The South Asian country of India includes
a peninsula extending into the Indian Ocean, and it is a land of
great contrasts in geography. The barren, snow-capped Himalaya,
the world's tallest mountain system, rises along its northern border.
South of the Himalaya, the low, fertile Ganges Plain is India's
most populous region. The Great Indian Desert lies in the west,
but eastern India receives some of the highest rainfall in the world
during the monsoon season (June to October). India is second only
to China in country population but India is growing faster (some
16 million a year) and may surpass China by 2030. Although 81 percent
of the people are Hindu, India also has 126 million Muslims—one
of the world's largest Muslim populations.
Background: The Indus Valley civilization, one of the oldest in
the world, dates back at least 5,000 years. Aryan tribes from the
northwest infiltrated onto Indian lands about 1500 B.C.; their merger
with the earlier Dravidian inhabitants created the classical Indian
culture. Arab incursions starting in the 8th century and Turkish
in the 12th were followed by those of European traders, beginning
in the late 15th century. By the 19th century, Britain had assumed
political control of virtually all Indian lands. Indian armed forces
in the British army played a vital role in both World Wars. Nonviolent
resistance to British colonialism led by Mohandas GANDHI and Jawaharlal
NEHRU brought independence in 1947. The subcontinent was divided
into the secular state of India and the smaller Muslim state of
Pakistan. A third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted
in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. Despite
impressive gains in economic investment and output, India faces
pressing problems such as the ongoing dispute with Pakistan over
Kashmir, significant overpopulation, environmental degradation,
extensive poverty, and ethnic and religious strife.
Definition: This entry usually highlights major historic events
and current issues and may include a statement about one or two
key future trends.