India has the world’s second-largest popula­tion and is tipped to exceed China as the planet’s most populous nation in the next few decades. India presently accounts for only 2.4% of the earth’s surface area, yet it is home to a staggering 16.7% of the planet’s total population.

A population census is held once every 10 years – most recently in 2001 – and this re­vealed that the population of India had risen by 21.34% between 1991 and 2001. Ac­cording to this census India’s population is now 1,027,015,247 and Mumbai is India’s most populated city, with an urban agglom­eration population of 16,368,084; Kolkata ranks second with 13,216,546 with Delhi and Chennai third and fourth respectively.

The proportion of females to males has slightly decreased over the years (it was 972:1000 in 1901; the 2001 census figure was 933:1000). The literacy rate is 65%.

The people of India are not homogenous; there is a vibrant plethora of customs, reli­gions and languages.

Although Hindi is India’s national lan­guage, there are 18 official languages and more than one thousand dialects. English is widely spoken. See the Language chapter at the end of the book for lists of useful words and phrases.

Raising the living standards of the poor has been a priority for governments since Independence. However, poverty remains widespread. Despite India’s many large cities, the nation is still overwhelmingly rural, with an estimated 75% of the popula­tion living in the countryside.

In 1999, the minimum wage was raised from Rs 40 to Rs 45 per day (less than US$ I a day), but this is not always enforced by employers. The central government is currently reviewing the minimum wage.