India Facts

Compassion has been making a difference in the lives of children in need in India since 1968. Through our work there, we gather India facts about children in need and the community of India. These India facts and statistics provide a good overview of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of India but Compassion is working to change this. The India facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. With your involvement, our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of India facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in India today!


Compassion's work in India began in 1968. Currently, more than 131,500 children participate in 567 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Indian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

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India Map


Learn About India

Indian civilization dates back to 2500 B.C., when the inhabitants of the Indus River valley developed an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade. This civilization declined around 1500 B.C., probably due to ecological changes.

In 1619, the English East India Company established the first British outpost in South Asia at Surat, on the northwestern coast. Later in the century, the company opened permanent trading stations at Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, each under the protection of native rulers.

The British expanded their influence from these footholds until, by the 1850s, they controlled most of present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 1857, a rebellion in north India led by mutinous Indian soldiers caused the British Parliament to transfer all political power from the East India Company to the Crown. Great Britain began administering most of India directly while controlling the rest through treaties with local rulers.

In the late 1800s, the first steps were taken toward self-government in British India with the appointment of Indian counselors to advise the British viceroy and the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in legislative councils. Beginning in 1920, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress political party into a mass movement to campaign against British colonial rule. The party used both parliamentary and nonviolent resistance to achieve independence.

On Aug. 15, 1947, India became a dominion within the Commonwealth, with Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister. Enmity between Hindus and Muslims led the British to partition British India, creating East and West Pakistan, where there were Muslim majorities. India became a republic within the Commonwealth on Jan. 26, 1950.

After independence, the Congress Party, the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled India under the influence first of Nehru and then his daughter and grandson, with the exception of two brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s and into the 21st century, India was governed by parties other than the Congress for far longer than just brief periods.

Since this time, the country has been troubled by political instability, which came about only after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination during the 1992 election campaigns. India is currently ruled by another coalition government made up of the Congress party and its allies: the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been the current leader of the Indian government since May 2004. Religious violence, terrorism and tense relations with Pakistan seem to have quieted for now.


The typical school year runs from June through April. Public education is available through high school, but only 59 percent of males and 39 percent of females enroll in secondary school.

The secondary status afforded to girls within a family goes toward denying them the basic right to an education as guaranteed by the constitution. Girls are generally pulled out of school to help with family responsibilities like caring for their siblings or doing the housework. If a family has to choose between educating a son or a daughter because of financial constraints, typically the son will be chosen. Many parents view educating sons as an investment because the sons are supposed to care for aging parents. On the other hand, educating daughters is seen as a waste of money, since daughters will eventually live with their husband's families and the parents will not benefit directly from their education. Also, educated girls will have higher dowry expenses because they will need a comparably educated husband. Lack of female teachers especially in rural India is another potential barrier to girls' education because of the gender segregation practiced in traditional Indian society.

Although tuition is free in government schools, the costs of books, uniforms and transportation can be too much for poor families.

If boys drop out of schools, it is usually so they can work to help feed the family because the family cannot afford to educate their children. To a family living a hand-to-mouth existence, immediate needs for food, clothing and shelter loom larger than the long-term benefits of education.

Lack of adequate school facilities to accommodate all the school-age children is another reason for low literacy levels. Children who do not complete their schooling and go on to gain a college education have little hope of breaking free from the insidious cycle of poverty. A basic school education is often not enough to secure a decent job. For that, a student must attend college or at least vocational training. Children who have a good college education stand a good chance of breaking poverty's cycle.


India's constitution considers the Buddhist, Jain and Sikh faiths different from the Hindu religion, but the constitution is often interpreted to include those faiths in Hinduism. This interpretation has been a contentious issue, particularly for the Sikh community that views itself as a unique religion and clearly distinct from Hinduism. In this regard, Sikhs have sought a separately codified body of law applying only to them.

Freedom of religion is generally respected, but some state and local governments only partially respect this freedom. A number of federal and state laws regulate religious life in India. 

The government is empowered to ban a religious organization if it has provoked intercommunity friction, has been involved in terrorism or sedition, or has violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which regulates funding from abroad. Citizens and foreigners can propagate their religious beliefs, but speaking publicly against other beliefs is considered dangerous to public order and is prohibited.

The government permits private religious schools, which can offer religious instruction, but it does not permit religious instruction in government schools. Since most students in the majority of Christian schools are Hindu, the schools have long restricted religious instruction on Christianity only to those students who are Christian.



India has a rich history of art, including temples, monasteries, paintings and literature. Indian art is religious in its themes and developments. Cinema is also popular in India. Bollywood, India's equivalent to Hollywood, produces over 1,000 movies per year -- nearly three times as many as Hollywood's studios.


The sitar is a stringed instrument used in traditional Indian music, community dancing and singing. The veena (another stringed instrument, similar to the sitar) and tabla (drums) are other common Indian instruments. Guitars are also extremely popular. The most popular music for most Indians is the soundtracks from the current movie hits, made in the local languages (Tamil, Hindi, Telugu).

Holidays and Festivals

Good Friday and Easter Sunday: Public holidays celebrated by Christians in India.

Independence Day, Aug. 15: Celebrated by all. Schools and offices fly flags and distribute sweets. Children prepare special programs in schools.

Gandhi Jayanthi, Oct. 2: A public holiday commemorating the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation.

Deepavali (Festival of Lights), Nov. 1: Dates for Deepavali change depending on the lunar calendar: Celebrated throughout India by Hindus. Houses are decorated with colored paper, firecrackers are lit, and sweets are distributed. If a family can afford it, they exchange gifts and clothes.  

Duhssera and Ayudha Pooja: usually celebrated in October but dates vary depending on the lunar calendar: A 10-day festival celebrated by Hindus in North India. Duhssera celebrates the victory of Rama over Ravana -- a good Hindu king over an evil one as mentioned in the Ramayana -- one of the chief Hindu scriptures. Ayudha Pooja celebrates Durga, a chief Hindu female deity who is an aspect of Kali. 

Bakrid or Id-Ul-Zuha, celebrated on the 10th of Dhul-Hagg, the last month of the lunar year: Muslim festival to commemorate the near-sacrifice of Ishmael by Abraham as commanded by God. 

Id-ul-Fitr, starts with the commencement of the first day of the month of "Shawwl": A celebration to mark the end of the month of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims fast, giving up food and drink during the day, and spend the most of the night in devotion and prayer. Purification of the body and soul is the main aim of this observance. 

Christmas, Dec. 25: Churches, decorated with colored paper, serve dinners for the congregation. Christmas trees are set up, even by poor families, and family gifts are exchanged if the family can afford it.

Sports and Games

Indoor games include carrom boards (similar to bumper pool), Chinese checkers and word puzzles. Outdoor activities include bicycling, soccer, cricket and hockey.

Typical Foods

Rice, potatoes, bananas, chicken and curried vegetables are eaten in India. In northern India, the staple diet is dry chappatis (a type of Indian bread cooked without oil) made with wheat flour and eaten with curried vegetables, potatoes or, if families are very poor, just the chappati with onions. There are numerous variations to the basic chappati and each of them has different names depending on the ingredients used and how they are cooked.

Curry Chicken

  • One 3-lb. fryer chicken
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 16-oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large green pepper

Cut chicken into pieces. Mix the flour, salt, curry powder and pepper. Dip the chicken pieces into the mixture and place them in a slow cooker with the onion and green pepper (sliced). Add the garlic, raisins and tomatoes. Cover and cook on low, 7-10 hours, or high, 2-3 hours. Serve with cooked rice.


Most children say "hi," "hello," "uncle," "aunty" and "how are you?" in English.

In India it is considered disrespectful to call older people by their first names. Names for older people are prefixed with "aunty,"  "uncle," or the local terms for older sister or older brother, if there is not a large age difference. Unlike the West's use of these terms, they don't necessarily connote biological relationship in India.

The following words show how "Hello," "How are you?" and "I'm fine" are said in the different languages of the different states that Compassion works in. 

  • In Tamil Nadu, where the language is Tamil, "hello" is Vanakkam.
  • In Kerala, where the language is Malayalam, "How are you?" is Sugam aanu?  and "I am fine" is Oh, sugama
  • In North India, where Hindi is spoken, "How are you?" is Aap kaise ho?  and "I am fine" is Mein aacha hai.
  • In Karnataka, where the language is Kannada, "How are you?" is Channagidhira? and "I'm fine" is Channagidhini
  • In Andhra Pradesh, where the language is Telugu, "How are you?" is Bagunnara? and "I'm fine" is Bagunnanu.
Compassion in India

Compassion's work in India began in 1968. Currently, more than 131,500 children participate in 567 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Indian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

India Facts and Figures

Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in India.

India United States
Capital New Dehli Washington, D.C.
Population 1,156,897,766 (July 2010 estimate) 307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
Languages English enjoys associate status but is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication; Hindi is the national language and primary tongue of 41% of the people; there are 14 other official languages: Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit; Hindustani is a popular variant of Hindi/Urdu spoken widely throughout northern India but is not an official language (2001 census) English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
Religions Hindu 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.1% (2001 census) Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Literacy rate
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 73.4%
Female: 47.8%
(2001 Census)
Male: 99%
Female: 99%
(2003 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources Urban: 96%
Rural: 86%
(2006 estimate)
Urban: 100%
Rural: 94%
(2006 estimate)
Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities Urban: 52%
Rural: 18%
(2006 estimate)
Urban: 100%
Rural: 99%
(2006 estimate)
Climate Varies from tropical monsoon in south to temperate in north. Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by Chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Percentage of population urbanized 29% (2008 estimate) 82% (2008 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 65.13 years
Female: 67.17 years
(2010 estimate)
Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years
(2010 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 69/1,000 (2008 estimate) 8/1,000 (2008 estimate)
GDP per capita $3,100 (2009 estimate) $46,000 (2009 estimate)
Monetary unit Indian rupee (INR) U.S. dollar (USD)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 2.4 million (2007 estimate) 1.2 million (2007 estimate)
Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day 42% (1992-2007 study) Data not available

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2010; The State of the World's Children, 2009