India has the second largest population in the world at 1,033 million people (Population Reference Bureau, 2001). The population density is an average of 814 people per square mile. That is about eleven times more crowded than the United States and more than twice the population density of China (although China's population is almost entirely located on the eastern side of the country). India's current population growth rate of 1.7% exceeds both China (0.9%) and the United States (0.6%), who are respectively first and third in total population (Population Reference Bureau, 2001).
India has grown dramatically since achieving independence. In 1900 the population was less than 250 million. In 1947, when India became an independent nation, the total population was 375 million, an increase of only 50% in almost 50 years. In the last 50 years, the population has increased by over 150%, from 500 million in 1965 to 875 million in 1991, 930 million in 1995, at the current rate of growth, India will add approximately 13.75 million people to its population each year. India's annual population increase is greater than the current populations of 147 of the world's nations.
The reasons for this rapid population growth mirror those in many other nations. Contact with Western nations, in particular Great Britain, brought with it Western medicine. The infant mortality rates dropped and life expectancy rose. As the largest democratic nation in the world, India has been unable to force population controls like those in China. They have unsuccessfully attempted condom distributions and forced sterilization. Nothing has thus far convinced the average citizen to cooperate in controlling population growth.
India's culture is bound to both its religions and languages, with religion having the stronger influence of the two. The dominant religions are Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, and Sikhism.
The Hindu religion appears to have it roots in the Aryan invaders around 2000 B.C. (Clawson, 2001). The foundation of Hinduism can also be traced back to the Indus River Valley. Hinduism was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years. One theory of invasion, states that Aryan-Indo-European tribes from Russia and Central Asia invaded Northern India around 1500 B.C. After the Aryan invasion many important Hindu texts and traditions began to form. All these widely practiced traditions developed and form what is now known as Hinduism. Hinduism has a pantheon of multiple gods and goddesses, some of whom take on a variety of identities.
In the sixth century B.C.E., two religious groups split from Hinduism. They are Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhism eventually died out in the nation of its own birth and thrives now in SE Asia and China. Jainism has a following of about 7 million people in India. They respect all life unconditionally. Due to this belief, they are strict vegetarians, do not engage in farming because a farmer must kill plants to harvest them and wear no silk clothing because the silkworm must be killed to obtain the silk thread. They have instead moved into professional careers in such fields as medicine and law. Wealthy Jains maintain many charitable institutions for both people and animals.
Islam came on the heels of Muslim raiders as early as 712 A.D. Over the course of the next few centuries Islam gained a solid following especially in India's northwest. It was especially popular with lower castes since it offered them a chance for social and professional advancement.
Sikhs are a small but important group who has blended Hindu and Muslim ideas. They emerged about 500 years ago as a means to unite warring Hindu and Muslim states. Sikhs reject the Hindu caste system. The British promoted the Sikhs' growth by establishing them in colonial administrative positions. More than any other Indian group, the Sikhs benefited from the colonial period. Like Islam, Sikhism is centered in northern India. Amritsar was the actual center of Sikhism prior to the partition. Like Jains, Sikhs represent a small portion of India's large population (2%) but are found in much higher than expected concentrations in skilled professions.
In ancient India, there developed a social system in which people were divided into separate close communities. These communities are known as a caste system. The origin of the caste system is in Hinduism, but it affected the whole Indian society. The religious caste system is a simple division of society into four castes, arranged in a hierarchy. From high to low, the caste divisions are priests (Brahman), warriors (kshatriya), landholders (vaisya) and servants (sudra). Below these four divisions are the outcasts. (Bogard, 1997)
India has 15 different native languages (Bradshaw, 203). A language map shows 23 different languages, some in very small areas. Hindi has the largest number of native speakers. Like the majority of Indian languages it comes from the Indo-European family. The second largest language group is the Dravidians. They are located mainly in southern India and may represent India's indigenous population prior to the Aryan invasions 4000 years ago. While not a native language of India, English is widely spoken. As a result of Britain's colonial administration, English became the lingua franca, or language of business, throughout the subcontinent.
Over 64% of India's population is engaged in agriculture (Clawson, 387). Compare that with 2% in the United States. Most of India's farming families live in absolute poverty. They practice subsistence agriculture, only producing enough to feed themselves.
A mere 5% of the population, controls 25% of the agricultural land. The remaining land is broken up into very small family plots, some smaller than a single acre. The current fragmentation worsens under the land inheritance methods, dividing a man's land among all of his sons. A national land reform following independence might have rectified some of the problems and inequities in the system. However, not surprisingly the large landowners also wield political power and have effectively blocked all attempts to reapportion agricultural land.
A Green Revolution occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. Methods of increasing crop yields and more productive varieties of grain were developed and then implemented in many nations facing food shortages. Two of India's largest crops, rice and wheat, benefited from the Green Revolution. Yields have increased by about 50% but the gap between food supply and population continues to grow. India, by and large, uses pre-industrial methods of farming. Farming extremely small plots does little to encourage mechanization or even cooperation. Mismanagement also contributes to agricultural problems. Consequently, even with the Green Revolution, among the largest countries, India has the lowest crop yields.
Another part of India's agriculture is geared toward an export market. Agricultural exports include cotton, textiles, tea, jute, and leather.
Prior to independence in 1947, India had few industries. This was directly related to British colonial policy. They preferred to use their colonies as a source of raw materials and a market for their own industrial goods. As a result, only 2% of Indians were engaged in industry in 1947. The majority of those were textiles and food processing.
A large portion of India's industrial ability is concentrated in the cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Calcutta, home to 12 million people, processes mainly jute. Bombay is approximately the same size but located on the western coast. In Bombay, the major industry is food processing. Madras has only 6 million people and produces textiles. Most of the industry is still concerned with processing agricultural goods. However, some chemical and light engineering industry has started in Ahmadabad and the area around Madras. Some of this started in a flurry of industrial spending following the Green Revolution. Unfortunately, the exploding population presses industrial growth in addition to its pressure on the food supply. In addition safety concerns are a serious problem as demonstrated by the accident at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal that killed 3500 people and injured 200,000.
India has a fairly good mix of resources. An area of coal beds surrounds Calcutta. Iron ores are found in the state of Bihar in the north central part of India. However, while some steel industry has grown up in the area, most of the raw iron is exported to more industrialized nations. India has no known oil fields. In order to reduce dependence on foreign fuels, the nation has been exploring possibilities of hydroelectric plants. The British colonial government left India with another important resource - a well developed rail system. There are some problems with differences of rail gauge but most of the nation is connected to the railway in one way or another.
India's future is tied to its burgeoning population. More than a third of the population is still under age 15. Feeding the people, improving agriculture, and developing more industry to use available resources will be areas of emphasis. They are also looking to develop more writing and reading skills throughout the country. Only about 30% of India has been literate since the 1970's. Today, the government provides free school for kids from age 6 to 14. However many schoolchildren drop out before the age of 11. India ranks 5th among the world's nations in total farm area. In turn they lead all countries in the production of peanuts, pepper, sugar tea, and tea, and 2nd in the production of bananas. About 5 million Indians work in factories, but they are looking to expand this number dramatically.
India's great river system provides about 40% of the country's electric power, but India has developed only about 5% of its water resources. The government is building many hydroelectric plants along the rivers. But they will use only a small part of the possible power. They will look to improve their electricity plain in recent years to come!
Bogard, Medina. (1997). History of the Caste System [Online]. Southern Nazarene University. Available: http://www.snu.edu/syllabi/history/s97/India/caste.htm
Clawson, David L. (2001). World Regional Geography: A Developmental Approach (7th Edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Bradshaw, Michael. (2001). World Regional Geography: The New Global Order (2nd Edition). New York: McGraw Hill.
Population Reference Bureau. (2001) World Population Data Sheet.
1) Which is not a major religion in India? A) Islam B) Hinduism C) Sikhism D) Buddhism E) Jainism
2) How much of India's population is engaged in agriculture? A) 70% B) 10% C) 66% D) 55% E) 95%
3) What was the name of the Revolution, during the 1950's and 60's, where methods of increasing crop yields and more productive varieties of grain were developed? A) Green B) India C) Agriculture D) Crop Yield E) None of these.
4) The three cities that that grew rapidly as a result of British colonialism and still have a large portion of India's industrial capacity? A) Calcutta, Bombay, and New Delhi; B) Bombay, Madras, and Banglalor; C) Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay; D) Karachi, Bombay, and Katmandu.
5) In the correct answer to # 4, which 2 cities are approximately the same size? A) New Delhi - Bombay B) Calcutta - Bombay C) Madras - Calcutta D) Banglalor - Madras E) Calcutta - Madras
6) More that 1/3 of India's population is under what age? A) 18 B) 21 C) 29 D) 25 E) 15
7) Which country has the 2nd largest population in the world? A) United States B) China C) Japan D) India E) England
8) Which is NOT a reason for rapid population growth? A) Bringing in western medicine; B) Inability to force population controls; C) Infant mortality rates have dropped; D) Life expectancy rose; E) People of India have higher incomes.
9) India's culture is bound by what two major aspects? A) Language & Religion B) Government & Religion C) Language & Government D) Family & Government E) Religion & Family.
10) How many different NATIVE languages does India have? A) 20 B) 10 C) 14 D) 15 E) 1
11) Most of India's languages derive from where? A) India B) China C) Indo-Europe D) Pakistan E) None of these
12) What is India's current population growth? A) 2.5% B) 1.7% C) 1.1% D) 1.5% E) 3%
Submitted by Rachel Lewis on 9 March 1996. Resubmitted by Blake Selph on 15 Nov 1998. Resubmitted by Leah Yeager on 5 November 2001