India : Society


Population density (per sq. km): 


Life expectancy: 
66 years
Primary enrolment: 
93% (2011)

1,252,140,000 (2013); world’s second-largest, after China; 32 per cent of people live in urban areas and 13 per cent in urban agglomerations of more than one million people; some 56 per cent of all Commonwealth people, and 18 per cent of all people, live in India; growth 1.6 per cent p.a. 1990–2013; birth rate 20 per 1,000 people (38 in 1970); life expectancy 66 years (29 in 1947 and 49 in 1970). By the late 1990s, 48 per cent of married women were using contraceptive methods.

The population of India is extremely diverse, comprising almost entirely peoples who have migrated from other parts of the world over previous millennia. Dravidian peoples, who came to India from the Mediterranean region some 5,000 years ago, now constitute about 25 per cent of the population and live predominantly in the southern states of India. Indo-Aryans, who account for more than 70 per cent of the population, came from Northern Europe 3,500–4,000 years ago. Later migrations included peoples from Central Asia and China.


The main official languages are Hindi (spoken by 30 per cent of the population), and English (as laid down in the Constitution and Official Languages Act of 1963), but there are also 17 official regional languages, and many other languages. Language has been a major constitutional issue; the states have now been demarcated according to the main language of their populations. Other widely used languages include Urdu (spoken by most Muslims) and (in the north) Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Oriya, Punjabi; (in the south) Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam.


According to the most recent population census (2011) the population is made up of mainly Hindus (80.5 per cent), Muslims (13.4 per cent), Christians (2.3 per cent), Sikhs (1.9 per cent), and small amounts of Buddhists and Jains.


Public spending on health was one per cent of GDP in 2012. Primary health care is provided in rural areas by more than 20,000 centres, backed by sub-centres, community health centres and dispensaries. Western medicine predominates, although Ayurvedic medicine is also practised. The Ayurvedic tradition also gave rise to homeopathy (some 365,000 practitioners). Some 93 per cent of the population uses an improved drinking water source and 36 per cent have access to adequate sanitation facilities (2012). Infant mortality was 41 per 1,000 live births in 2013 (146 in 1960). National health programmes have been established to combat malaria, filaria, sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS), leprosy and tuberculosis. Family welfare centres give advice and education on family planning.


Public spending on education was 3.4 per cent of GDP in 2012. There are nine years of compulsory education starting at the age of six. Primary school comprises five years and secondary seven, with cycles of three and four years. The school year starts in April.

There are some 44 ‘central’ universities, under the Department of Higher Education of the Ministry of Human Resource Development; 285 state universities, under the state governments, the three oldest of which – the Universities of Calcutta, Madras and Mumbai – date back to 1857; more than 130 higher education institutions recognised and granted autonomous status by the Department of Higher Education; and 112 private universities (2012). The female–male ratio for gross enrolment in tertiary education is 0.70:1 (2010). Literacy among people aged 15–24 is 81 per cent (2006).

India hosted the Second Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in 1962. Commonwealth Education Ministers meet every three years to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.


The leading English-language dailies are The Asian Age (New Delhi), Deccan Herald (Bengaluru), The Hindu (Chennai), Hindustan Times (New Delhi), The Indian Express (New Delhi), The Pioneer (New Delhi), The Statesman (Kolkata) and The Times of India (Mumbai), and India Today and Outlook are weekly news magazines. There are thousands of daily newspapers published in some 90 languages.

From 1992 private TV channels have been permitted and from 2000, private radio stations. Doordarshan provides a broad range of public TV services. The national, public All India Radio is the only radio network authorised to broadcast news; it also operates an external service, in 17 Indian and ten foreign languages.

Some 47 per cent of households have TV sets (2011). There are 32 personal computers per 1,000 people (2007).


Country code 91; internet domain ‘.in’. Mobile phone coverage is good in the main towns. Public phone booths are widely available. Internet cafés are located throughout the country, many with wireless facilities.

For every 1,000 people there are 23 landlines, 708 mobile phone subscriptions and 151 internet users (2013).

Public holidays: 

The following are universally observed: Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August) and Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday (2 October).

Religious and other festivals, of which the observance varies between regions and religions, are: Prophet’s Birthday, Holi (February/March), Good Friday, Ram Navami (March/April), Mahavir’s Birthday (March/April), Buddha Purnima (April/May), Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan), Janamashtami (August/September), Dussehra (October/November), Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Diwali (October/November), Muharram (Islamic New Year), Guru Nanak’s Birthday (November) and Christmas Day (25 December). Those without specific dates vary from year to year.