What's New
   North Korea
   Saudi Arabia
   South Korea
 Deforestation Stats
 Site Map
 Mongabay Sites
   Kids' site
   Travel Tips
   Tropical Fish



Population: The 2004 estimate of India’s total population was 1,065,070,607. According to the 2001 Indian census, the total population was 1,028,610,328, a 21.3 percent increase from 1991 and 2 percent average growth rate from 1975 to 2001. India has nearly 17 percent of the world’s population, second only to China. About 72 percent of the population resided in rural areas in 2001, yet the country has a population density of 324 persons per square kilometer. Major states have more than 400 persons per square kilometer, but population densities are around 150 persons or fewer per square kilometer in some border states and insular territories.

Demography: In 2001 India’s birthrate was 25.4 per 1,000 population, its death rate was 8.4 per 1,000, and its infant mortality rate was 66 per 1,000 live births. In 1995 to 1997, India’s total fertility rate was 3.4 children per woman (4.5 in 1980–82). According to the 2001 Indian census, 35.3 percent of the population was under 14 years of age, 59.9 percent between 15 and 64, and 4.8 percent 65 and older (the 2004 estimates are, respectively, 31.7 percent, 63.5 percent, and 4.8 percent); the sex ratio was 933 females per 1,000 males. In 2004 India’s median age was estimated to be 24.4. From 1992 to 1996, overall life expectancy at birth was 60.7 years (60.1 years for males and 61.4 years for females) and was estimated to be 64 years in 2004 (63.3 for males and 64.8 for females).

Ethnic Groups: The exact number of ethnic groups depends on source and method of counting, and scholars estimate that only the continent of Africa exceeds the linguistic, cultural, and genetic diversity of India. Seventy-two percent of the population is Indo-Aryan, 25 percent Dravidian, and 3 percent Mongoloid and other. Each of these groups can be further subdivided into various—and changing—combinations of language, religion, and, very often, caste. The Hindu caste system is technically illegal but widely practiced (generally more in rural areas) and comprises four major categories (varnas) that are found India-wide but are often subdivided into hundreds of sub-categories (jatis), many of which are often found only in specific areas. Similar hereditary and occupational social hierarchies exist within Sikh and Muslim communities but are generally far less pervasive and institutionalized. About 16 percent of the total population is “untouchable” (Scheduled Castes is the more formal, legal term; Dalit is the term preferred by “untouchables” and roughly translates to downtrodden); around 8 percent of the population belongs to one of 461 indigenous groups (often called Scheduled Tribes for legal purposes, although the term adivasi is commonly used).

Languages: The total number of languages and dialects varies by source and counting method, and many Indians speak more than one language. The Indian census lists 114 languages (22 of which are spoken by one million or more persons) that are further categorized into 216 dialects or “mother tongues” spoken by 10,000 or more speakers. An estimated 850 languages are in daily use, and the Indian Government claims there are more than 1,600 dialects.

Hindi is the official language and the most commonly spoken, but not all dialects are mutually comprehensible. English also has official status and is widely used in business and politics, although knowledge of English varies widely from fluency to knowledge of just a few words. The teaching of Hindi and English is compulsory in most states and union territories. Twenty-two languages are legally recognized by the constitution for various political, educational, and other purposes: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithali, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. Numerous other languages are recognized by individual states but not officially recognized by the central government, and linguistic issues related to education, employment, and politics are sometimes politically contentious. Indeed, some state borders are based on linguistic lines. The most commonly spoken languages are Hindi (40.2 percent of the population), Bengali (8.3 percent), Telugu (7.9 percent), Marathi (7.5 percent), and Tamil (6.3 percent).

Religion: Approximately 80.5 percent of the population is Hindu, 13.4 percent Muslim, 2.3 percent Christian, 1.9 percent Sikh, 0.8 percent Buddhist, and 0.4 percent Jain; another 0.6 percent belongs to other faiths, such as Zoroastrianism and numerous religions associated with Scheduled Tribes. These percentages have changed little since the 1961 census. In spite of Hinduism’s inherent pantheism, adherents often focus much of their devotion on a specific deity—such as Vaishnivites (those primarily devoted to Vishnu and related deities) and Shaivites (Shiva and related deities)—but these denominations rarely have notable social, economic, or political consequences. The Indian constitution confers religious freedom for individuals and prohibits religious discrimination, but in spite of this, there have been enduring tensions—and occasional conflict—among religious communities, most notably between Hindus and Muslims.

Education and Literacy: In 2000 the adult literacy rate (percent aged 15 or older) was 58.5 percent (72.3 percent for males, 44.4 percent for females). These figures have all nearly doubled since 1961 and are higher than in most other South Asian nations, but they are still far lower than in most East Asian nations. In 2001 the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary enrollment ratio was 55 percent of the population of official school age for the three levels. Total government expenditures on education in 2001 were Rs841.8 billion (US$17.3 billion), which was 13.2 percent of all government expenditures and 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Since the 1950s, government expenditures on education have increased steadily, as have the number of educational institutions from the primary to the university level.

In most states and union territories, primary school covers grade levels (called “standards”) 1 to 8 and secondary education, standards 9 and 10; all states have senior secondary education for standards 11 and 12. As of 1997, most states and union territories had no compulsory level of education. Twelve states and union territories legally require completion of either the fifth- or eighth-grade level, yet drop-out rates are high even in compulsory stages. The majority of states and union territories have free education up to the seventh-grade level, and the majority of primary schools are government funded and managed. However, less than half of secondary schools are government funded and managed. Indeed, 34 percent of secondary institutions are government funded but privately managed, and 25 percent are privately managed without government funding.

Health: National health indicators are generally lower than in many developing countries but have shown dramatic improvement nationwide, although there are variations among states in India. India’s 2002 Human Development Index (HDI is a measure of income, education, and health developed by the United Nations) of 0.595 was an improvement over its 1975 HDI of 0.411, but India ranked 127th in the world out of 177 countries (the 2002 world average HDI was 0.729). An estimated 21 percent of the total population is malnourished, and common diseases include malaria, filariasis, leprosy, cholera, pneumonic plague, tuberculosis, trachoma, goiter, and diarrheal diseases. According to government estimates, about 0.5 percent of the population (about 5.1 million) was infected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 2003. In November 2004, the head of the United Nations Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome program (UNAIDS) claimed that India, along with China and Russia, is on the “tipping point” of having small, localized AIDS epidemics become major ones that could detrimentally affect the world’s capacity to prevent and treat the disease.

The above facts and figures are associated with substantial poverty and relatively low government health expenditures. In 2001 public health expenditures were 3.1 percent of total general government expenditures but only 17.9 percent of total health expenditures. By contrast, private expenditures were 82.1 percent of total health expenditures, all of which was out-of-pocket expense. Furthermore, total health expenditures per capita represented 5.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001, but public health expenditures were only 0.9 percent of GDP, and private health expenditures were 4.2 percent of GDP. The population’s health is also a function of the relatively low number of health personnel and low level of infrastructure, which are on a par with many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1991 public and private primary health centers included more than 14,000 hospitals, 28,000 dispensaries, and 838,000 beds. In 1998 there were 52.2 medical practitioners per 100,000 persons, and in 1994 there were 69 hospital beds per 100,000 persons. In 1992 India had 48 physicians and 45 nurses per 100,000 persons.

Welfare: Generally, central (union) government welfare expenditures are a substantial portion of the official budget, and state and local governments play important roles in developing and implementing welfare policies. In 2000 union government expenditures on social services (includes education, health, family welfare, women and child development, and social justice and empowerment), rural development, and basic minimum services were approximately US$7.7 billion (Rs361.7 billion), which was 11.1 percent of total government expenditures and 1.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Furthermore, the union and state governments maintain a plethora of reserved seats in various political and education institutions for lower castes, indigenous persons, and others based on their percentage of the population. Finally, various innovative development programs have been developed—often at state or local levels—for social development and the empowerment of women and lower castes, and the state of Kerala is internationally known for its noteworthy success in public welfare.

PUBLISHER / AUTHOR: This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. In addition to being featured in the front matter of published Country Studies, they are now being prepared as stand-alone reference aides for all countries in the series, as well as for a number of additional countries of interest. The profiles offer reasonably current country information independent of the existence of a recently published Country Study and will be updated annually or more frequently as events warrant.

what's new | rainforests home | help support the site | madagascar | search | about | contact

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013