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Home » Resources » Country Profile » India


The world's largest democracy and second most populous country has emerged as a major power after a period of foreign rule and several decades during which its economy was virtually closed. A nuclear weapons state, it carried out a programme of tests in the late 1990s in defiance of world opinion. However, India is still struggling with huge social, economic and environmental problems.


The vast and diverse Indian sub-continent - stretching from the mountainous Afghan frontier across to the jungles of Burma - was subject to foreign rule from the early 1800s until the demise of the British Raj in 1947. But the subsequent partition of the sub-continent sowed the seeds for future conflict. There have been three wars between India and its arch-rival Pakistan since 1947, two of them over the disputed territory of Kashmir. A peace process, which started in 2004, has achieved a fragile rapprochement. Communal, caste and regional tensions continue to haunt Indian politics, sometimes threatening its long-standing democratic and secular ethos. In 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards after ordering troops to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. And in 1992, widespread Hindu-Muslim violence erupted after Hindu extremists demolished the Babri mosque at Ayodhya. Independent India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, dreamed of a socialist society and created a vast public infrastructure, much of which became a burden on the state.
From the late 1980s India began to open up to the outside world, encouraging economic reform and foreign investment. It is now courted by the world's leading economic and political powers, including its one-time foe China.
The country has a burgeoning urban middle class and has made great strides in fields such as information technology. Its large, skilled workforce makes it a popular choice for international companies seeking to outsource work.
India launches its own satellites and plans to send a spacecraft to the moon. It also boasts a massive cinema industry; the films that it produces are among the most widely-watched in the world. But the vast mass of the rural population remains illiterate and impoverished. Their lives continue to be dominated by the ancient Hindu caste system, which assigns each person a fixed place in the social hierarchy.


Population: 1.1 billion (UN, 2005)
Capital: New Delhi
Area: 3.1 million sq km (1.2 million sq miles), excluding Indian-administered Kashmir (100,569 sq km/38,830 sq miles)
Major languages: Hindi, English and 17 other official languages
Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism
Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Indian Rupee = 100 paise
Main exports: Agricultural products, textile goods, gems and jewellery, software services and technology, engineering goods, chemicals, leather products
GNI per capita: US $620 (World Bank, 2005)
Internet domain: .in
International dialling code: +91

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