INDIA is a large country in southern Asia.  It is the second largest country in the world in population.  The river valleys of northeastern India are among the most densely populated places in the world.  India ranks seventh in the world in area.

India has great varieties and differences in both its land and its people.  The land includes a desert, jungles, and one of the world's rainiest areas.  India also has broad plains, mighty rivers, the tallest mountain system in the world, and tropical lowlands.  The people of India belong to many different ethnic groups and religions.  They speak 14 major languages and more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects.  Some Indians have great wealth.  But many others cannot pay for the bare necessities of life.

Many ways of life in India have stayed the same for hundreds of years.  These ancient customs may be seen side by side with the latest developments in science and technology.  Cows, which India's millions of Hindus consider sacred, roam freely in many areas.

For hundreds of years, India meant mystery, wealth, and excitement to people of the Western world.  Early European explorers, traders, and adventurers travelled to India for jewels, rugs, silks, spices, and other valuable articles.  Christopher Columbus was looking for an easier route to India when he arrived in America.


India no longer ranks among the wealthy nations of the world.  India has great natural resources, including farmland, ores, and petroleum, but most of the resources have not been sufficiently developed.  As a result, the country has a low standard of living.  Living conditions are overcrowded throughout India.  The over crowding continues to get worse every year because India's population keeps growing.  Government sponsored family planning programmes have been partially successful in limiting population growth.  Refugees from neighbouring countries have added to the population.

 India was a British colony from the late 1700's until it gained independence in 1947.  Since then, the Indian government has been trying to develop the country's resources and improve the standard of living.  For example, the development of new varieties of seeds and the improved use of fertilizers and irrigation have helped the country's agricultural production to grow more rapidly than the consumption needs of its population.  As a result, there has been no major famine in India since independence and life expectancy has risen by about 25 years.

The government has worked to stimulate industrial growth, and India has become one of the world's largest industrial nations.  India has a greater percentage of its young people attending college than most other developing countries do.  It has more scientists and skilled workers than most other countries.  India has built nuclear reactors and launched weather and communications satellites.  It has scientific bases in Antarctica.

This article discusses the Indian people and their ways of life, as well as the economy, land, and plants and animals of India.


Population.  About 16 per cent of all the world's people live in India.  Only China, which has a population of more than one billion, has more people than India.

About 73 per cent of India's people live in rural areas.  Most of the country's 557,000 farm villages have less than 1,000 people.  About 27 per cent of the people live in urban areas.  India has about 4,000 cities and towns.  About 300 cities have populations over 100,000.  Six cities have more than 3 million people.  These cities, in order of population size, are Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Chennai (Madras), and Hyderabad.  Calcutta, the capital city of West Bengal, has the greatest population density of any city in India, with an average of about 42,000 people per square kilometre.

Since the early 1900's, India's population has grown by several million a year.  During the 1980's and 1990's, the population increased by as much as 18 million per year.  The main reason for this "population explosion" is that improved sanitation and health care have caused the death rate to fall more rapidly than the birth rate.  Population growth has led to serious overcrowding and has increased the problem of raising India's low standard of living.  Many villagers leave the heavily populated rural areas to look for work in the cities, where wages are higher.  As a result, India's city population grows about twice as fast as the population of the country as a whole.  This has led to severe overcrowding and many other social problems in the cities.

Ancestry.  India's people belong to a variety of ethnic groups.  The two largest groups are the light-skinned Indo-Aryans and the dark-skinned Dravidians.  Most Indo-Aryans live in northern India, and a majority of the Dravidians live in southern parts of the country.

The Dravidians were among India's earliest known inhabitants.  About 2500 B.C., they created an advanced civilization in the Indus Valley.  About 1500 B.C., central Asian peoples called Aryans invaded the Indus Valley and drove the Dravidians south.

Beginning about A.D. 1000, central Asian Islamic peoples, mainly from the area that is now Afghanistan and Iran, settled in India.  Many of their descendants live in the northeast, especially in the Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.  Mongoloid peoples live in the Himalayan region along India's northeastern border and in the states that border Burma.  Most members of such minority groups as the Bhils, Gonds, Khasis, Nagas, Oraons, and Santals live in remote hills and forests.

Languages.  The people of India speak 14 major languages and more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects.  The major languages of India belong to two language families--Indo-European and Dravidian.Indo-European languages are spoken by about 73 per cent of the people, mainly in the northern and central regions.  They include Hindi--which is India's most widely spoken language--and its closely related form Urdu.  These languages come from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language with many words similar to words in European tongues.

Dravidian languages are spoken by about 24 per cent of the population, mainly in the southern part of the country.  They include Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu.  People in the northern Himalayan region and near the Burmese border speak Sino-Tibetan languages.  Some ethnic groups in eastern India speak Mon-Khmer languages.


Although a great deal of modernization has taken place in India, many people still follow traditional ways of life.  For example, most Indian weddings are followed by a lively procession through the streets accompanying the bridegroom to the bride's house.

Family life.  Family ties have great importance in India.  Indians regard marriage as more of a relationship between two families than between two people.  Young Indians generally are not allowed to have dates, and parents arrange most marriages.  However, many young people now choose their own partners.  Many Indian households include not only parents and children, but also the sons' wives and their children.

Village life.  Most Indian villages consist of mud-and-straw huts crowded together.  A few richer villagers live in brick homes.  Indian farmers do not live on their land.  The farmland lies near their villages, and farmers go out to the fields to grow food for their families.  Village homes have mud floors and only one or two rooms.  The people sit and sleep on beds of woven string.  The few household articles include brass pots for cooking and clay pots for carrying water and storing food.

Many village homes have no running water or electricity.  The women get water from the one or two village wells.  They pour it into pots, which they carry home on their heads.  About half of India's villages have access to electricity, though individual homes may not use it.  Many Indian families have paraffin lanterns.

Most Indian villages have a one- or two-room school but no post office or shops.  The villagers trade at a nearby market town, or at a roadside spot where they meet once a week.  Most villages are governed by panchayats (councils of elders elected by all adults).

Rapid economic growth has greatly improved some parts of village life.  For example, the Indian government has increased agricultural production in such states as Haryana and Punjab.  In these areas, many villages have electricity, improved drinking water and sanitation, and more schools and paved roads.

City life.  As in most countries, India's larger cities are centres of business, political, and university activities.  But many city dwellers keep their ties with the village from which they or their ancestors came.

Varanasi and certain other Indian cities were commercial, political, and religious centres in ancient times.  Some had sacred temples that attracted pilgrims from all over the country.  By the early 1800's, however, three ports founded by Europeans--Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta, and Madras (now Chennai)--had become the country's major cities.  Many Indian cities developed two different areas, a British section and an Indian section.  Rich Indians and Indians of high military or political rank now live in the former British sections.  These areas show a strong Western influence.  They have modern buildings, shopping districts with large stores, and wide, tree-lined streets.  The people live mostly in pleasant one- or two-storey houses.

In the Indian sections of the cities, buildings cover almost all of the land.  Bicycles, carts, animals, and people fill the narrow streets.  Small shops with open fronts line the streets.  Families live behind and above the shops.  These families include not only the very poor, but also some rich people who prefer the older ways of life.

The cities of India have large slums and squatter populations.  Thousands of slum dwellers sleep in the streets because they have no homes.  Others live in shelters made of scraps of wood or metal.  Most Indian slum buildings have at least one whole family, and often more, living in a small room.  The women cook on the floor.  Many slum dwellings have no chimneys or even windows to remove the smoke.  The slum areas have poor water supplies and sanitation.  Many of these areas have no public sanitation at all.  Since the early 1970's, the Indian government has replaced many slum buildings with low-cost public housing.

Even the better sections of the cities have frequent electric power failures, and water stoppages often occur for hours.  Many homes have a reserve water tank on the roof for the dry hours.

RELIGION.  About 83 per cent of the Indian people are Hindus, and about 11 per cent are Muslims.  The next largest religious groups, in order of size, are Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains.

Religion plays a vital role in the Indian way of life.  Religious laws of the Hindus and Muslims govern the people's clothing, food, and marriage.  They also strongly influence the type of occupation among people who strictly follow the laws.  Ethnic and political differences between Hindus and Muslims led to the division of India into two nations, India and Pakistan.  Many thousands of Indians have died in fighting between Hindus and Muslims.  Killings still occur from time to time.

Hinduism is the world's oldest major religion.  It has no single founder or head.  Hindus believe that the soul never dies.  After the body dies, the soul is reborn in another life form.  This process is repeated until the soul reaches spiritual perfection, or salvation.  Then, the soul enters a higher state of existence from which it never returns.  Hindus follow the principle of ahimsa, noninjury to living creatures.  This principle especially applies to cows, which Hindus believe are sacred animals.  As a result, hardly any Hindus eat beef, and many do not eat any kind of meat.

Hindus worship many divinities (gods and goddesses).  The three most important ones are Brahma, the creator of the universe; Vishnu, its preserver; and Shiva, its destroyer.  Hinduism has a number of sacred writings, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas.  They outline how its followers should conduct their lives.

Hindus are divided into thousands of social groups called castes.  The castes are grouped into four main categories.  These categories, from the highest to the lowest, are Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras.  Each caste has a traditional occupation, such as priest, artist, or farmer.  A Hindu is born into a caste and finds it impossible or extremely difficult to become a member of a higher caste.  Within a community, a person's social status usually depends on his or her caste.

Each caste has its own rules of behaviour.  These rules limit social contacts with members of other castes.  Marriage between people of different castes seldom occurs.  Each caste also has rules concerning who may cook the food its members eat.  For example, people of a high caste may eat only food that is prepared by members of the same caste.  Most Hindus will eat food prepared by members of a higher caste.  Each caste also has customs regarding the type of food its members may eat.  Some castes eat meat, and others eat fish but not meat.  Some eat neither meat nor fish, but do eat eggs.  Still others do not eat eggs.  Generally, the higher castes have more restricted diets than the lower castes.

Education and modern industrial life have weakened many caste barriers.  Today, Hindus of various castes mix freely in factories, offices, and public places.  Many Indians want the caste system to die out.  But many castes provide welfare and educational benefits to their needy members.  Castes also help to pass on skills in arts and crafts from generation to generation.

For thousands of years, a group called the untouchables has existed outside the four main categories of caste and has ranked below the lowest Sudra caste.  Untouchables make up about 20 per cent of the Indian population.  Traditionally they have held the lowest jobs, such as street sweeper and leather worker.  The 1950 Indian constitution, however, outlawed discrimination against untouchables and all lower castes and gave these people equal rights as full citizens.  The government has provided scholarships, jobs, and other kinds of assistance for them.  Seats are reserved for them in Parliament and the state assemblies.  But many Hindus still believe in the old rules that keep these people in their low positions.  These rules included restrictions that prevented untouchables from entering temples and drawing water from public wells.

Islam, the religion of the Muslims, is India's second largest religion.  India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.  Most Indian Muslims live in the northern part of the country.  Some are descendants of Islamic peoples from western and central Asia.  But most are descendants of Hindus who converted to Islam.  Some continue many Hindu practices.  Others follow the same practices as Muslims in Middle Eastern countries.  The Muslims have been a powerful political and economic group in India for centuries.

Other religions.  Christians total about 3 per cent of India's population.  Many live in the state of Kerala, where they make up about a fifth of the population.  Many of the peoples in the areas along India's northeastern border are Christians.

Sikhism began in about 1500 as a movement to combine Hinduism and Islam.  Sikhs make up about 2 per cent of India's population.  Most live in the north.  They are the country's leading wheat farmers.  Sikhs also form one of the largest groups in the army.

Buddhism ranked as India's chief religion in ancient times.  Today, less than 1 per cent of the people practise Buddhism.

Jainism developed during the 500's B.C. Jains consider all life sacred and eat no meat.  Some Jain priests wear cloths over their mouths to keep from breathing in an insect and killing it.  About half of 1 per cent of all Indians practise Jainism.  Most Jains live on the western coast.  Many hold high positions in business and industry.

Clothing worn by Indians varies greatly from region to region.  Members of the various religious groups also may dress differently.  But most Indians wear light, loose clothing because of the hot climate.

Some Indians, especially in the cities, wear Western-style clothing.  But the clothing of many Indians consists of a long piece of cloth draped around the body.  Many men wear a dhoti (a simple white garment wrapped around the legs).  The dhoti forms a sort of loose trousers.  Some men wrap the garment around themselves like a skirt.  In northern India, some men wear long, tight coats with trousers.  The trousers are wide at the top and fit tightly from knee to ankle.  Many Indian men wear turbans of various shapes.

Most Indian women wear a sari (a straight piece of cloth draped around the body as a long dress).  They place its loose end over the head or shoulder.  Wealthy women may wear saris made of silk, with borders of gold thread.  Many of the women of northern India wear pyjamas (full trousers) with a long blouse and a veil.  Indian women usually wear some jewellery, especially earrings and bracelets.  Many women also wear a kumkum (round dot) in the middle of the forehead.  The kumkum, which is usually prepared from a red or black powder, is considered a mark of beauty.

FOOD.  The chief foods of India include rice, wheat, millet, and pulses.  Pulses are the seeds of such pod vegetables as beans, chickpeas, pigeon peas, and lentils.  A typical meal consists of rice and dal, a porridge made of pulses.  Indians also enjoy wheat-flour chapatties, thin flat baked breads that resemble soft pancakes.  Some other breads are made from rice or pulse flour.  Samosas, deep-fried pastries stuffed with potatoes, vegetables, or meat, are popular snacks.  A special meal might include chicken or lamb roasted in a clay oven called a tandoor.  For special events, such as weddings, Indians may wrap elegant foods in a layer of silver so thin that it can be eaten.

Most Hindus do not eat beef, and some eat no meat at all.  Muslims eat no pork.  Indians enjoy carefully spiced vegetable dishes.  They use many different spices and blend special mixtures for each dish.  Indians eat many kinds of curries, which consist of vegetables, seafood, eggs, or meat cooked in a spicy sauce.  One or more kinds of chutneys accompany many meals.  Chutneys are relishes of spices and fruit, especially mangoes.  As a cool contrast to spicy foods, Indians sometimes serve raita, a mixture of yoghurt with fruit and vegetables.  Sweet desserts are made from milk, yoghurt, fruit, and nuts.  Fresh fruit and fruit drinks are popular.  Tea is a favourite beverage in India, but many southern Indians prefer coffee.

Health.  The health of Indians is generally poor compared with that of Westerners.  The country has a high death rate, partly because of poor diet and living conditions.  India has done much to control the spread of such diseases as cholera and malaria.  Since the 1950's, the government has been setting up nationwide public health services.  It has built many new hospitals and clinics.  Since 1950, the average life expectancy of Indians has risen by about 25 years.

Education.  About half of India's population over the age of seven years can read and write.  This figure is well over double the percentage that could read and write during the early years of the nation's independence.  The rising literacy rate has resulted from government education programmes that began in 1951.  The government has spent much money to build schools, train teachers, and provide books and other educational materials.  School attendance among all age groups has increased substantially since 1951.

The Indian Constitution provides for free education for children from age 6 to 14.  Even though school is not compulsory, about 85 per cent of all children attend some of the first five years of primary education.  But school attendance for higher grades totals only about 35 per cent.  Rural areas have fewer schools and attendances than the cities, because many children drop out of school and get jobs to support their families.

India has more than 5,000 colleges and universities.  About 4 per cent of people between 18 and 23 attend institutions of higher education.


India covers 3,287,263 square kilometres.  Great mountains separate most of northern India from the rest of Asia.  The southern half is a triangular peninsula that extends into the Indian Ocean.  The Arabian Sea lies to the west of India, and the Bay of Bengal to the east.  The coastline is 6,843 kilometres, of which 1,312 kilometres belong to India's island territories.  India has three main land regions: (1) the Himalaya; (2) the Northern Plains; and (3) the Deccan, or Southern Plateau.

The Himalaya, the highest mountain system in the world, rises partly in India and partly in China.  It curves for about 2,410 kilometres from northernmost India to northeastern India.  The Himalaya is as much as 320 kilometres wide in some places.  It includes India's tallest mountain, Kanchenjunga which is 8,598 metres high.  Many other Himalayan mountains are more than 6,100 metres high.  Many kinds of wildlife, including tigers, monkeys, rhinoceroses, and several species of deer, live in the foothills.

The Northern Plains lie between the Himalaya and the southern peninsula.  They stretch across northern India for about 2,410 kilometres, and have an average width of about 320 kilometres.  The Northern Plains region includes the valleys of the Brahmaputra, Ganges, and Indus rivers and their branches.  The Brahmaputra and the Ganges are India's longest and most important waterways.  They rise in the Himalaya from the constant mountain snows.

This region makes up the world's largest alluvial plain (land formed of soil left by rivers).  The soil ranks among the most fertile in the world.  The flatness of the plains makes them easy to irrigate.  Most of the Indian people live in this region.

The western part of the Northern Plains includes the Thar Desert, the Rann of Kutch, which is often flooded by sea- and river-water, and the Kathiawar Peninsula.

The Deccan, a huge plateau, forms most of the southern peninsula.  It slants up toward the west, where it meets the Western Ghats, a rugged mountain range that is 1,500 metres high.  This range falls sharply to a narrow coastal plain.  In the east, the Eastern Ghats, another range, rises 610 metres at the edge of the Deccan.  This range gradually slants down to a coastal plain much wider than the one in the west.  The Western and Eastern Ghats meet at the southernmost point of the Deccan in the Nilgiri Hills.  The Vindhya, which is 1,200 metres high, and other mountain ranges extend across India and separate the Deccan from the Northern Plains.

The Deccan has farming and grazing land, most of India's ores, and forests.  Rivers in the region include the Cauvery, the Godavari, and the Krishna.  They flow eastward through the Deccan to the Bay of Bengal.


Because of its size, India is home to a wide range of different environments, from high, snow-capped mountains to tropical rainforests and from hot and cold deserts and scrubland to lush, fertile plains and valleys.  These environments provide a great variety of habitats for India's rich animal and plant life.

Animals.  Many zoologists estimate that there are some 76,000 species of fauna (animals) in India.  They include (1) mammals, (2) birds, (3) reptiles and amphibians, (4) fish, and (5) insects and other invertebrates (animals without backbones).

Mammals.  Among the best-known of India's mammals are the Indian elephant and the tiger.  The Indian elephant is found all over India except in Kashmir, Punjab, and the western desert.  Domesticated elephants in India today are important in the timber industry.

Tigers are India's largest cats.  They live in the country's forests and grassy plains and swamps, especially the wooded foothills of the Himalaya.  Other cats of India include four species of panther--the common leopard; the all-black leopard; the rarely seen albino leopard; and the snow leopard, which is found only in the Himalaya.  The Asiatic lion is now found only in the Gir Forest of Saurashtra, Gujarat.

The one-horned rhinoceros is a protected species confined to eight wildlife sanctuaries, the largest of which is the Kaziranga in Assam, home to 400 rhinoceros.  The commonest species of monkeys found in India are the rhesus monkey and the Hanuman monkey, a type of langur.  Another type of monkey, the lion-tailed macaque or wanderoo, is found in a small area of southern India.

The gaur or Indian bison is a species of wild buffalo.  The nilgai, or blue bull, is found in most areas of the country.  The markhor and Asiatic ibex, two types of goat, live in the Himalaya.  India also has various kinds of wild antelope, bear, deer, gazelle, goat, pig, and sheep.  The Karakul is a wild sheep of northwestern India.

Domesticated animals include cattle, sheep, goats, water buffalo, camels, donkeys, mules, horses, and, in the Himalaya, yaks.

The Ganges dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is a fresh-water dolphin that lives in the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus rivers.  It may be up to 3.6 metres in length.

Birds.  About 1,200 species of birds live in India.  More than 85 per cent of India's bird types are resident within the country.  The rest are migratory.  Migrating birds reach India in September to November and fly back during March and April.

Common birds of India include birds of prey such as the falcon, hawk, and osprey; vultures; ducks, geese, swans, cormorants, frigate birds, flamingos, herons, kingfishers, and other water birds; and parrots and songbirds of various kinds.  Game birds include the snipe, pheasant, and grey or black partridge; the sand grouse of Rajasthan; and the green pigeon, quail, and Indian bustard, which is an endangered species.  The myna bird, a relative of the starling, is one of nature's greatest mimics.  Jungle fowl inhabit India's forests.  The Indian peacock is India's national bird.

Reptiles and amphibians.  India has more than 400 species of reptile.  The gavial, or gharial, a long-snouted animal related to the crocodile, lives in the waters of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, and Mahanadi.  The gavial can reach a length of 6.5 metres.  The crocodile itself exists in three species in India.  One, the estuarine crocodile (Crocodilus porosus), is said to reach nearly 10 metres.  Among turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, about 50 species are known.  The largest is the leathery turtle.

India has some 400 species of snakes, of which about 80 species are poisonous.  These deadly snakes include 25 species of sea snakes, 11 species of krait, and the cobra and king cobra.  The wolf snake, rat snake, and grass snake are harmless.

India has three common species of frog--the bullfrog, the water-skipping frog, and the burrowing frog.  There are also two groups of tree frogs.

Fish.  True salmon and trout are not native to Indian rivers but have been introduced successfully.  There are also catfish, various members of the carp family, the hilsa (a type of herring), the pomfret, and the Bombay duck (a food fish of northern India).

Insects and other invertebrates.  Mosquitos are plentiful and spread diseases such as malaria.  Locusts occasionally devastate crops causing economic disaster in some areas.  But some insects are useful to humans.  They include the silkworm and the honey bee.  The insect Coceus laca produces a resinous liquid called lac, from which shellac is made.  India also has many species of beautiful butterflies.

India has 90 species of scorpions, 250 species of spiders, and about 1,000 species of crabs, prawns, and lobsters.  Among molluscs, the Indian pearl oyster is economically important.  An African snail known as Achatina has damaged crops in parts of western India.

Plants.  Almost every plant family in the world is represented in India's richly varied flora (plant life).  But certain kinds of plants are distinctive features of India's differing regions and climates.

In northern India, the valleys of the eastern Himalaya are home to a wide variety of broadleaved trees, such as alder, birch, laurel, and maple, and conifers such as juniper.  The area is also known for its rhododendrons, bamboo, and dwarf willow.  Juniper, silver birch, and silver fir are abundant in the uppermost, alpine environment of the western Himalaya.  Further down the mountain slopes grow forests of spruce, silver fir, and deodar (East Indian cedar).  Sal forests dominate the lowest regions, providing a wood much used in the furniture industry.  Forests of sal are also found in the region of the Ganges.  Tall grasses and forests of bamboo grow in the Brahmaputra and Surma valleys of Assam.  Assam is also one of the original homes of the mango, a commercially important fruit of south and east Asia.  In the valleys of the Himalaya, farmers grow apple, apricot, peach, pear, and walnut trees.

In southern India, the dry environment of the Deccan plateau provides good growing conditions for various kinds of palm.  Tropical plants grow in western India.  Commercial crops of the region include bananas, betel nuts, cardamon, citrus fruit, coconuts, coffee and tea, ginger, pepper, and rubber.  Ironwood, rosewood, and teak are plentiful in the broadleaf forests of the region.  Much rarer is the group of tree species supplying India's sandalwood.

In many regions of India, farmers grow rice, peas, beans, and lentils.  The bark of the cinchona tree contains quinine, a substance used to combat malaria.

Conservation of animals and plants is important in India.  There are 19 national parks and 202 sanctuaries throughout the country.

Among India's wildlife, experts believe that about 66 species of mammals, 38 species of birds, 18 species of amphibians, all 3 species of India's crocodiles, and 135 species of plants are in danger.  India is a member of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.  The nation's major conservation projects include a crocodile breeding and management programme organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization and a Tiger Project.


Most of India has three seasons: (1) cool, (2) hot, and (3) rainy.

The cool season lasts from October to February.  The weather then becomes mild, except in the northern mountains.  Snow usually falls in mountainous areas during this season.  As the altitude increases, temperatures drop below freezing point (0 °C).  No other section of India has temperatures below freezing point.  The northern plains may get some frost during this season.  Southern India lacks a true cool season, but the weather from October to February is usually not quite as hot as during the rest of the year.

The hot season lasts from March to the end of June.  The northern plains get the greatest heat.  Temperatures often rise to 49 °C. Temperatures on the coastal plains stay around 29 °C or 32 °C. Cyclones often bring storms to the coastal plains at this time.  Parts of the southern plateau remain cool during the hot season.  The northern mountains are cool or cold, depending on altitude.

The rainy season lasts from the middle of June to September.  During this period, monsoons (seasonal winds) blow across the Indian Ocean, picking up moisture.  They reach India from the southeast and southwest, bringing almost all the rain that falls on India.  During the other two seasons, monsoons blow from the north or northeast.

The southwest monsoons are of great importance to Indian agriculture.  If the monsoons bring enough rain to the country, crops will grow.  Sometimes they fail to arrive in time, and crops fail as a result.  Some monsoons drop too much rain, ruining crops and causing destructive floods.

Rain falls most heavily in northeastern India.  Some hills and mountain slopes in this region receive an average of about 1,140 centimetres of rain a year.  The world's heaviest recorded rainfall for one year fell at Cherrapunji.  This village in Meghalaya had 2,647 centimetres of rain from August 1860 to July 1861.  The Thar, or Indian, Desert in the northwestern part of the country receives less than 25 centimetres of rain a year.  Some sections of the hot, sandy, and rocky, desert get only about 5 centimetres of rain annually.


Poverty is fairly widespread in India, but a few Indians have great wealth.  India has a large economy in terms of its gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced in a year.  But because of its large population, India has one of the lowest per capita (per person) GDP's.  This figure is determined by dividing a nation's GDP by its population.  India is considered a developing country because of its low per capita GDP.

Agriculture provides about a third of India's national income.  India ranks among the world's leading nations in total farm area.  Farms cover more than half of the country.  About 80 per cent of the farmland is used to grow India's main foods--grains and pulses, the seeds of various pod vegetables, such as beans, chickpeas, and pigeon peas.  The major grain crops include rice, wheat, millet, and sorghum.  Rice leads all crops in land area.  Only China grows more rice than India.  India has more cattle and buffalo than any other country.  These animals are not butchered for meat, but are important to the economy because the females provide milk.

India grows more than half of the world's mangoes and leads all countries in the production of cashews, millet, peanuts, pulses, sesame seeds, and tea.  The nation ranks second in the production of cauliflowers, jute, onions, rice, sorghum, and sugar cane, and is a major producer of apples, aubergines, bananas, coconuts, coffee, cotton, oranges, potatoes, rapeseeds, rubber, tobacco, and wheat.  India is also the world's largest grower of betel nuts, which are palm nuts chewed as a stimulant by many people in tropical Asia.  It is also a leading producer of such spices as cardamom, ginger, pepper, and turmeric.

In the past, India had to import much food.  But improved farming techniques and the use of irrigation and high-yield grains have greatly increased agricultural production.  The government sponsors programmes to teach farmers scientific farming methods.  It also provides credit to allow farmers to buy improved varieties of seeds and fertilizers.  The government encourages increased food production by paying farmers higher prices for their crops.  Despite a rapidly growing population, India now produces enough food to meet most of its needs.  But such disasters as droughts and floods still sometimes cause food shortages in some areas.

About 60 per cent of India's workers earn a living by farming.  The farmers and their families use most of their crops.  Half of all Indian farms are less than 1 hectare in area.  Only 4 per cent cover more than 10 hectares.  About two-thirds of the farmers in India own their own land.  Most of their farms become smaller and smaller with each generation because of inheritance customs.  When a man dies, his farm is usually divided equally among his children.  In many cases, the share of each child may be too small to provide a living.  Some Indian states have laws that set a minimum size for a farm below which the land cannot be divided.

India has the world's largest cattle population.  But because cattle are sacred to Hindus, the animals are rarely used for meat, except by Muslims and Christians.  Farmers keep cattle and water buffaloes for ploughing and for milk.  Most commercial milk production comes from water buffaloes.  Hides from cattle and water buffaloes are used for leather after the animals have died.  Sheep are reared mostly for wool and sheepskin.  The production of chickens and eggs is increasing.

Service industries are those economic activities that produce services, not goods.  Service industries are less important in India than they are in other large countries because its population is agriculturally oriented.

India's leading service industries are (1) community, government, and personal services and (2) trade.  Community, government, and personal services include such activities as education, health care, public administration, and national defence.  This group of services employs nearly a fifth of India's people.  Mumbai is India's major centre for retail trade and for the wholesale trade of cotton.  Calcutta is a world leader in the wholesale trade of jute.

Other service industries include finance, insurance, property, and business services; and transportation, communication, and utilities.  Transportation and communication are discussed later in this section.

Manufacturing has expanded rapidly in India since the nation became independent.  Total industrial production today is six times as great as in 1950.  Petroleum refining and the manufacture of machinery and transportation equipment have grown especially fast.

The privately owned Tata steel mills at Jamshedpur were constructed in the early 1900's.  Since 1950, the government has built, with foreign aid, major iron and steel mills at Bhilai, Bokaro, Durgapur, and Raurkela.  Indian factories use the iron and steel to make cars, bicycles, diesel engines, electric appliances, military equipment, pumps, railway carriages, sewing machines, tractors, and many kinds of industrial machinery.  Workers in factories in Delhi and Mumbai assemble electronic products.

Indian plants refine petroleum and produce many industrial chemicals, dyes, medicines, fertilizers, and pesticides.  Other plants manufacture cement, food products, paper, sugar, and wood products.  India imports rough diamonds, cuts them, and exports the gems.

The clothing and textile industries employ more workers than any other industries.  Cotton mills are concentrated in Mumbai and Ahmadabad.  Punjab has woollen mills, and Calcutta has jute factories.  Millions of Indians work at home, weaving fine fabrics of cotton, rayon, and silk by hand.  They make beautifully designed carpets and rugs, and spin fine laces of gold and silver threads.  People throughout the world buy embroideries and shawls made by these home weavers.  Other articles sometimes produced at home include brassware, jewellery, leather goods, and woodcarvings.

FORESTRY AND FISHING.  Forests cover about 10 per cent of India.  Large quantities of deodar cedar, rosewood, sal, and teak are cut for timber.  In addition, villagers chop down many trees for fuel.  India's forest land shrinks each year because people cut more trees than they plant.  The government encourages planting, mostly of fast-growing eucalyptus and pine.

India is a major fishing nation.  Croakers, mackerel, sardines, sharks, and shrimp are caught in the surrounding seas.  People also catch Bombay duck, a small fish that is dried.  Bombay duck is eaten either as an appetizer or as a relish with curried food.  Rivers yield carp and catfish.

MINING.  India's great deposits of valuable ores include a variety of raw materials suitable for industrial development.  India produces about 7 per cent of the world's iron ore.  The iron ore deposits lie along the Bihar-Orissa state borders, near several of the country's major iron and steel works.  India also has a good supply of coal.  Petroleum accounts for about 50 per cent of the yearly value of all the minerals mined in India, and coal accounts for about 40 per cent.  Most of the country's coal comes from the states of Bihar and West Bengal.  Petroleum is produced from wells in the Indian Ocean off the coast from Mumbai and from inland deposits in Assam.

Indian mines supply much of the world's mica, a mineral that is necessary for the manufacture of electrical devices.  The country exports much manganese ore, which is used in steelmaking.

Other mineral resources include large deposits of bauxite, beryllium, chromite, gypsum, limestone, magnesite, natural gas, salt, and titanium.  There are smaller deposits of copper, lead, sulphur, and zinc.  India also has deposits of two radioactive metals, thorium and uranium; as well as diamonds, emeralds, gold, and silver.  The Kolar gold mines in Karnataka, among the world's deepest, go down more than 3.2 kilometres.

ENERGY SUPPLY.  India imports large amounts of petroleum because it uses more than it produces.  Plants that burn petroleum or coal generate about three-quarters of India's electricity.  Most of the rest comes from hydroelectric plants on India's river systems.  Nuclear plants provide a small amount of the country's electricity.

Transportation in India depends heavily on railways.  The railway system, owned and operated by the government, is among the largest in the world.  Each year, more than 3 billion passenger journeys are made by rail.  Railways also carry about 60 per cent of India's freight traffic.

Many roads crisscross India.  Good national highways connect major cities.  But the poor quality of most of India's other roads, plus the small number of bridges and service stations, makes long-distance travel by road difficult in many areas.  Fewer Indians than 1 in 500 own a car, and many people travel on buses.  Trucks carry about 30 per cent of the nation's freight.  Vehicles pulled by animals or people still provide a major means of transportation for short trips.  Two-wheeled oxcarts account for most of the traffic.  Many people in the cities ride bicycles and motor scooters.  The Brahmaputra, Ganges, Godavari, and Krishna rivers carry the most boat traffic.

The government owns and operates two major airlines, and there are some private airlines.  Air-India provides international service to many countries.  Indian Airlines flies within India and to nearby countries.  Calcutta, Chennai Delhi, and Mumbai have major airports.

COMMUNICATION.  All Indian cities have telephone service, but the nation has a total of only about 3 million telephones.  Telegraph lines reach into all parts of India.  The government owns India's radio and television stations.  India has an average of only about 1 radio for every 13 people and 1 television set for every 30 people.  Many Indians watch television at community centres in villages.  The Indian film industry ranks as the world's largest.  It produces more than 700 feature films a year.  Mumbai is the industry's main centre.

India has more than 1,300 daily newspapers, reflecting many different political viewpoints.  The largest include The Hindu, the Indian Express, the Times of India, and the Statesman, each of which is published in English and in several different cities; Ananda Bazar Patrika, published in Bengali in Calcutta; Malayala Manorama, published in Malayalam in Kerala state; and the Navbharat Times, published in Hindi in Delhi and Mumbai.

TRADE.  India's chief exports include cashews, coffee, cotton textiles and clothing, cut diamonds, handicrafts, iron ore, jute products, leather goods, shrimp, tea, and tobacco.  Agricultural and allied products make up 28 per cent of the value of the exports, while manufactured goods make up 63 per cent.  Industrial goods that are exported include appliances, electronic products, and light machinery.  The chief import is petroleum.  Other imports include edible oils, fertilizers, food grains, iron and steel, industrial machinery, and transportation equipment.  The value of India's imports is greater than the value of its exports.  India uses foreign loans to finance the extra imports.  India's main trading partners include Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


India, Armed services of.  India's armed services number more than one-and-a-quarter million service personnel and are formed into three branches--the army, the air force, and the navy.  There are also about 200,000 paramilitary forces who are responsible to the minister of home affairs.  They are employed mainly on border protection duties.  These paramilitaries are auxiliary forces set up along military lines.

Only China, Russia, and the United States have larger armed forces than India.  However, India's armed services make up a far smaller proportion of its total population than those of either Russia or the United States.  Just over 1 per cent of India's population are members of its armed services.  All of these military personnel are volunteers.

Many Indians see a need for their country to have strong armed forces.  In area, India is the seventh largest nation in the world.  It has long coastlines and land borders, some parts of which are disputed with other countries.  Its international interests include claims to parts of Antarctica.  India's armed services have fought four wars since the country gained independence.  Meanwhile, within its borders India has felt the need for strong military forces, given the history of violent instability in several of its provinces, notably Kashmir and Punjab.

 Defence and organization

India's defence policy.  India's defence policy is to maintain peace within its borders.  It also aims to build up a defensive force strong enough to deter or overcome any attack.

The president of India is supreme commander of the nation's armed services.  But the cabinet of the government of India assumes overall responsibility for national defence.  The Ministry of Defence coordinates the activities of the three services and controls their finances.  There is no joint chief of staff.  The three services are independent of each other, but the army has the largest influence.

The army.  There are more than one million personnel on active service in India's army.  It is predominantly an infantry army, with 30 divisions of infantry and only 2 armoured and 2 mechanized divisions.  There are several independent brigades.  In all, the army consists of 355 infantry battalions, 290 artillery regiments, and 55 tank battalions.  An aviation corps, founded in 1986, consists of 14 squadrons operating helicopters built in India under licence.  The army is organized into five geographical commands.

The army is the most traditional of the three services.  Regiments jealously guard their long histories, most of which date from their service when India was part of the British Empire.  Officers receive training at the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun, an academy established by the British.

The air force.  India's air force totals about 110,000 personnel and 800 combat aircraft.  There are five geographical operational commands supported by Maintenance Command and Training Command.  The five operational commands are the Central Command at Allahabad; Western Command at Delhi; Southwestern Command at Jodhpur; Eastern Command at Shillong; and Southern Air Command at Trivandrum.  The air force comprises 23 squadrons of 400 fighter, ground-attack aircraft and 20 squadrons of air force fighters equipped with 360 aircraft.  The air force also has a limited capability for electronic countermeasures, airborne warning and control, and reconnaissance.  There are two attack helicopter squadrons and about 200 transport aircraft and 140 transport helicopters.

The navy.  India's navy has two fleets--the Western and the Eastern--made up of 23 destroyers and frigates and 2 aircraft carriers.  It also has 15 diesel-powered attack submarines.

The chief of the Naval Staff has headquarters in New Delhi.  The chief controls three naval commands.  These commands are the Western Command based in Mumbai, the Eastern Command based in Vishakhapatnam, and the Southern Command based in Cochin.

The naval air arm is relatively strong and consists of two squadrons of Harriers for use on the carriers.  Most destroyers and frigates can accommodate helicopters.  There are six antisubmarine warfare squadrons consisting of 75 helicopters altogether.  There are also three squadrons of maritime reconnaissance aircraft and a number of advanced antisubmarine warfare aircraft.

Equipment and weaponry

The need to maintain modern, well-equipped armed forces is a heavy burden on the nation.  The Indian government seeks to encourage home production of every kind of military equipment.  In this way it has reduced reliance on foreign imports.  But new, home-produced military items are expensive because of the high costs of research and development.  For this reason, some branches of the armed services continue to use aging or outdated hardware.  The most important development in military equipment in India has been the local production of much of what the services need.  Under licences granted by foreign manufacturers, India manufactures missiles, ships, aeroplanes, helicopters, and tanks.

Local production fills only a part of India's equipment needs.  The rest comes from foreign suppliers.  In the years after independence, India relied on equipment supplied by the United Kingdom.  Today, with a few exceptions, most of India's military equipment has been obtained from Russia or, before 1992, from the Soviet Union (the former federation of Communist states led by Russia between 1922 and 1991).

In India's army, some artillery regiments are equipped with Russian-made rockets launchers.  Some have surface-to-air missiles and air defence artillery.  The Indian air force's attack fighter aircraft consist of Russian MIG's and UK-made Jaguars.  Its defence fighters are mostly aging MIG 21's.  The navy continues to employ two aging UK-designed aircraft carriers, with their complement of Harrier jets and UK frigates.  In the 1990's, hopes to obtain a newer Russian aircraft carrier and a Russian nuclear-powered submarine depended on securing the funds.

India is known to be able to manufacture nuclear weapons.  It detonated a nuclear device, said to be for peaceful purposes, in 1974.  Since India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its nuclear reactors are not monitored by an International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards agreement.  India has also constructed a few plants for preparing plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.  Some observers believe it could be stockpiling such material.

Indian Air Force planes can be modified to carry bombs, and a number of missiles have been under development.  The short-range (250 km) Privthi was shown on the Independence Day parade in 1994 and was considered to be in service by 1995.  Although it is a purely conventionally armed missile, it could carry a nuclear warhead.  A longer-range missile, the Agni, was under development.ATAL BEHARIVAJPAYEE  our  best  PRIME  MINISTER
in the history  of  INDIA, during his period conducted  a nuclear test in pokhran  on  MAY 11