Wealth and sophistication thrive in the business communities of India’s bustling cities, but most of its billion-plus people endure grinding poverty – in slums or swathes of marginalised countryside.
Stretching from the mountainous Afghan border to the jungles of Myanmar, India was under foreign control from the early 19th century to 1947, when non-violent resistance led by Mahatama Gandhi won liberation from the British Raj.
The same year, part of India was hived off to create Pakistan as a separate Muslim homeland – a source of conflict since, especially over the Kashmir area.
In 2011, for all its huge potential, India faces massive social, economic and environmental problems.
Millions live in fear of eviction – in slum areas blighted by pollution, flooding, poor drainage and lack of amenities. Meanwhile, frequent floods and droughts intensify village hardships.
India is multi-ethnic and cultural, but lower castes are still marginalised – especially the Dalits (meaning ‘crushed’), who number 166 million.
Some 130 million children are considered ‘at risk’ – often because of cultural factors. For example, families unable to afford traditional dowry payments can be tricked or tempted into selling their daughters.
India’s vast population and rapid industrial growth make it the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.