Culture and ethnicity
India has a great variety of cultures, religions, languages and ethnic backgrounds. Religious ideas and motifs are integral parts of Indian culture as are dance, theatre, literature and fine and folk arts. Bollywood, the Indian film industry, produces films known for lavish dance and song sequences.
The complex social structure is based on caste. Castes are mutually exclusive social groups that determine people’s social standing and occupation. There are four broad categories, known as the ‘Varna Hierarchy’, which are further divided into hundreds of sub-castes. At the top of this hierarchy are the Brahmans, the caste responsible for ritual and learning, followed by the Kshatriya, the warrior caste, followed by the Vaishyas, the trading caste, and lastly the Shudras or the labourer caste. Outside this hierarchy are the Dalits (sometimes called ‘untouchables’). Dalits are responsible for various menial works considered to be polluting. A person’s position in the caste system is determined by birth. Despite economic modernisation and laws banning untouchability, the caste system still plays a dominant role in Indian social and political life.
The Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur are some of the listed World Heritage cultural sites.
The government has initiated various programs to improve health but India still suffers from health problems linked to poverty, malnutrition, rapid population growth, environmental pollution and neglect of children and women’s wellbeing. Life expectancy is 66 years. The infant mortality rate is 44 deaths per 1,000 births compared to only 4 in Australia. Infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis and measles are common, and HIV/AIDS although a low percentage (o.3%) presents a serious health threat with an estimated 2.1 million living with HIV/AIDS in 2012.
Religion and beliefs
The majority, 80.5%, of the population are Hindus followed by 13% Muslims, 2% Christians and 2% Sikhs. About 1% follow Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism all originated in India. Religion is part of everyday life and even though each has its own beliefs and practices, communities often share in the music and dance that mark each other’s festivals.
Food and shelter
Indian cuisine is very diverse. Rice is the main staple food, although in the north wheat is also widely used to make many forms of bread. Pulses (peas and beans) and vegetables are the main accompanying foods. A large proportion of Indians are vegetarians. Many Hindus eat meat, but their religion forbids them to eat beef, as cows are considered sacred animals. The use of rich and complex spice mixtures has made Indian food famous. There are many sweets, and in northern India especially these are often based on dairy products.
Housing styles vary from region to region depending upon what materials are available and local cultural traditions. Bricks, stones, tiles, cement and steel are commonly used, along with less durable materials such as wood, bamboo and thatching. There are more than 31 million phone lines, 894 million mobile phones and around 62 million internet users.