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9.4: India

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Outline the basic activities of British colonialism that affected the realm.
    2. Understand the basic qualities of the rural and urban characteristics of India.
    3. Summarize the main economic activities and economic conditions in India.
    4. Describe the differences between various geographic regions of India.
    5. Explain the measures the Indian government has taken to protect the biodiversity of India.

    India and Colonialism

    India is considered the world’s largest democracy. As the historic geography and the development patterns of India are examined, the complexities of this Hindu state surface. European colonizers of South Asia included the Dutch, Portuguese, French, and, finally, the British. In search of raw materials, cheap labor, and expanding markets, Europeans used their advancements in technology to take over and dominate the regional industrial base. The East India Company was a base of British operations in South Asia and evolved to become the administrative government of the region by 1857. The British government created an administrative structure to govern South Asia. Their centralized government in India employed many Sikhs in positions of the administration to help rule over the largely Muslim and Hindu population. The English language was introduced as a lingua franca for the colonies.

    In truth, colonialism did more than establish the current boundaries of South Asia. Besides bringing the region under one central government and providing a lingua franca, India’s colonizers developed the main port cities of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras (now called Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai, respectively. The names of the port cities have been reverted to their original Hindi forms). The port cities were access points for connecting goods with markets between India and Europe. Mumbai became the largest city and the economic center of India. In 1912, to exploit the interior of India, the British moved their colonial capital from Kolkata, which was the port for the densely populated Ganges River basin, to New Delhi. Chennai was a port access to southern India and the core of the Dravidian ethnic south.

    Britain exploited India by extending railroad lines from the three main port cities into the hinterlands, to transport materials from the interior back to the port for export. The Indian Railroad is one of the largest rail networks on Earth. The problem with colonial railroads was that they did not necessarily connect cities with other cities. The British colonizers connected rail lines between the hinterland and the ports for resource exploitation and export of commercial goods. Today, the same port cities act as focal points for the import/export activity of globalization and remain core industrial centers for South Asia. They are now well connected with the other cities of India.

    Goa is the smallest state of modern-day India. In the sixteenth century, it was first encountered by Portuguese traders, who annexed it shortly thereafter to become a colony of Portugal, which it was for the next 450 years. Goa was one of the longest-held colonial possessions in the world, and was not annexed by India until 1961. By the mid-1800s, most of the population of this tiny area had been forcibly converted to Christianity. Although many Hindu traditions survived the colonial period, and Hindu holidays are celebrated here, Goa is known for its Christian holiday celebrations, especially Christmas and Easter. The cathedral and secular architecture in many of the historic buildings of Goa are European in style, reflecting its Portuguese origins.

    The People of India

    Contrasts in India are explicitly evident in the regional differences of its human geography. The north-south contrasts are apparent through the lingua franca and ethnic divisions. The main lingua franca in the north is Hindi. In the Dravidian-dominated south, the main lingua franca is English. The densely populated core region along the Ganges River, anchored on each end by Delhi/New Delhi and Kolkata, has traditionally been called the heartland of India. The south is anchored by the port city of Chennai and the large city of Bangalore. Chennai has been a traditional industrial center. The industrial infrastructure has shifted to more modern facilities in other cities, giving over to a “rustbelt” syndrome for portions of the Chennai region. India is a dynamic country, with shifts and changes constantly occurring. Any attempt to stereotype India into cultural regions would be problematic.

    Figure 9.26 The Three Main Language Families in India


    Hindi is the official language of the government, and both Hindi and English are the lingua franca.

    Wikimedia Commons – public domain; University of Texas Libraries.

    In 2010, India had more than 1.18 billion people, which is about one-sixth of the human population of the earth. An 80 percent majority follow Hindu beliefs. About 13 percent of the population is Muslim. Thirteen may not seem like a high percentage, but in this case it equates to about 140 million people. This is equivalent to all the Muslims who reside in the countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt combined. India is sometimes called the third-largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan, because of its large Muslim minority. India essentially has two lingua francas: English and Hindi, of which Hindi is the official language of the Indian government. India has twenty-eight states and fourteen recognized major languages. Many different languages are spoken in rural areas. The languages of northern India are mainly based on the Indo-European language family. Languages used in the south are mainly from the Dravidian language family. A few regions that border Tibet in the north use languages from the Sino-Tibetan language family.

    Urban versus Rural

    Rural and urban life within the Indian Subcontinent varies according to wealth and opportunity. While concentrated in specific areas across the landscape, in general the population in rural areas is discontinuous and spread thinly. In urban areas, the populations are very concentrated with many times the population density found in rural areas. India has six world-class cities: Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. There are many other large cities in India; in 2010, India had forty-three cities with more than a million people each.

    India’s interior is mainly composed of villages. In rural villages, much of the economy is based on subsistence strategies, primarily agriculture and small cottage industries. The lifestyle is focused on the agricultural cycles of soil preparation, sowing, and harvesting as well as tending animals, particularly water buffalo, cattle, goats, and sheep. About 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas and makes a living in agriculture. About 35 percent of the population—which is equal to the entire US population—is urbanized. India is rapidly progressing toward urbanization and industrialization. Changes in technology, however, tend to be slow in dispersing to the rural villages. More than half the villages in India do not have road access for motor vehicles. For residents of those villages, walking, animal carts, and trains are the main methods of transportation. Agricultural technology is primitive. Diffusion of new ideas, products, or methods can be slow. Modern communication technology is, however, helping connect these remote regions.

    Figure 9.27 Farmer Tilling a Field with Oxen in Rural India


    Ananth BS – Annadatha – CC BY 2.0.

    India’s cities are dynamic places, with millions of people, cars, buses, and trucks all found in the streets. In many areas of urban centers, traffic may be stopped to await the movement of a sacred cow or a donkey or bullock cart loaded with merchandise. Indian cities are growing at an unsustainable rate. Overcrowded and congested, the main cities are modernizing and trying to keep up with global trends. Traditionally, family size was large. Large family size results in a swell of young people migrating to urban areas to seek greater opportunities and advantages. In modern times, family size has been reduced to about three children, an accomplishment that did not come easily because of the religious beliefs of most of India’s people. If current trends continue, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world in about fifty years.

    The level of official governmental control is usually different in an urban setting from what it is in the rural areas. There may be more police or military personnel in areas of heavy traffic or in urban areas that need extra control. A central feature of many Indian cities is an older central city that represents the protected part of the city. In Delhi, for example, New Delhi represents the new construction of government buildings that was begun during the British occupation of the region as part of the British Empire. Old Delhi represents the old markets, government buildings, palaces, fortresses, and mosques that were built during the Mogul Empire, between the mid-1500s and the mid-1800s. These older parts of the cities, particularly the markets, are bustling with activities, merchants, shoppers, cab drivers, and pedal and motor rickshaws. Rickshaws are either bicycle-driven cabs or cabs based on enclosed motor scooters.

    In urban areas, there is a socioeconomic hierarchy of a small group of people who are wealthy and can afford all the amenities we associate with modern life—electricity, clean water, television, computers, and the like. One of the things that characterize modern Indian cities is an expanding middle class. Many young people see the kinds of material goods that are available in the West and are creating job markets and opportunities to allow them to reach or maintain this type of lifestyle. One of the major markets to support this burgeoning middle class is the information technology field, as well as outsourcing in many of the cities of peninsular India.

    India is a country with considerable contrast between the wealthy urban elites and the poor rural villagers, many of whom move to the cities and live in slums and work for little pay. Low labor costs have enabled Indian cities to industrialize in many ways similar to Western cities, complete with computers, Internet services, and other modern communications services. India’s growing middle class is a product of educational opportunities and technological advancements. This available skilled labor base has allowed India’s industrial and information sectors to take advantage of economic opportunities in the global marketplace to grow and expand their activities. Development within India is augmented by outsourcing activities by American and European corporations to India. Service center jobs created by business process outsourcing (BPO) are in high demand by skilled Indian workers.

    India’s Economic Situation

    In the past decade, India has possessed the second fastest growing economy in the world; China is first. India’s economy continues to rapidly expand and have a tremendous impact on the world economy. In spite of the size of the economy, India’s population has a low average per capita income. Approximately one-fourth of the people living in India live in poverty; the World Bank classifies India as a low-income economy. India has followed a central economic model for most of its development since it declared independence. The central government has exerted strict control over private sector economic development, foreign trade, and foreign investment. Through various economic reforms since the 1990s, India is beginning to open up these markets by reducing government control on foreign investment and trade. Many publicly owned businesses are being privatized. Globalization efforts have been vigorous in India. There has been substantial growth in information services, health care, and the industrial sector.

    Figure 9.28 Mumbai (Bombay), the Economic Capital and Largest City in India


    Ajay Goyal – city father – CC BY 2.0.

    The economy is extremely diverse and has focused on agriculture, handicrafts, textiles, manufacturing, some industry, and a vast number of services. A 60 percent majority of the population earns its income directly from agriculture and agriculture-related services. Land holdings by individual farmers are small, often less than five acres. When combined with the inadequate use of modern farming technologies, small land holdings become inadequately productive and impractical. Monsoons are critical for the success of India’s agricultural crops during any given season. Because the rainfall of many agricultural areas is tied to the monsoon rains of only a few months, a weak or delayed rainfall can have disastrous effects on the agricultural economy. Agricultural products include commercial crops such as coffee and spices (cardamom, pepper, chili peppers, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon, and so on). An important product for perfume and incense is sandalwood, harvested primarily in the dense forests of the state of Karnataka, in southwestern India. Bamboo is an important part of the agricultural harvest as well. Of course, rice and lentils provide an important basis for the local economy.

    Over the last two decades, information technology and related services are transforming India’s economy and society. In turn, India is transforming the world’s information technologies in terms of production and service as well as the export of skilled workers in financial, computer hardware, software engineering, and software services. Manufacturing and industry are becoming a more important part of India’s economy as it begins to expand. Manufacturing and industry account for almost one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP) and contribute jobs to almost one-fifth of the total workforce. Major economic sectors such as manufacturing, industry, biotechnology, telecommunications, aviation, shipbuilding, and retail are exhibiting strong growth rates.

    A large number of educated young people who are fluent in English are changing India into a “back office” target for global outsourcing for customer services. These customer services focus on computer-related products but also include service-related industries and online sales companies. The level of outsourcing of information activity to India has been substantial. Any work that can be conducted over the Internet or telephone can be outsourced to anywhere in the world that has high-speed communication links. Countries that are attractive to BPO are countries where the English language is prominent, where employment costs are low, and where there is an adequate labor base of skilled or educated workers that can be trained in the services required. India has been the main destination for BPO activity from the United States. Firms with service work or computer programming are drawn to India because English is a lingua franca and India has an adequate skilled labor base to draw from.

    Tourism has always been an important part of India’s economy and has been focused on the unique natural environments as well as historical cities, monuments, and temples found throughout the country. Of particular importance are the Mogul-period tombs, palaces, and mosques in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, India’s “Golden Triangle” of tourism. India is a country of contrasts. Scenic beauty abounds from the Eastern and Western Ghats to the high mountains of the Himalayas. The monsoon rains provide abundant agricultural crops for densely populated regions such as the Ganges River basin. On the other hand, places such as the Thar Desert are sparsely inhabited. There is a wide gap between the wealthy elite and the massive numbers of people who live in poverty. Mumbai has some of the largest slums in Asia, yet it is the financial capital of India, teeming with economic activity.

    As incomes rise for the middle class in India, the price of automobiles becomes more accessible. On the downside, an escalation in the numbers of motor vehicles in use tends to lead to an escalation in the levels of air pollution and traffic congestion. Similarly, an expansion of transportation systems increases the use of fossil fuels. India is a major competitor for fossil fuels exported from the Persian Gulf and other Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) sources. The continued industrialization and urbanization in India foretells an increase in demand for energy. Rising energy costs and demand, combined with economic growth, have caused a serious problem for India. Many areas will be without power as they are shut off the power grid for hours or days, a process known as load-shedding. This allows industry and manufacturing to use the energy resources during peak times. In general, India is poor in natural gas and oil resources and is heavily dependent on coal and foreign oil imports. India is rich in alternative energy resources, such as solar, wind, and biofuels; however, alternative energy resources have not been sufficiently developed.

    Vehicle Manufacturing

    Figure 9.30 The Nano, Made in India


    The Nano is considered the world’s most inexpensive car.

    Wikimedia Commons – CC BY 2.0.

    Two examples of India’s growing economic milieu are motor vehicle manufacturing and the movie industry. India’s vehicle manufacturing base is expanding rapidly. Vehicle manufacturing companies from North America, Europe, and East Asia are all active in India, and India also has its own share of vehicle manufacturing companies. For example, Mumbai-based Tata Motors Ltd. is the country’s foremost vehicle production corporation and it claims to be the second-largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in the world. Tata Motors is India’s largest designer and manufacturer of commercial buses and trucks, and it also produces the most inexpensive car in the world, the Tata Nano. Tata Motors manufactures midsized and larger automobiles, too. The company has expanded operations to Spain, Thailand, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. The company is an example of an Indian-based international corporation that is a force in the global marketplace. In 2010, India was recognized as a major competitor with Thailand, South Korea, and Japan as the fourth main exporter of autos in Asia.

    The Indian Cinema

    Cinema makes up a large portion of the entertainment sector in India. India’s cinema industry is often referred to as “Bollywood,” a combination of Bombay and Hollywood. Technically, Bollywood is only the segment of the Indian cinema that is based out of Bombay (Mumbai), but the title is sometimes misleadingly used to refer to the entire movie industry in India. Bollywood is the leading movie maker in India and has a world-class film production center. In the past few years, India has been producing as many as one thousand films annually. The highest annual output for the US film industry is only about two-thirds that of India. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, India’s city of Hyderabad has the most extensive film production center in the world. The Telugu film industry operates the studio in Hyderabad.

    Figure 9.31


    Bollywood is a major film production company located in Mumbai (Bombay). The film industry in India produces almost twice as many movies as the United States. Indian production scenes can be dramatic and expressive.

    Feminist julie – Bollywood – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

    Indian films are produced in more than a dozen languages and appeal to a wide domestic and international audience. Indian movies range from long epic productions with stories within stories to dramas, musicals, and theatrical presentations. Their popularity extends beyond South Asia. Indian movies with modest dress, lack of explicit sexual scenes, and a focus on drama are popular in places such as Egypt, the Middle East, and other African countries. Movie stars are energetically promoted and enjoy celebrity in India, as is the case with the entertainment industry in the United States and Europe. The cinema is part of the cultural experience in Indian society. Urban life in India reserves a large presence for the entertainment industry, particularly the Indian film industry. One of the prime artistic endeavors in urban India is movie posters depicting all the glory of the latest Bollywood movie. Most of these colorful posters are painted by hand and they tend to be large; some are several stories high.