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Immigrants from India have been settling in the United States since the early 1900s. Since then, thousands have made the US their new home, bringing with them their talents and skills, and the hope of contributing to their new country. Many have come directly from India; others migrated to the US after living in places such as Africa, Britain or the Caribbean-sometimes for generations.
This profile will help you understand something about India and the people who live there.  Although this profile provides insight into some customs, it does not cover all facets of life. The customs described may not apply in equal measure to all newcomers from India. 
  Summary Fact Sheet
Official Name
Republic of India
New Delhi
Type of Government
Democratic Republic
1.29 billion
3,287,590 sq. km
Major Ethnic Groups
Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Mongoloid
Hindi, English, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, others
Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, others
Unit of Currency
National Flag
Three horizontal bankds of orange, white and green. The middle white stripe contains a chakra, popularly known as Asoka, a symbol of the powers of nature 
Date of Independence
August 15, 1947

  Did you know?
One out of every five people in the world lives in India.


  Did you know?
Mark Twain remarked that "India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the matter of legends, and the great grandmother of tradition." 

For many centuries India was a collection of states and empires, each with its own customs and traditions. Dozens of India's regions-many with a population greater than Canada's-have histories older than most European countries.
India was the cradle of one of the world's first civilizations. The Harappa and Mohanjedaro civilizations flourished for a millennium, starting in 2,500 B.C. A written script, brick houses and citadels, drainage systems and even organized garbage collection existed in India 4,000 years ago. Over the centuries, the great Hindu kingdoms of southern India built trade networks with the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and empires of southeast Asia. At times much of Sri Lanka and the Malay peninsula were ruled from southern India.
Waves of newcomers entered and swept south, becoming part of India's mix of peoples. Buddhism arose in northern India in the 5th century B.C. and became a powerful social force that reached as far as the South China Sea. Islam arrived in the 11th century. Many Muslim emperors in northern and central India contributed to its rich spiritual, architectural, artistic and linguistic heritage.
Life in India changed dramatically with the coming of European colonizers in the 16th century. Although not the first or the last European power in India (the Portuguese hold both titles), the British had the most profound influence. Over 300 years, a period called The Raj, the British introduced legal, educational, political, industrial and transportation systems that shaped modern India. The British profited from the use of taxes and trade monopolies that left India's textile and other established industries seriously weakened. Perhaps most significantly, the British introduced the widespread use of English and public education.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of Indians began to protest British rule by adopting the passive resistance or satyagraha tactics used by leader Mahatma Gandhi. Two political bodies, the India National Congress and the Muslim League, demanded self-rule, thereby developing widespread popular support. Independence was finally granted on August 14, 1947. British India split into two countries: Muslim Pakistan and (mainly Hindu) India. In the days before and after August 14, millions of people struggled to move their homes and their families in order to settle within the 'correct' side of the border. Tragically, this largest exodus in history was accompanied by much bloodshed.
Since independence, India's increased food production and prosperity has made it a major industrial power in Asia. However, various territorial disputes particularly with Pakistan over the state of Kashmir have troubled India. Campaigns of religious intolerance and escalating violence in the last decade are still deeply troubling to those who share in the country's bid to be known as the world's largest democracy.

  Did you know?
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) is considered the Father of India. Leading nonviolent protests against British rule, he became known as Mahatma or "the great soul" because of his simple lifestyle.

  Did you know?
The Indian emperor Ashoka wrote the world's first animal conservation law in the 3rd century BC.

Located in southern Asia, India is a vast country, most of it a peninsula jutting into the Indian Ocean. To the northwest is Pakistan, while China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan lie to the north and northeast. To the east is Myanmar, while Bangladesh lies within India's borders, almost separating India's far eastern lands from the rest of the country. Southeast is the Bay of Bengal, while the ocean and island country of Sri Lanka lies to the south, and the Arabian Sea to the southwest.
 India's size and range of climate and landscape are so great that it is often called a subcontinent. In fact, for millions of years, India was a separate continent, and only recently (in geological terms) joined the rest of Asia. The force of this collision created the Himalayas, the world's highest mountain range, which runs along India's northern border. Kanchenjunga mountain dominates the range at 8598 metres.
 India's far north is a region of snow-covered peaks, flowery valleys and vast areas where there are more wild sheep and musk deer than people. Southward, the mountains descend into the great Indo-Gangetic Plain and the landscape changes drastically. In the western section are the desert of Thar and the dry plains of Rajasthan, while the eastern plain is one of the wettest regions on earth, receiving up to 15 metres of rain each year. The great river Ganges rises here and flows down toward the Bay of Bengal. 
Central India is rich, flat country, irrigated by several rivers. The land rises into the Deccan Plateau, which is bordered by two hill ranges, the Western and Eastern Ghats, running along either coast. 
Further south are sandy beaches, coconut groves and the Indian Ocean. Out in the Bay of Bengal lie the Andaman and Nicobar islands, a string of over 300 small islands with coral coasts. The tiny Lacadive Islands lie off the southwestern Malabar Coast.
 One-quarter of India is forested. In the north are pine and cedar trees, while in rainy areas, tropical rainforests thrive. Other regions support mangrove trees as well as valuable groves of rosewood, sandalwood and teak. Dry regions have a savannah landscape. Thousands of species of plants, birds, reptiles and mammals live in India's varied regions. Tigers, hyenas, cobras, pythons, elephants, monkeys and leopards are common, though the tiger population is diminishing. In colder regions are bears, yaks and foxes. 
The Tropic of Cancer runs through the middle of India, dividing the country into different climactic zones. Northern India, including the Gangetic Plain, experiences seasonal temperatures, with hot summers and cool winters with light snowfall. The rest of India has a climate that varies from warm to hot. During the height of summer (April to May), temperatures can reach 48°C in certain areas. The rainy season (June to September) affects the entire country, though rainfall varies regionally. 
  Did you know?
Ayurvedic medicine uses over 2,000 Indian plants for treatments, about 500 of them regularly. Many of these plants are now in danger of extinction from human encroachment. 
  Did you know?
The beaches in the state of Goa are world famous for idyllic beauty. 
India is officially a secular country, yet spirituality is central to life there. Some of the world's great religions began in India, and the country is an important centre for others. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism are all practised.
Hinduism, practised by the majority of Indians, dates back more than 3,000 years. Hindus believe that everyone goes through cycles of rebirth before finding salvation. Hinduism's many gods and goddesses are all manifestations of Brahman, the essence of creation.
Practised by about 11% of the population, Islam is India's second most common religion. Islam is based on the Qur'an or Koran, the book of teachings by the 7th century prophet Mohammed, who was the last in a line of prophets that includes Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Muslims recognize one God (Allah) and follow the five pillars of Islam: profession of the faith, prayer, alms for the poor and religious scholars, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and if possible, the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca once in a lifetime.
Indian Christianity is said to have begun with the arrival of St. Thomas the apostle in 54 AD. Today, about 2% of Indians practise Christianity, and the country also has a small Jewish community.
Sikhism was founded 500 years ago by Guru Nanak, who intended to bring together the best elements of Hinduism and Islam. Sikhs believe in one God, are opposed to idols and the caste system, and practise tolerance and love of others. Sikh men bear the amritsar or five symbols of their faith, including uncut hair covered by a turban, steel bangle and a small, ceremonial sword.
Both Buddhism and Jainism arose at 6th Century B.C. in India as responses to Hinduism. Buddhists do not worship gods, but strive free themselves from desire, which is the root of all suffering. By following the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (563-480 B.C.), one can free oneself from the cycle of death and rebirth. Jains practise reverence for all life; they are vegetarians and try to avoid taking any life, large or small.

  Did you know?
The Parsi religion, Zoroastrianism, originated in ancient Iran. Believers worship Mazda, the God of Light, and follow the 6th century prophet Zarathustra (Zoroastra). Parsi temples have a sacred flame burning at all times.

  Did you know?
The remains of St. Francis of Assissi used to be on display in Sea til a few years ago and are now buried in Goa.

  Did you know?
Cows are sacred to Hindus. Decorated with jasmine and little bells, they freely wander the streets in India.
Every region of India has its own character and traditions: the palm-leaf houses of the south are nothing like the stone houses of the Himalayas or the houseboats of Kashmir. Family life is equally varied. 
Religion, caste and regional differences influence family structure. Although traditional roles are changing, especially in urban areas, there are important values shared by most Indian families. Generally, Indians hold family progress, unity and support in high regard throughout their lives. Many live in an extended family, in which every member has their own role, often determined by age and gender. Elders are supposed to use their experience and wisdom to help guide younger family members. Children are cherished and can look forward to continual family support throughout their lives. In return, children are expected to respect family ties and wishes.
A large number of marriages are arranged by children's parents. Because marriage is the joining of two families, it is regarded as more than an individual's decision. The prospective bride and groom usually marry someone from their own caste (the hereditary social class into which Hindus are born) and religious background. Marriage partners are often found through the family network or, in urban areas, through newspaper advertisements and marriage bureaus. 
Traditionally men have held the primary responsibility for financially supporting their families, although many women, especially in rural areas, contribute to the family's income. Even if they have careers, women are largely responsible for maintaining the household and caring for their children and aged relatives.
 Living conditions vary greatly in India. Wealthy urban families enjoy modern homes, servants and cars. The middle classes usually live in apartments or smaller homes, while poor families live in simple huts or thatched houses. In cities, severe housing shortages mean that millions live in shacks or slums. India's lively blend of modern and traditional practices is evident in city streets, which are crowded with cars, buses, rickshaws, bicycles, ox-drawn carts, cows and other animals. 
  Did you know?
Hindu families practise samskaras, rituals that mark significant life events. The anna prasaana ceremony is held when a baby is given its first solid food. A baby's first haircut is also a ritualistic event. 

   Did you know?
In 1966, Indira Gandhi became the country's first female prime minister. 
India has over 200 languages, a testament to the country's vast cultural diversity. Hindi is the official language and, next to English and Chinese, the world's most commonly spoken tongue. It uses a phonetic system of writing based on an alphabet of 61 letters. However, Indians often know Hindi only as a second language. At school, lessons are taught in the regional language, while in business, government and university-or wherever a common tongue is needed-Indians use English. People in India often grow up learning several languages at once.
Urdu and Punjabi are usually spoken by Muslims in the north, where many languages are closely related. In southern India, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam are more common, while Gujarati and Marathi are spoken in the west. About three-quarters of Indian languages are Indo-European, meaning that they share grammatical and other similarities in the same way that French and Italian do. Languages like Tamil and Malayalam come from the Dravidian group. Some Indian languages have their own distinct writing systems, though the majority, including Hindi, use the Davanagri script.
Indians do not use surnames as people do in the West. Instead, people are referred to by their first names; for example, a woman named Latha Vemuri would be called Miss Latha. Muslims are known by their given names followed by bin (son of) or binti (daughter of), plus the father's given name. Sikhs use given names followed by either Singh (for men) or Kaur (for women); only the given name is used for address.
Indians meeting for the first time generally greet each other formally and respectfully. The most popular form of greeting is commonly called the namaste, a slight bow with the hands pressed together in front of the face. Not all Indians are comfortable with touching strangers, and the namaste allows people to greet each other without physical contact. Once past the formal greeting, Indian strangers will often spend a large amount of time trying to find some connection between them, no matter how small. Questions about birthplace, family and marital status are accepted ways of establishing an acquaintance.
Indians do not usually use the words "please" and "thank you," believing that actions are performed from a sense of duty and do not require these courtesies. Indians try to avoid conflict and often will not say no directly, preferring to give a more polite answer such as "I will try."

Phir milenge
Any greeting (hands clasped or folded)

  Did you know?
The ancient Sanskrit language is the mother of all Indian languages.

India has an ancient tradition of education. The world's first university was established in Tashkila in 700 B.C. Indian mathematicians introduced the zero, the decimal system and the method of multiplication. Indian astronomers were tracking the heavens as far back as 3,100 B.C.
Education is still highly regarded in India. States control the school system, though the central government provides financial assistance and planning. Primary school is free and officially compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14, after which students must pay for education. For women, education is free up to the undergraduate level.
Location and income are ongoing issues contributing to the low graduation rate in India. Despite government efforts to expand the nation's educational system, train teachers and supply materials (there are over half a million primary schools alone), some rural areas still lack schools, and many children are needed at home to help support their families. While about 90% of children enroll in primary school, many don't attend regularly; at the middle-primary stage (ages 11 to 14), only about half are enrolled, and girls in particular are under-represented. At the secondary level, only about 20% of eligible students attend school. Nevertheless, schools are overcrowded. The literacy rate for men is 67%; for women, only 43%.
Families who can afford the cost of tuition, supplies and uniforms often prefer to send their children to one of the country's many private schools; originally established by missionaries, these schools are usually English-language institutions run by church organizations.
For people working toward professional careers, the years of schooling can be very long. Job competition is fierce: it's often necessary to have at least one graduate degree to get a professional position. The Institutes of Technology and Management are particularly respected for training engineers and managers.

  Did you know?
Amritya Sen won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1998. He was the first person from Asia to win the award.

  Did you know?
Shakuntala Devi is a famous math whiz who entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 1980 for her speed at multiplication.

India has had a long tradition of wellness practices and medical treatments through the practices of yoga and meditation, and Ayurvedic and herbal medicine. Indian doctors emphasized preventative care through natural remedies, which were passed down through the centuries; doctors also knew about vaccination long before their European counterparts.
Unfortunately, India's health care system deteriorated under colonial rule, when the British suppressed the indigenous system, and in the poverty following independence. Overpopulation, unsanitary living conditions, inadequate diets and limited medical facilities continue to be major difficulties. The government has been making efforts to improve conditions. Vaccinations, water purification and pest-control programs have reduced diseases such as small pox, tuberculosis, cholera and malaria. Life expectancy has risen to 62 years from a low of 32 in 1950. India's burgeoning population is actually the result of increased health, not an increased birth rate.
Health care clinics throughout India are staffed by doctors and nurses well-trained in Western or traditional treatment. However, access to health care can be difficult for people, due to location and income. Rural Indians often have trouble reaching care. In addition, because India has no national health insurance program, the only people who seek professional treatment are those who can afford it or whose employers offer health care benefits.
Indians have three major health care options: Western-style medicine, Ayurveda and Unani. Ayurveda is a holistic system that employs herbs and oils to balance the body's humors: wind, phlegm and gall. Doctors regard each body as individualistic, and work with their patients' diet, which is adjusted based on foods' qualities of being satvic (pure), rajasic (stimulating) or tasmasic (degrading). Like all herbal treatments, Ayurveda works slowly to eliminate the root cause of a patient's complaint, rather than treating the symptom. Unani is a holistic, ancient medicine that came to India from Arabic countries. Practitioners, called Hakim, use herbs and dietary regimens to cure disease.
Many Indians also use home remedies, and homeopathy, originally from Germany, has become particularly popular. These treatments involve ingesting tiny doses of substances that could cause illness in larger doses.

Sushrata is considered the father of surgery. He performed complicated operations over two millennia ago.

  Did you know?
Yoga originated in India some 5,000 years ago and seems to be gaining global popularity. Its practices are described in various ancient texts, including the Rig-Veda, the sacred text for Hindus.

India's national passions are cricket and films. Introduced by the British, cricket is a slow game (a match can last five days), perfectly suited to the warm Indian climate and pace of life. Teams from all states compete, with players selected for the national team, which has achieved world standing. During international matches, people listen to radio broadcasts everywhere.
India is the world's leading film-producing country, and watching movies is a favourite activity. Lately, television has rivalled films in popularity. India has many regionally produced shows as well as national productions. As elsewhere, many Indian families enjoy spending the evening sitting together and watching the latest shows.
Children often prefer more active games, many of which do not require elaborate equipment. Throwing and batting games are popular. String tops, marbles, cards and kites are favoured by young boys; girls prefer jacks and crafts. Popular with both sexes, kho kho and khabbaddi are two varieties of tag, which are played with teams on large fields. State and national championships are held by the Kho Kho and Khabbadi Federations. Other popular sports include football (soccer), horse racing and field hockey-a sport in which India has won eight Olympic medals, including six gold.
Board games have a long history in India. Played by a maximum of four players, carom uses nine black and nine white coins, plus one pink coin called the queen. Players must send the coins into one of the four corner pockets attached to the board. Chess, another popular game, originated in India in the 16th century.

  Did you know?
Karnam Malleswari won a bronze medal for weightlifting in the 2000 Olympics. Laendar Paes Mahesh Bhupathi won the doubles at Wimbleton in 1999.

  Did you know?
Sachin Tendulkar is one of India's top cricket players. He holds the world record for scoring the most runs in a World Cup tournament: 523 in seven matches during the 1996 World Cup.

In the past, among the Hindu community, every occupation from street sweeping to the priesthood was traditionally performed by a specific caste. The situation has changed today, as more people have moved into the cities and taken advantage of new opportunities. Many now aspire to hold professional jobs.
Most Indians work on the land. Since independence, the "green revolution," has introduced new, high-yield varieties of wheat and rice, and increased the use of fertilizers and irrigation. India has become a major exporter of rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, fruit and vegetables, cattle, milk, poultry and fish. Despite agricultural improvements, India's population is growing, and over one-third suffers from malnutrition; many farmers are unable to make a living, and thousands move to cities to look for work. Children may also have to contribute to family finances by doing small jobs on city streets, or working in carpet- and silk-weaving factories.
India is one of the world's leading industrial nations. Many large-scale enterprises are government owned, though privatization is increasing. The manufacturing sector produces computer software, textiles, jewellery, chemicals, steel, machinery and leather. The forestry industry is a leading producer of fuelwood and charcoal. India's workforce is generally highly skilled and underemployed. Consequently, many North American and European companies have established factories and development centres in India, where operation costs are lower.
Small business is particularly dynamic in India; many people set up their own business, which may be something as small as a shoeshine stand or handicraft business, or as ambitious as an international import-export company. Women's economic participation has been increasing, not only in professions in the cities, but also in rural areas, where independent and co-operative businesses owned and run by women are beginning to flourish.

  Did you know?
In 325 B.C., Indians made a type of steel that has been called the best steel ever made. Wootz was made from smelting at 1200°C. A seven-metre wootz pillar in Delhi has no rust on it, despite being made in 500 AD.

  Did you know?
An organization called SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association) was started in Ahmedabad in 1972 to help poor and low-caste women fight against discriminatory practices. The organization provides bank loans to help women finance their businesses.

Last Updated: 3/25/09
Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School    500 Dorset Street    South Burlington, VT 05403    (802) 652-7100
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