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Official Name: Republic of India

Capital City: New Delhi

Type of Government: Federal Republic

Official Languages: Hindi, plus 15 others. English is the official language of communication

Area: 3,287,590 sq km/ 1,269,338 sq mi

Population: 1.1 billion

Religion: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism

Currency: Rupee (Rs) =100 Paise

Number of Time Zones: 1

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus 5.5 hrs.; Eastern Standard Time (EST) plus 10.5 hrs.

Weights and Measures: Metric system; the Imperial system and traditional Indian weights and measures are still used.

Country Domain: .in

Country Tel Code: 91



India is one of the largest and most populous countries in the world, occupying a vast peninsula in Southern Asia, often referred to as the Indian subcontinent. It enjoys a rich variety of flora and fauna.

Recent terrorist acts and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan have added to the security risks for foreigners. All those considering traveling to India should check with their country’s embassy for the latest security advice.


Religion has been, and continues to be, a major influence in the social structure of the country. In the 6th century B.C. Buddhism was established. Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism also developed in India, and Islam spread to India in the 8th century A.D.

One profound and lasting religious influence is the caste system that assigns individuals to certain levels of society as they work their way to a higher caste through reincarnation. Although the caste system was abolished by the Indian constitution, it continues to be practiced, limiting social and economic mobility for millions.


India is a democratic republic, ranking as the world’s largest democracy. It has a president elected by the members of both the central and state legislatures. Executive power is held by the prime minister and his cabinet. The president appoints the prime minister from the political party or a coalition of parties, commanding a parliamentary majority.

Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament with a 244-member Council of States, Rajya Sabha, and a 544-member House of the People, Lok Sabha. Members of the Council of States are chosen by the State Legislatures for a six-year term. The members of the House of the People – the more powerful of the two houses – are directly elected for a five-year term. A small number of members from each house are appointed. Major political parties in India include the Indian National Congress (INC), which has been the dominant party since independence, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a conservative, nationalist party.

India has not found it easy to maintain these fragile democratic institutions. Difficulties include a vast separation between the rich and poor, the educated and the illiterate, and the north and the south. Separatist movements developed in Punjab and Kashmir, leading to conflict between India and Pakistan over control of the border area in northern Kashmir.

The historic difficulties between these two countries are exacerbated by the fact that both have nuclear capability.

In 2003, India and Pakistan negotiated a cease fire along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir. Tensions have eased in the region, though travel restrictions are still advised by foreign governments.


Faced with severe challenges of poverty, overpopulation, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and unemployment, India has initiated economic reforms to strengthen and modernize its economy and attract more foreign investment. Particularly critical is the upgrading of the country’s limited infrastructure.

India’s more open economic policies offer new opportunities for foreign businesses. The country has a burgeoning middle class and has made great strides in technical training of professionals in the field of information technology. With its large potential markets, an expanding educated labor pool, and need for capital and technology, India despite its difficulties, succeeds in attracting a great number of foreign investors.


Ethnic makeup

India has a broad ethnic and linguistic diversity. The Indians are divided mainly into the dark-skinned Dravidian with approximately 25 percent of the population and the lighter-skinned Indo-Aryan races with approximately 72 percent of the population; there is a small number of Mongoloid and Australoid peoples. In terms of religion, the overwhelming majority of the people are Hindu, although there are sizable Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain minorities.

Cultural traditions

India’s culture is intricately related to its religion and philosophy of spiritualism and belief in reincarnation, which incorporates its fatalistic outlook.

India’s 5,000-year-old civilization has produced wondrous architecture and sculpture, most related to religious functions – temples, tombs, and carvings.

Sanskrit literature began with the four sacred Vedas, meaning knowledge, entitled Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva; these are collections of hymns and ritual texts. This tradition is continued in the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Both epics deal with the conflict within one’s self between dharma, law of one’s inner being or moral code, and adharma, acting against one’s nature.

Traditional music and dance, reflective of religious stories, continue to be performed. Dance sequences always tell a story, but not in a linear manner. Indian dances tell their tales through elaboration, and the audience is invited to become a part of the experience. At times these folk arts may seem to lose their impact because they are taken from the ancient context, but folk dance and theater remain an important part of Indian life.


India’s Constitution proclaims it to be a secular state. In reality, religion plays an important role in the social structure of the country and in the social relationships of its peoples.

Tension, sometimes deteriorating into physical violence, continues between various religious groups, especially the Hindus and the Muslims.


Some 80 percent of the population follow the Hindu religion, a religion rich in ceremony yet lacking in authority, as it can not be traced to a single founder.

A complex philosophy that cannot be simply summarized, the basis of Hinduism is the oneness of all life. God and human are at the mercy of their karma, the law of cause and effect that no one can escape. Karma is similar to the Greek concept of fate.

While Hinduism has a supreme spirit in Brahman, along with many other revered deities, it would be overly simplistic to refer to the religion as either polytheistic or monotheistic, as Hinduism spans many types of beliefs. There are 330 million devas, which can mean gods or heavenly beings, representing a variety of human needs. A devout Hindu may worship any or all of these devas or worship a stone or an animal. He or she may worship in a field or in an elaborate temple. All worship is individualized and all is equally valid.

Hinduism is entwined in Indians’ lives to a high degree, dictating a way of life that will ensure reincarnation into a higher caste with each incarnation; this journey finally reaches the highest level and allows the person to leave life for a better existence. The caste system is a basic tenet of the religion, and although the caste system has been constitutionally abolished, it is still practiced and continues to determine social and economic mobility for millions of people.

Alongside the holy River Ganges, the holiest city in India draws both Hindu pilgrims and the dead to its ghats, riverside platforms or landings that are actually open-air crematoria. Bathers purify themselves in huge throngs along the west bank while along the shore bodies are consigned to the flames and thence the afterlife. A word of advice: corpses in various states of decomposition float in the water. An experience some consider essential to any appreciation of India and its people, but one clearly unsuitable for the younger members of an expatriate family.


Approximately 14 percent of India’s population, or about 130 million people, is Muslim, one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Islam is India’s largest minority religion, whose followers have come frequently into conflict with the Hindu majority. Many of the historic conflicts between Hindus and Muslims have, however, been based on territorial acquisition and invasion as much as religious differences.

Islam’s message of monotheism – “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet” – translates into a unified image of mankind as a brotherhood, which has great appeal to the less favored of the Hindu castes.

Muslim holidays are celebrated throughout India, and Muslims enjoy special minority rights. Religious rites of prayers five times daily and the month of fasting and feasting for Ramadan are widely observed.

Other religions

Other religions represented in India are Christianity and Sikhism, each accounting for approximately two percent of the population, while Buddhists and Jains each account for less than one percent.


Despite almost 50 years of democracy, the caste system, although constitutionally abolished, still shapes a rigid social structure. Caste determines occupations, political loyalties, spouses, and provides the rituals that govern much of behavior. Although it is a Hindu concept related to reincarnation and the journey toward spiritual purity, caste is so integral to Indian life that its impact is also reflected in Muslim and Christian communities.

The caste system originated during the “Golden Age” of the Aryans – 1,500 BC to 600 BC. Its original purpose was racial or tribal – to keep the Aryans, who were fair-skinned, from assimilating with the indigenous, dark-skinned people of the Indus Valley. However, the system evolved much as the workers’ guilds in Europe to define a community according to skill and protect it from unfair competition. Over time, caste became hereditary, and the ensuing taboos developed. The caste structure became rigid with no chance of escape for the individual.

Although Mahatma Gandhi once hoped that caste could be a benign building block of order and social leadership, it has entrenched social hatreds, restricted access to education, and hindered the country’s efforts toward modernization. Recently, caste has become another inflammable element in India’s already incendiary political climate.

Gandhi’s attempt to equalize all Indians by renaming the “untouchables”, (the people of the lowest level of the caste system) Harijans, or “children of God” was unsuccessful. In part, this plan did not succeed because the untouchables themselves felt that they were being patronized. The Indian Constitution in 1950 legislated equality, giving each person a vote. The untouchables now have some representation. The millions of lower caste Indians and “tribals,” people from remote hill and forest regions, have a potentially powerful voice in the political future of their country, but, as yet, no one has harnessed that power. Until someone emerges who can focus that power, real reform and progress for these castes remain uncertain.

Most government posts are held by members of the upper castes, partly because students from the lower castes do not have the opportunity to perfect their English skills, which are essential for civil-service advancement. One significant exception to this is India’s former president K.R. Narayanan, who came from the lowest caste of Hinduism. He represented one of Gandhi’s great goals of proving that India could leave past divisions behind and elect an untouchable as president. In reality, however, the president is a figurehead with real political power resting in the hands of the Prime Minister and the cabinet.


Over 300 known languages are spoken in India, 24 of them by at least one million people.

The official language of India is Hindi, spoken by about 30 percent of the population. There are 15 other official languages. Tamil is the predominant language of the south. In Kolkata in the east, people speak Bengali. In Bombay, they speak Hindi and Marathi, and in New Delhi, Hindi and Punjabi.

English is accorded associate status but is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication. While it is the primary language of few Indians, over 350 million use it as a secondary language, which is why it is often used for official purposes.

Attitudes toward hierarchy and the influence of family

Although Indians strive for harmony in decisions, a hierarchical arrangement is common in business. There is a great deal of respect for persons of senior position within corporations as well as other social structures. Typically, the most senior or the oldest male is the person with the most authority. The manager’s responsibilities become almost paternalistic. With the influences of India’s rigid caste system still being felt in its social structure, reinforced by the Hindu tenets of reincarnation, there is a clear demarcation between management and lower level employees. Employees know and accept their position in an organization and defer to superiors. Final decisions are typically made only at the highest positions.

The shared environment at home also reflects on the business environment. Many businesses are family-owned, but even when not, an employee may identify with his or her employer as an extension of the family support group. Individual requirements and demands may take second place to the needs of the whole group. In contrast to the typically more self-motivated western businessperson, the Indian workplace personality may seem to lack ambition or initiative. Employees seldom relocate away from the extended family or work excessive overtime, for example. However, hard work and loyalty to the firm are seen as contributing to job security.

Toward foreigners

The national attitude toward foreign investment has changed significantly. Until recently, only unobtainable and desired technology was permitted into the country; now the government not only welcomes foreign investment but actively promotes it.

Since launching its drive to modernize its economy and attract foreign investment in 1991, India has received the attention of the international investment community. Economic reforms deregulated most domestic industries, reduced favored status for the government, and permitted more independence in investment and marketing decisions. Reform has been accompanied by an improved official attitude toward private enterprise and foreign investment.

Labor’s attitude toward foreign investors is ambivalent. On the one hand, the unions welcome the idea of new enterprises and additional employment, but they also fear that newer, more efficient foreign-owned companies will put older private or state-owned companies out of business and union members out of work. There is also a sense that foreign-operated companies will be less responsive to government and, thereby, pay little attention to union pressure about issues such as wages or working conditions.

The government has been careful about antagonizing the nation’s unions unnecessarily. A critical question is whether the current government has the necessary support to alter the labor laws and what the impact may be on unemployment and productivity levels.

Toward businesswomen

There are many Indian women in the workplace. To date, for social and economic reasons, Indian women have tended to concentrate in areas such as medicine, teaching, and support positions, rather than in business management. Women have also been successful in politics at all levels. However, the perception still exists that a woman’s first priority is the family, and many women still do leave their professions to raise their children and are reluctant to travel or work overtime because of family obligations.

Most Indian businessmen will treat businesswomen with courtesy and respect. While some Indian men may admire the active independence of western women, many continue to prefer the shy self-effacing style of many Indian women. On the other hand, they will express pride in the professional success of their wives.

Traditional courtesies, such as using separate train cars or sections and proceeding to the head of a line, are still extended to women, and these should be accepted graciously. However, do not exhibit any sort of behavior that could be construed as flirtatious. Behave and dress in a low key and conservative manner – no bare shoulders or too-short skirts – and avoid the stereotype of Western women as aggressive and sexually forward. Since some Indians may be uncomfortable making physical contact with a woman. Unless they offer to shake hands, it is better to use the namaste gesture.

At social gatherings, Indian men usually talk with other men, and women with women. Businesswomen who need to socialize with male colleagues should certainly make an effort to join in on the male groups and see if the conversation continues in a comfortable manner. Businesswomen should also spend time talking with the wives of Indian colleagues.

Social behavior, customs and beliefs

Much social behavior and interaction in India is governed by well-established ritual. Displays of affection between couples are considered inappropriate in public, as are excessive hand gestures and loud voices.

The head is considered sacred, the temple of the soul, and one should not touch another person’s head, not even a child’s in an affectionate gesture. Do not praise a child’s looks or healthy appearance; Hindus and Muslims alike fear misfortune by jealous evil demons.

Symbols of cleanliness are important considerations in social interaction. The left hand and the feet are considered unclean. Hindus are sensitive about their food being touched by persons outside their caste or religion.

Feet or shoes should not touch another person; an immediate apology should be offered if they accidentally do touch. The right hand is used for eating.

Although direct eye contact is considered rude, Indians may occasionally stare at foreigners – this can be disconcerting. Indians do not smile as casually as westerners and, consequently, they can sometimes appear unfriendly, even intimidating. Keep in mind that just as you are curious about them, they are even more curious about you. The children may even try to touch you, particularly if you are fair-skinned or have blond or red hair. The best approach is to accept this as just harmless interest and not worry about it.

Beggars are an inevitable part of a country as poor as India. In most business environments, you will be reasonably insulated from them. Your greatest exposure will probably be at the tourist sights where you will be surrounded by both beggars and people trying to sell you something. The best approach is to politely say no. Trying to ignore them can result in increased pestering in the hope that they will embarrass you into giving them something, which would encourage a never-ending stream of more beggars and peddlers.

Most Hindus and all orthodox Muslims abstain from alcohol. Hindus do not eat beef, and many Hindus are vegetarians; Muslims do not eat pork. Faithful Muslims may also stop work at prescribed times during the day to pray. During the Ramadan holidays, work may slow down as many Muslims fast during the day and eat only after sunset. Some religious groups also ban tobacco. Be respectful of their beliefs, values and traditions, even if they affect business, and avoid commenting on them.


The following is a general description of some of India’s major cities.


Bangalore, the capital of the state of Karnataka, is one of the fastest growing cities in India, attracting a major number of companies, mostly those in the electronics industry. Some now refer to Bangalore as the “Silicon Valley” of India. With a population of about 5.3 million, it ranks as India’s third largest city.

The city is also home to some of India’s most prestigious colleges, and boasts the second highest literacy rate in the nation.

During the British Raj, Bangalore was a military area; the city was divided into a “city area” and the British “cantonment area”, where British troops were quartered. British colonial architecture remains in this area, although with rapid industrialization and urbanization, graceful bungalows are being replaced with functional multistoried buildings.

Residential areas are pleasant and situated near the heart of town. Due to the many public parks and large variety of greenery, Bangalore is known as the Garden City of India.

Chennai (Madras)

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, lies 1,500 km/900 mi north of the equator, on the Bay of Bengal. It is considered the least westernized of the five major cities. Over 4.3 million people call the city home.

The largest city in and capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, Madras used to be known as a small town with a lot of people. In recent years, however, Madras has become a growing city accommodating new businesses and industries and the people who work in them. Having plenty of space, the city has not needed to throw tall high rise buildings into the skyline, and a nine or ten story building would be a noticeable exception. The streets are green with trees and gardens, and the city seems to be a series of villages and areas of vegetation loosely held together, sprawling over an ever increasing area.

Chennai is a major center for jobs which have been outsourced from other countries around the world. It is hosts much of India’s automotive industry.

In spite of growing economic prosperity, poverty is widespread with basic urban services, such as plumbing, available to less than half of the population. Thriving middle class and expatriate communities comfortably co-exist and there is a sense that Chennai is not as much of a “hardship post” as the outsider might anticipate.

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, has been called “the soul of India.” It is a center of intellectual and political activity, as well as a major manufacturing, commercial, shipping, and metalworking hub. It is India’s fourth largest city, with a population of nearly 4.6 million, and serves as the capital of West Bengal.

Kolkata was the first headquarters of the East India Company and throughout the 19th century served as the capital and the political and commercial center during British rule of India. This prominence lasted until 1912, when the Raj moved the capital to Delhi. Much of the city’s original social, economic, and physical fabric has been eroded by commercial decline, overpopulation, corruption, and government neglect. The foreign community is declining.

However, Kolkata’s economy has improved steadily in the last decade, and the city remains the main point of business in eastern India.

Mumbai (Bombay)

Mumbai is India’s largest, most westernized city, blending the ancient and the modern, east and west, grinding poverty and opulent wealth. Previously named Bombay but now known by its native name of Mumbai, the city sits on a peninsula jutting out on the west coast along the Arabian Sea. The city’s seven islands were joined by the British when Charles II of England received Bombay as part of his dowry on his marriage to Catherine of Braganza. The city itself is home to 13.3 million, and a total of 19 million people live in the metropolitan area.

The city’s colonial architecture of the 19th century and the 18th century wood carvings by the Muslims of Gujarat are intermixed with gothic arches, oriental domes, and canopied balconies, giving Mumbai a very distinctive appearance.

Overall, the living standard of Mumbai is relative high, but there is much economic disparity in the city. The better residential areas are pleasant, but only a few minutes away are the crowded areas of the mill and dock workers, where sidewalks are the only homes for countless poor.

Mumbai contributes one-third of the country’s foreign trade; it also has the major concentration of U.S. private investment. It is also the entertainment capital of India; because of its extensive film industry, it has sometimes been called “Bollywood.”

New Delhi/Delhi

New Delhi, the modern federal capital city in north-central India, stands side by side with the 3,000-year-old city of Delhi, which was founded on the site of seven historic cities. Many historic sites remain to this day, making the cities a popular tourist destination.

The twin cities, with a combined population of over 13 million, exhibit a rich variety of architecture, from Muslim monuments to modern buildings. In 1911, the British began a massive 20-year building program. The city is now dotted with many grand buildings and illuminated fountains and gardens and boasts several modern hotels and commercial districts, as well as attractive residential areas called colonies. It is also crowded and packed with cars, and the air is often polluted. It is one of the most densely populated cities in India.

Due to its relatively high living standards and strong economic growth, Delhi has become one of the world’s fastest growing metropolitan areas. The old Delhi, with its narrow winding streets and bazaars, retains much more of the traditional Indian atmosphere.


A country as vast as India has a great variety of climates, all of them governed by the Himalayan mountain wall, which acts as a barrier to atmospheric circulation. Most of the country is tropical or subtropical, and subject to seasonal monsoon winds which bring torrential rains to many regions.

Most of the country has three basic seasons: a hot summer from March through May; a cool winter from October through February; and a rainy or monsoon season from June through September.

Sun and heat are debilitating; sunstroke can bring on “Gandhi’s Revenge” or “Delhi Belly,” as it is sometimes called. Stay out of the sun and heat, wear a hat, and use a sun lotion or sunscreen to avoid burns and the risk of skin cancer. Keep up your intake of appropriate fluids.

Climates of the major cities


Called the “Garden City” of India, Bangalore has a pleasant climate, ranging from 21 C/70 F to 28 C/82 F most of the year. The hottest months are March, April, and May when temperatures reach 33 C/91 F. During the short winter season, temperatures may fall to 14 C/57 F.

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Calcutta is damp most of the year, especially from May through October, when humidity exceeds 90 percent. Most of the rain falls during the monsoon season of June to October. From mid-February to June, the daily temperatures rise as high as 40 C/104 F. From mid-December to mid-February, temperatures are cooler, usually less than 25 C/77 F during the day and 10 C/50 F at night.

Chennai (Madras)

Chennai has a year-round tropical climate. December and January are the coolest months, with average daytime temperatures of 29 C/85 F. Temperatures increase from March through June, exceeding 38 C/ 100 F in May and June. High humidity accompanies the heat until November. Most of the rainfall, which averages 50 inches per year, is in October and November. Destructive cyclone storms sometimes strike the coast during the monsoons. January through May is dry.

Mumbai (Bombay)

This city has a tropical climate with an average annual temperature of about 27 C/ 80 F. There are three seasonal climates: hot and humid in April, May, and October; rainy from June through September ; and cool from November through March.

New Delhi/Delhi

There are three distinct seasons here: dry-hot, with dust storms from mid-April to mid-July; rainy, from mid-July through September; and cool, from October into April. January is the coolest month, with a minimum temperature of 7 C/44 F and maximum of 21 C/70 F; the warmest months are March to July, with daytime temperatures from 31 C/87 F to 41C/105 F.

Tsunami – a destructive natural force

On December 26, 2004, a series of tsunami (tidal) waves generated by an undersea earthquake caused massive loss of life and destruction in India and the region. The most powerful earthquake recorded in 40 years, the massive sea surge was among the world’s worst natural disasters. The south-east coast, primarily near Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu, was the worst affected area on India’s mainland.

Governmental and international aid agencies assisted in local relief efforts. The scope of this natural disaster triggered calls for an early warning tsunami system in the Indian Ocean.

Information provided in association with Living Abroad