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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

India

The Republic Of India , commonly known as India (locally also as Bhārat; see also other names), is a sovereign country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second most populous country, and the most populous liberal democracy in the world.[5] Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the west, and the Bay of Bengal on the east, India has a coastline of over 7500 kilometres.[6] It borders Pakistan to the west;[7] China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north-east; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia.

Home to the Indus Valley civilization and a region of historic trade routes and vast empires, the Indian subcontinent was identified with its commercial and cultural wealth for much of its long history. Four major world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated here, while Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism arrived in the first millennium CE and shaped the region's variegated culture. Gradually annexed by the British East India Company from the early eighteenth century and colonised by the United Kingdom from the mid-nineteenth century, India became a modern nation-state in 1947 after a struggle for independence that was marked by widespread use of nonviolent resistance as a means of social protest.

With the world's twelfth largest economy by market exchange rates and the fourth largest in purchasing power, India has made rapid economic progress in the last decade. Although the country's standard of living is projected to rise sharply in the next half-century, it currently battles high levels of poverty, illiteracy, persistent malnutrition, and environmental degradation. In addition to being a pluralistic, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic society, India is also home to a diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats and national parks.

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Etymology

The name India /'ɪndiə/ is derived from Indus, which is derived from the Old Persian word Hindu, from Sanskrit Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the Indus River.[8] The ancient Greeks referred to the ancient Indians as Indoi, the people of the Indus.[9] The Constitution of India and common usage in various Indian languages also recognise Bharat (pronunciation , Hindi: भारत, IPA: [/bʰɑːrət̪/]) as an official name of equal status. Hindustan (Hindi: हिंदुस्तान; Urdu: هندوستان; /hin̪d̪ust̪ɑːn/ ), which is the Persian word for “Land of the Hindus” and historically referred to northern India, is also occasionally used as a synonym for all of India.[10]

History

Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka 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,[11] dating back to 3300 BCE in western India. It was followed by the Vedic Civilisation, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the country.[12]

Paintings at the Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Paintings at the Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad, Maharashtra

The empire built by the Maurya dynasty under Emperor Ashoka united most of South Asia in the third century BCE.[13] From 180 BCE, a series of invasions from Central Asia followed, including those led by the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians and Kushans in the north-western Indian Subcontinent. From the third century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient India's "Golden Age."[14] While the north had larger, fewer kingdoms, south India had several dynasties such as the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas, Pandyas, and Cheras which overlapped in time and territory.[15] 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 dynasty. Mughal emperors gradually expanded their kingdoms to cover large parts of the subcontinent. Nevertheless, several indigenous kingdoms, such as the Vijayanagara Empire, flourished, especially in the south. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Mughal supremacy declined and the Maratha Empire became the dominant power. From the sixteenth century, several European countries, including Portugal, 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.[16] A year later, a nationwide insurrection of rebelling military units and kingdoms, variously referred to as the First War of Indian Independence or Sepoy Mutiny, seriously challenged British rule but eventually failed. As a consequence, India came under the direct control of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire.

Mahatma Gandhi (right) with India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru
Mahatma Gandhi (right) with India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru

During the first half of the twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and other political organisations. Millions of protesters engaged in mass campaigns of civil disobedience with a commitment to ahimsa or non-violence, led by Mahatma Gandhi.[17] Finally, on 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule, but not before losing its Muslim-majority areas, which were carved out into the separate nation-state of Pakistan.[18] Three years later, on 26 January 1950, India became a republic, and a new constitution came into effect.[2]

Since independence, India has experienced sectarian violence and insurgencies in various parts of the country, but has maintained its unity and democracy. It has unresolved territorial disputes with China, which in 1962 escalated into the brief Sino-Indian War; and with Pakistan, which resulted in wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and in 1999 in Kargil. 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.[19] This was followed by five more tests in 1998.[19] Beginning in 1991, significant economic reforms[20] have transformed India into one of the fastest-growing economies, adding to its global and regional clout.

Government

Main article: Government of India
National symbols of India
Flag Tiranga
Emblem Sarnath Lion Capital
Anthem Jana Gana Mana
Song Vandē Mātaram
Animal Royal Bengal Tiger
Bird Indian Peacock
Flower Lotus
Tree Banyan
Fruit Mango
Sport Field Hockey
Calendar Saka
Costume Sari (women)

India is the largest democracy in the world.[5] The Constitution defines India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. India has a federal form of government and a bicameral parliament operating under a Westminster-style parliamentary system. It has three branches of governance: the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary.

The President of India is the official head of state elected indirectly by an electoral college for a five-year term. The Prime Minister is, however, the de facto head of government and exercises most executive powers. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President, with the requirement that they enjoy the support of the party or coalition securing 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 up to 250 members serving staggered six year terms.[21] Most are elected indirectly by the state and territorial legislatures in proportion to the state's population.[21] The Lok Sabha's 545 members are directly elected by popular vote to represent individual constituencies for five year terms.[21]

The executive branch consists of the President, Vice-President, and the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet being its executive committee) 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.[22]

India's independent judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over disputes between states and the Centre, appellate jurisdiction over the twenty-one High Courts of India, and the power to declare union and state laws null and void if in conflict with the basic structure of the Constitution of India.[22]

Politics

Main article: Politics of India
The Parliament of India (Sansad Bhavan)
The Parliament of India (Sansad Bhavan)

For most of its democratic history, the federal Government of India 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 (CPI), and various regional parties. From 1950 to 1990, the INC enjoyed a parliamentary majority barring two brief periods. The INC was out of power between 1977 and 1980, when the Janata Party won the election owing to public discontent with the "Emergency" declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1989 a Janata Dal led National Front coalition in alliance with the Left Front coalition won the elections but managed to stay in power for only two years.

The years 1996–1998 were a period of turmoil in the federal government with several short-lived alliances holding sway. The BJP formed a government briefly in 1996, followed by the United Front coalition. In 1998, the BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with several regional parties and became the first non-Congress government to complete a full five-year term. 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.

Foreign relations and the military

Intermediate range Agni-II ballistic missile during a Republic Day parade held in 2004
Intermediate range Agni-II ballistic missile during a Republic Day parade held in 2004

Since independence in 1947, India has maintained cordial relationships with most nations. It took a leading role in the 1950s by advocating the independence of European colonies in Africa and Asia. India is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. After the Sino-Indian War and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, India's relationship with the Soviet Union warmed at the expense of ties with the United States and continued to remain so until the end of the Cold War. India has fought several wars with Pakistan, primarily over Kashmir. India has also fought an additional war with Pakistan for the the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Despite criticism and military sanctions, India has consistently refused to sign the CTBT and the NPT, preferring instead to maintain sovereignty over its nuclear program. Recent overtures by the Indian government have strengthened relations with the United States, China, and Pakistan. In the economic sphere, India has close relationships with other developing nations in South America, Asia, and Africa. In recent years, India has played an influential role in the ASEAN, SAARC, and the WTO. India has been a long time supporter of the United Nations, with over 55,000 Indian military and police personnel having served in thirty-five UN peace keeping operations deployed across four continents.[23]

India maintains the third largest military force in the world, which consists of the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force.[2] Auxiliary forces such as the Paramilitary Forces, the Coast Guard, and the Strategic Forces Command also come under the military's purview. The President of India is the supreme commander of the Indian armed forces. India also became a nuclear state in 1974 after conducting an initial nuclear test explosion. Further underground testing in 1998 led to international military sanctions against India, which were gradually withdrawn after September 2001. India maintains a "no-first-use" nuclear policy.[24]

Administrative divisions

Main article: Subdivisions of India

India is a union of twenty-eight states and seven federally governed union territories. All states, the union territory of Puducherry, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have elected governments. The other five union territories have centrally appointed administrators.

Administrative divisions of India, including 28 states and 7 union territories
Administrative divisions of India, including 28 states and 7 union territories

States:

  1. Andhra Pradesh
  2. Arunachal Pradesh
  3. Assam
  4. Bihar
  5. Chhattisgarh
  6. Goa
  7. Gujarat
  8. Haryana
  9. Himachal Pradesh
  10. Jammu and Kashmir
  11. Jharkhand
  12. Karnataka
  13. Kerala
  14. Madhya Pradesh
  1. Maharashtra
  2. Manipur
  3. Meghalaya
  4. Mizoram
  5. Nagaland
  6. Orissa
  7. Punjab
  8. Rajasthan
  9. Sikkim
  10. Tamil Nadu
  11. Tripura
  12. Uttar Pradesh
  13. Uttarakhand
  14. West Bengal

Union Territories:

  1. Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  2. Chandigarh
  3. Dadra and Nagar Haveli
  4. Daman and Diu
  5. Lakshadweep
  6. National Capital Territory of Delhi
  7. Puducherry

All states and union territories are subdivided into districts. In larger states, districts may be grouped together to form a division.

Geography

Main article: Geography of India
Topographic map of India
Topographic map of India

Being the seventh largest country in the world, India constitutes the major portion of the Indian subcontinent,[6] which sits atop the Indian Plate and the north-westerly portion of the Indo-Australian Plate. India's northern and north-eastern states are partially situated in the Himalayan Range. The rest of northern, central, and eastern India consists of the fertile Indo-Gangetic Plain. In the west, bordering south-eastern Pakistan, lies the Thar Desert. Southern India is almost entirely composed of the peninsular Deccan plateau, which is flanked by two hilly coastal ranges, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats.

India is home to several major rivers, including the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Yamuna, the Godavari, the Kaveri, the Narmada, and the Krishna. India has three archipelagos – Lakshadweep, which lies off the south-western coast; the volcanic Andaman and Nicobar Islands island chain to the south-east; and the Sunderbans in the Ganges Delta of West Bengal.

The climate of India varies from tropical in the south to more temperate and even alpine in the Himalayan north,[25] where elevated regions receive sustained winter snowfall. India's climate is strongly influenced by the Himalayas and the Thar Desert. The Himalayas, along with the Hindu Kush mountains, prevent cold Central Asian katabatic winds from blowing in. This keeps the bulk of the Indian subcontinent warmer than most locations at similar latitudes. The Thar Desert is responsible for attracting the moisture-laden summer monsoon winds that, between June and September, provide most of India's rainfall.

Flora and fauna

Main articles: Flora of India and Fauna of India
The Indian Peacock is India's national bird.
The Indian Peacock is India's national bird.

India, lying within the Indomalaya ecozone, hosts significant biodiversity; it is home to 7.6% of all mammalian, 12.6% of all avian, 6.2% of all reptilian, 4.4% of all amphibian, 11.7% of all fish, and 6.0% of flowering plant species.[26] Many ecoregions, such as the shola forests, also exhibit extremely high rates of endemism; overall, 33% of Indian plant species are endemic.[27][28] India's forest cover ranges from the tropical rainforest of the Andaman Islands, Western Ghats, and North-East India to the coniferous forest of the Himalaya. Between these extremes lie the sal-dominated moist deciduous forest of eastern India; the teak-dominated dry deciduous forest of central and southern India; and the babul-dominated thorn forest of the central Deccan and western Gangetic plain.[29] Important Indian trees include the medicinal neem, widely used in rural Indian herbal remedies. The pipal fig tree, shown on the seals of Mohenjo-daro, shaded the Gautama Buddha as he sought enlightenment.

Many Indian species are descendants of taxa originating in Gondwana, to which India originally belonged. Peninsular India's subsequent movement towards, and collision with, the Laurasian landmass set off a mass exchange of species. However, volcanism and climatic changes 20 million years ago caused the extinction of many endemic Indian forms.[30] Soon thereafter, mammals entered India from Asia through two zoogeographical passes on either side of the emerging Himalaya.[29] As a result, among Indian species, only 12.6% of mammals and 4.5% of birds are endemic, contrasting with 45.8% of reptiles and 55.8% of amphibians.[26] Notable endemics are the Nilgiri leaf monkey and the brown and carmine Beddome's toad of the Western Ghats. India contains 172, or 2.9%, of IUCN-designated threatened species.[31] These include the Asiatic lion, the Bengal tiger, and the Indian white-rumped vulture, which suffered a near-extinction from ingesting the carrion of diclofenac-treated cattle.

In recent decades, human encroachment has posed a threat to India's wildlife; in response, the system of national parks and protected areas, first established in 1935, was substantially expanded. In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act[32] and Project Tiger to safeguard crucial habitat; further federal protections were promulgated in the 1980s. Along with more than five hundred wildlife sanctuaries, India now hosts fourteen biosphere reserves,[33] four of which are part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; twenty-five wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention.[34]

Economy

Main article: Economy of India
The Bombay Stock Exchange, Sensex, index reflects investor confidence in the Indian economy
The Bombay Stock Exchange, Sensex, index reflects investor confidence in the Indian 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$208 billion in June 2007,[35] while federal and state budget deficits have reduced.[36] Privatisation of publicly-owned companies and the opening of certain sectors to private and foreign participation has continued amid political debate.

With a GDP growth rate of 9.4% in 2006-07, the Indian economy is among the fastest growing in the world.[37] India's GDP in terms of USD exchange-rate is US$1,103 billion, which makes it the twelfth largest economy in the world.[38] When measured in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), India has the world's fourth largest GDP at US$4.156 trillion.[2] India's per capita income (nominal) is $979, ranked 128th in the world, while its per capita (PPP) of US$3,700 is ranked 118th.

The Indian economy has grown steadily over the last two decades; however, its growth has been uneven when comparing different social groups, economic groups, geographic regions, and rural and urban areas.[39] Although income inequality in India is relatively small (Gini coefficient: 32.5 in year 2000), it has been increasing of late. Despite significant economic progress, a quarter of the nation's population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40/day. In addition, India has a higher rate of malnutrition among children under the age of three (46% in year 2007) than any other country in the world.[39][40]

India has a labour force of 509.3 million, 60% of which is employed in agriculture and related industries; 28% in services and related industries; and 12% in industry.[2] 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.[2]

In 2006, estimated exports stood at US$112 billion and imports were around US$187.9 billion. Textiles, jewellery, engineering goods and software are major export commodities. Crude oil, machineries, fertilizers, and chemicals are major imports. India's most important trading partners are the United States, the European Union, China, and the United Arab Emirates.[2] More recently, India has capitalised on its large pool of educated, English-speaking people to become an important outsourcing destination for multinational corporations. 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 (of which it has the fourth largest reserves in the world), diamonds, iron ore, limestone, manganese, mica, natural gas, petroleum, and titanium ore.[41]

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of India
Population density map of India
Population density map of India

With an estimated population of 1.12 billion,[2] India is the world's second most populous country and is expected to be the most populous by 2030.[18] Almost 70% of Indians reside in rural areas,[42] although in recent decades migration to larger cities has led to a dramatic increase in the country's urban population. India's largest urban agglomerations are Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Delhi, Chennai (formerly Madras), Bangalore, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.[41]

India is home to two major linguistic families: Indo-Aryan (spoken by about 74% of the population) and Dravidian (spoken by about 24%). Other languages spoken in India come from the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman linguistic families. The Indian constitution recognises 23 official languages.[43] Hindi and English are used by the Union Government of India for official purposes, wherein Hindi has a de jure priority. Tamil and Sanskrit were designated "classical languages" by the Indian government in 2004 and 2005. The number of dialects in India is as high as 1,652.[44]

Over 800 million Indians, or about 80.5% of the country's population, are Hindu. The next-largest religious group are Muslims, who make up 13.4%; due to India's large size, this is among the world's largest Muslim populations. Other religious groups include Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%), Jains (0.4%), Jews, Zoroastrians, Bahá'ís and others.[45] Tribals constitute 8.1% of the population.[46]

At the time of India's independence in 1947, its literacy rate was 12.2%.[47] Since then, it has increased to 64.8% (53.7% for females and 75.3% for males). The state of Kerala has the highest literacy rate (91%); Bihar has the lowest (47%).[42] The national gender ratio is 944 females per 1,000 males.[42] India's median age is 24.9, and the population growth rate of 1.38% per annum; there are 22.01 births per 1,000 people per year.[2]

Culture

Main article: Culture of India
The Taj Mahal is India's most popular tourist destination and one of the seven touristic wonders of the world
The Taj Mahal is India's most popular tourist destination and one of the seven touristic wonders of the world

India's culture is marked by a high degree of syncretism[48] and cultural pluralism.[49] It has managed to preserve established traditions while absorbing new customs, traditions, and ideas from invaders and immigrants; multicultural concerns have long informed India’s history and traditions, constitution and political arrangements.[50] Many Indian cultural practices, languages, customs, and monuments are examples of this co-mingling over centuries.

Notable architectural creations, such as the Taj Mahal and other examples of Mughal architecture, examples of Dravidian architecture are the result of traditions that combined elements from several parts of the country and abroad. The vernacular architecture displays notable regional variation.

Indian music is highly diversified. Classical music is mainly split between the North Indian Hindustani and South Indian Carnatic traditions. Highly regionalised forms of popular music include filmi and folk music like bhangra. Many classical dance forms exist, including bharatanatyam, kathakali, kathak, kuchipudi, manipuri, odissi and yakshagana. They often have a narrative form and are usually infused with devotional and spiritual elements.

The earliest literary traditions in India were mostly oral and were only later transcribed. Most of these are represented by religious texts such as the Vedas, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana; Sangam literature from Tamil Nadu is among India's oldest. Among many notable Indian writers of the modern era, using both Indian languages and English, Rabindranath Tagore is perhaps the most famous.

An oval-roofed hut of the Toda people of the Nilgiris. The walls are made of dressed stone and decorated with mural painting
An oval-roofed hut of the Toda people of the Nilgiris. The walls are made of dressed stone and decorated with mural painting

The Indian film industry is the world's most prolific; its most recognisable face is the Mumbai-based "Bollywood," which produces commercial Hindi films and is the largest producer of feature films in the world.[51] Other strong cinema industries are based on the Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, and Marathi languages.

The cuisine of India is diverse, as ingredients, spices and cooking methods vary from region to region. Rice and wheat are the nation's main staple foods.[52] The country is notable for its wide variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine. Spicy food[51] and sweets are popular in India.

Traditional Indian dress greatly varies across the regions in its colours and styles and depends on various factors, including climate. Popular styles of dress include the sari for women and the lungi or dhoti for men.

India's national sport is field hockey even though cricket is the most popular sport in India. In some states, particularly those in the northeast and the coastal states of West Bengal, Goa, and Kerala, football is the more popular sport. In recent times, tennis has also gained popularity. Chess, commonly held to have originated in India, is also gaining popularity with the rise of the number of recognized Indian grandmasters. Traditional sports include kabaddi, kho-kho, and gilli-danda, which are played nationwide. India is home to the age-old discipline of yoga, and also to the ancient martial arts, Kalarippayattu and Varma Kalai.

Indian festivals come in a vast variety; many are celebrated irrespective of caste and creed. The most popular holidays are Diwali, Holi, Onam, Dussehra, the two Eids, Christmas, and Vaisakhi. India has three national holidays. Other sets of holidays, varying between nine and twelve, are officially observed in the individual states. Religious practices are an integral part of everyday life and are a very public affair. Traditional Indian family values are highly respected, although urban families now prefer a nuclear family system due to the socio-economic constraints imposed by the traditional joint family system.