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The most populous democracy in the world, the State of India, borders Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar, and has coastlines on the Indian Ocean, Arabian Gulf and Bay of Bengal. Since independence and the violent partition from Pakistan in 1947, India has maintained a federal and democratic system characterised by strong central institutions but frequent changes of national government and short lived coalitions between different parties. India’s major human rights issues include torture and killings by the police, abuses related to the conflict in Kashmir and prejudice against particular social, religious or ethnic groups.
India forms a natural sub-continent with the Himalayas to the north, the Arabian sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east. The seventh largest country in the world, it is made up of 28 states which vary greatly in size and terrain, from the jungles on the border of Myanmar, to the mountainous regions on the frontier of Afghanistan. The country shares borders with China, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the capital city is New Delhi.
Population and language
With a population of 1.24 billion people, India is the second most populous country in the world; its most populous State, Uttar Pradesh, alone has a population in excess of all bar the world's four most populous countries. Despite the growth of large cities in India, more than 69 per cent of the population lived in rural areas at the time of the 2011 census, though the urban population has been growing at a faster rate than the rural population. A large proportion of Indians are Hindu (80 per cent), though there are substantial populations of Muslims (13.4 per cent), Christians (2.3 per cent) and Sikhs 1.9 per cent).
Hindi is the country's official language, though English is widely spoken and continues to be used for some official purposes.
Civilisation first flourished in India along the Indus river valley in 2500BC with the Harappan culture and developed through the scientifically, artistically and culturally advanced Gupta dynasty of the 5th and 6th centuries. The reign of the Mughal Dynasty further united the country in the 1500s. European powers first established their presence on the subcontinent in the 16th century and within 200 years, Britain had become the dominant power in the region. The British Raj came to an end in 1947, and the subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan as a result of regional violence. Hostilities between the two countries have deteriorated into war three times since independence, resulting in the separation of Bangladesh from east Pakistan in 1971. Tensions mounted between India and Pakistan again in 2001, when both sides carried out tests of weaponry that could be used to launch nuclear warheads and massed troops on the shared border. The crisis was averted, however, by the ceasefire of November 2003.
The Congress Party, under the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family, became the major political party after independence and remained in power until 1977, when it experienced its first defeat in national elections. In the late 1990s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the largest political party and oversaw the rising tensions with Pakistan and the subsequent ceasefire, but the Congress party returned to power after the 2004 general elections. Current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, took power after these elections when Sonia Gandhi turned down the post. He is the first Sikh to hold the office . In July 2007, Pratibha Patil became the first woman to be elected President of India.
Political turmoil and violence have been persistent features of Indian politics for decades. Two consecutive Prime Ministers from the Congress Party, Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 were victims of assassinations. Terrorism has also been a prevalent force in the country, and since 2005 India has suffered a series of serious attacks.
India is a rapidly growing economy and has averaged GDP growth in excess of 7 per cent per year since 1997. More than 50 per cent of the population work in the agricultural sector, but the service industry accounts for more than half of the countries economic output though only one third of its employment. The country's large educated English speaking population have allowed India to become a major exporter of services such as in the I.T. sector, which has burgeoned in recent years. Nevertheless, India is rated 134 out of 197 countries on the Human Development Index and retains high levels of poverty; as much as 41.6 per cent of the population earn less than US$1.25 per day.
The Country has a diverse range of trading partners, of which China (9.1 per cent), the U.S.A. (7.8 per cent), Saudi Arabia (4.5 per cent) and Germany (3.4 per cent) are the largest.
Media and civil society
Media freedom varies significantly across India, from the relative freedom and safety of New Delhi to the censorship and violence of Kashmir. Reporters Without Borders has raised particular concerns over attacks on two journalists in the Sringar area of Kashmir and the murders of another two journalists in the Chattisgarh region, allegedly for their reporting on organised crime. Censorship takes a legal form though Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression provided that it is not used to oppose India's “sovereignty and integrity”. The law under this provision led to the seizure of 30,000 copies of The Economist in May 2011 because they contained a map of India that was perceived to undermine India's territorial claims.
India implemented right to information legislation in 2005, which is a potentially useful tool for civil society. However, the project has not been without cost and right to information campaigners have faced intimidation and in some cases have lost their lives.
Reporters Without Borders rated the country 131 out of 179 in its 2011 Press Freedom Index.
Human rights and children's rights
India is the world's largest democracy, but nevertheless has substantial human rights problems. The conflict over Kashmir has been a major source of these human rights violations, indeed Human Rights Watch has reported that there have been thousands of incidents of enforced disappearance over two decades of the conflict and a 2011 investigation of the Kashmir State Human Rights Commission found 2730 bodies in unmarked graves across 38 sites in north Kashmir. The conflict with Maoist insurgents across ten states also cost the lives of 250 civilians and 100 members of security forces in 2011 alone. This conflict has had a particular impact on children, as state security forces have continued to use schools during counter insurgency operations, despite court rulings to the contrary. The death penalty remains legal, but no executions have taken place for six years.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- Ministry of Home Affairs, Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Census Official Website
- Constitution of India, Article 343
- CNN, "India 'welcomes' ceasefire offer" 24 November 2003
- BBC, "Profile: Manmohan Singh" 30 March 2009
- BBC< "Profile: Pratibha Patel" 21 July 2007
- New York Times, "Terrorism in India"
- The Economist, "Indian IT firms: Another giant leap" 1 June 2011
- UNDP, "Population living below $1.25 PPP per day (per cent)"
- Reporters Without Borders, "India Homepage"
- The Constitution Unit, "International focus: A closer look at FOI around the World- India" November 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011-12"
- Human Rights Watch, "India: Investigate unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir" 24 August 2011
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: India"
- OHCHR, "India Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "India Country Profile"
- The World Bank, "India Country Page"
- BBC, "Country Profile: India" 15 November 2011 and news items (see footnotes)
Reporters Without Borders (see footnotes)
- CNN (see footnotes)
- The Economist (see footnotes)