms, variously referred to as the India's First War of Independence or Sepoy Mutiny, seriously challenged the British Company's control but eventually failed. As a consequence, India came under the direct rule of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire. During the British Raj, famines in India, often attributed to government policies, were some of the worst ever recorded, including the Great Famine of 1876–78, in which 6.1 million to 10.3 million people died and the Indian famine of 1899–1900, in which 1.25 to 10 million people died.
During the first half of the twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and other political organizations. In the 1920s and 1930, under a movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, chatacterized by the commitment to ahimsa, or non-violence, millions of protesters engaged in mass campaigns of civil disobedience. Finally, on 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule, but was partitioned with independent governments for the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in accordance with the wishes of the Muslim League, to create a nation state along the lines of religion. Three years later, on 26 January 1950, India became a republic and a new constitution came into effect.
Since independence, India has suffered from religious violence, casteism and insurgencies in various parts, but has been able to control them through tolerance and constitutional reforms. Terrorism in India is also a major security problem, with Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, in North-east India and naxalism in rural areas. Since 1990s co-ordinate terror strikes have occurred in major cities of India. India has unresolved territorial disputes with China, which in 1962 escalated into the Sino-Indian War; and with Pakistan, which resulted in wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations (as part of British India). In 1974, India conducted an underground nuclear test. This was followed by five more tests in 1998, making India a nuclear state. Beginning in 1991, significant economic reforms have transformed India into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, adding to its global and regional clout.
India -- Economy --
For most of its post-independence history, India adhered to a quasi-socialist approach with strict government control over private sector participation, foreign trade, and foreign direct investment. However, since 1991, India has gradually opened up its markets through economic reforms and reduced government controls on foreign trade and investment. Foreign exchange reserves have risen from US$5.8 billion in March 1991 to US$308 billion on 4 July 2008, while federal and state budget deficits have decreased. Privatization of publicly-owned companies and the opening of certain sectors to private and foreign participation has continued amid political debate. India's GDP in terms of USD exchange-rate is US$1.089 trillion. When measured in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), India has the world's fourth largest GDP at US$4.726 trillion. India's per capita income (nominal) is US$977, while its per capita (PPP) is US$2700.
With an average annual GDP growth rate of 5.5% for the past two decades, the economy is among the fastest growing in the world. India has the world's second largest labour force, with 516.3 million people, 60% of whom are employed in agriculture and related industries; 28% in services and related industries; and 12% in industry. Major agricultural crops include rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, and potatoes. The agricultural sector accounts for 28% of GDP; the service and industrial sectors make up 54% and 18% respectively. Major industries include automobiles, cement, chemicals, consumer electronics, food processing, machinery, mining, petroleum, pharmaceuticals, steel, transportation equipment, and textiles. Along with India’s fast economic growth comes its growing demand for energy. According to the Energy Information Administration, India is the sixth largest consumer of oil and third largest consumer of coal.
Although the Indian economy has grown steadily over the last two decades; its growth has been uneven when comparing different social groups, economic groups, geographic regions, and rural and urban areas. Wealth distribution in India is fairly uneven, with the top 10% of income groups earning 33% of the income. Despite significant economic progress, a quarter of the nation's population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40 per day. In 2004–2005, 27.5% of the population was living below the poverty line.
More recently, India has capitalised on its large pool of educated, English-speaking people, and trained professionals to become an important outsourcing destination for multinational corporations and a popular destination for medical tourism. India has also become a major exporter of software as well as financial, research, and technological services. Its natural resources include arable land, bauxite, chromite, coal, diamonds, iron ore, limestone, manganese, mica, natural gas, petroleum, and titanium ore.
In 2007, estimated exports stood at US$140 billion and imports were around US$224.9 billion. Textiles, jewellery, engineering goods and software are major export commodities. While crude oil, machineries, fertilizers, and chemicals are major imports. India's most important trading partners are the United States, the European Union, and China.
India -- Culture --
India is incredibly rich in culture and heritage. Few quotations or statements cannot describe the pedestal that India holds in the world map because of its colorful and unique culture. From the times of Mauryas, Cholas, Mughals till to the period of British Empire, India has always been famous for its traditions and hospitality. The warmth in the relations and euphoria in celebrations make the country stands out distinctively in the clutter. The country's liveliness and generosity attract a number of tourists. The cuisines, festivals, music, literature, and theatre…everything is 'special' in this 'land of gods'.
Indian architecture is one area that represents the diversity of Indian culture. Much of it, including notable monuments such as the Taj Mahal and other examples of Mughal architecture and South Indian architecture, comprises a blend of ancient and varied local traditions from several parts of the country and abroad. Vernacular architecture also displays notable regional variation.
Indian music covers a wide range of traditions and regional styles. Classical music largely encompasses the two genres – North Indian Hindustani, South Indian Carnatic traditions and their various offshoots in the form of regional folk music. Indian dance too has diverse folk and classical forms. Among the well-known folk dances are the bhangra of the Punjab, the bihu of Assam, the chhau of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa and the ghoomar of Rajasthan.
Theatre in India often incorporates music, dance, and improvised or written dialogue. Often based on Hindu mythology, but also borrowing from medieval romances, and news of social and political events, Indian theatre includes the bhavai of state of Gujarat, the jatra of West Bengal, the nautanki and ramlila of North India, the tamasha of Maharashtra, the terukkuttu of Tamil Nadu, and the yakshagana of Karnataka.
The Indian film industry is the largest in the world. Bollywood, based in Mumbai, makes commercial Hindi films and is the most prolific film industry in the world. Established traditions also exist in Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu language cinemas. The country produces more than 1000 movies every year and these movies are not only popular in the domestic market but also have a wide viewership in the Asian and European countries.
Indian cuisine is characterized by a wide variety of regional styles and sophisticated use of herbs and spices. The staple foods in the region are rice (especially in the south and the east) and wheat (predominantly in the north). Spices originally native to the Indian subcontinent that are now consumed world wide include black pepper; in contrast, hot chili peppers, popular across India, were introduced by the Portuguese.
Traditional Indian dress varies across the regions in its colours and styles and depends on various factors, including climate. Beauty of Indian women lies in the clothes she wears. Very traditional and ethnic yet contemporary Indian Saris are famous worldwide. It is worn with a blouse that covers the upper part of the body. In rural parts a version of sari, called ghagara -choli is very much popular. Choli is like a short blouse that covers the upper part of the body and ghagara is like a long skirt. In order to have a graceful and complete look, women folk carry a duppatta, which is a soft and delicate material of reasonable length thrown over the shoulder. For the men, there is no dearth of variety. From dhoti kurta to shirt pants, an Indian man prefers everything that fits well and looks good.
Many Indian festivals are religious in origin, although several are celebrated irrespective of caste and creed. Some popular festivals are Diwali, Ugadi, Thai Pongal, Holi, Onam and many others. India has three national holidays. Other sets of holidays, varying between nine and twelve, are officially observed in individual states. Religious practices are an integral part of everyday life and are a very public affair.
India -- Political system, law and government --
The Constitution of India, the longest and the most exhaustive constitution of any independent nation in the world, came into force on January 26, 1950. The preamble of the constitution defines India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. India has a bicameral parliament operating under a Westminster-style parliamentary system. Its form of government was traditionally described as being 'quasi-federal' with a strong centre and weak states, but it has grown increasingly federal since the late 1990s as a result of political, economic and social changes.
The President of India is the head of state elected indirectly by an electoral college for a five-year term. The Prime Minister is the head of government and exercises most executive powers. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and, by convention, is the candidate supported by the party or political alliance holding the majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament.
The legislature of India is the bicameral Parliament, which consists of the upper house called the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the lower house called the Lok Sabha (House of People). The Rajya Sabha, a permanent body, has 245 members serving staggered six year terms. Most are elected indirectly by the state and territorial legislatures in proportion to the state's population. 543 of the Lok Sabha's 545 members are directly elected by popular vote to represent individual constituencies for five year terms. The other two members are nominated by the President from the Anglo-Indian community if the President is of the opinion that community is not adequately represented.
The executive branch consists of the President, Vice-President, and the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. Any minister holding a portfolio must be a member of either house of parliament. In the Indian parliamentary system, the executive is subordinate to the legislature, with the Prime Minister and his Council being directly responsible to the lower house of the parliament.
India has a unitary three-tier judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India, twenty-one High Courts, and a large number of trial courts. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over cases involving fundamental rights and over disputes between states and the Centre, and appellate jurisdiction over the High Courts. It is judicially independent, and has the power to declare the law and to strike down union or state laws which contravene the Constitution. The role as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution is one of the most important functions of the Supreme Court.
India, at the federal level, is the most populous democracy in the world. For most of its democratic history, the federal government has been led by the Indian National Congress (INC). State politics have been dominated by several national parties including the INC, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), and various regional parties. In the 2004 Indian elections, the INC won the largest number of Lok Sabha seats and formed a government with a coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), supported by various left-leaning parties and members opposed to the BJP.
India is a federal republic of twenty-eight states and seven Union Territories. All states, and the two union territories of Puducherry and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have elected governments. The other five union territories have centrally appointed administrators and hence are under direct rule of the President. In 1956, under the States Reorganisation Act, states were formed on a linguistic basis. Since then, this structure has remained largely unchanged. Each state or union territory is divided into basic units of government and administration called districts. There are nearly 600 districts in India. The districts in turn are further divided into tehsils and eventually into villages.