India Facts - Compassion International

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

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!


This content honors Compassion’s historical work in India. While we no longer have an India sponsorship program, we are grateful for the lives changed and meaningful work achieved through our sponsors and donors in our nearly 50 years there. For a detailed explanation of the end of our sponsorship program in India, please visit

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. India was partitioned at the time of independence leading to the creation of East and West Pakistan. 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.

Despite pressing problems such as significant overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption, economic growth following the launch of economic reforms in 1991 and a massive youthful population continue to drive India's emergence as a regional and global power.

Source: The World Factbook, 2014.


The typical school year runs from June through April, and public education is available through high 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 families living in poverty.

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.

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.


Freedom of religion is generally respected in India, but a number of federal and state laws regulate religious life.

The government is empowered to ban a religious organization if it has provoked inter-community 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 prohibited.

The government permits private religious schools, which can offer religious instruction, but it does not permit religious instruction in government schools.



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 from 800 to 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.

Republic Day, Jan. 26: On this day in 1950 the Indian Republic and its constitution came into being.

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 goddess 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 the poorest families, and family gifts are exchanged if the family can afford those.

Visit the Compassion blog to read posts about Christmas in India and Republic Day celebrations.

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 Recipe

  • 1 three-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.

You may also like this recipe for Carrot Kheer, a drink made with carrots.


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 began working in India in 1968, when the Child Sponsorship Program was started. In 2003, the Child Survival Program began, followed by the Leadership Development Program in 2004.

Child Sponsorship Program

Children 14 and younger meet at the center 3 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and 4 hours on Saturday. Children ages 15 to 18 meet at the center 3 hours a day, 2 days a week, and 4 hours on Saturday.

At almost every child development center, children enjoy a nutritious meal once or twice a week. A typical meal consists of local grains, cereals, vegetables, eggs or meat and fruit. Most of the children get only two meals a day at home and the meals are usually not nutritious. In addition, a special diet is provided for malnourished children.

All adolescent children receive some type of vocational training in addition to life skills and English education. The vocational skills offered include carpentry, welding, electronics repair, mechanics, driving, plumbing and electrical work.

Parents' meetings are organized in all the child development centers on a monthly basis. Information on topics such as parenting, social issues, the importance of education and child rearing is shared. Self-help programs also exist at most of the child development centers, and these meet more often.

India Facts and Figures
Capital New Dehli
Population 1,236,344,631 (2014 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)
Religions Hindu 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.1% (2001 census)
Literacy rate
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 75.2%
Female: 50.8%
(2006 Census)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources Urban: 96.3%
Rural: 89.5%
(2011 estimate)
Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities Urban: 59.7%
Rural: 23.9%
(2011 estimate)
Climate Varies from tropical monsoon in south to temperate in north.
Percentage of population urbanized 31.3% (2011 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 66.68 years
Female: 69.06 years
(2014 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 56/1,000 (2012 estimate)
GDP per capita $4,000 (2013 estimate)
Monetary unit Indian rupee (INR)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 2.085 million (2012 estimate)
Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day 33% (2007-11 study)

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014