India: Random Facts and Trivia

Some random facts and trivia for the country of the world India, hindu culture and relgion, castes, languages, biography of Gandhi.

INDIA

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Hindu culture is based upon the caste system, a hierarchical division of society into a multitude of hereditary groups for social, economic, and religious purposes. People work with, live adjacent to, marry, and worship with members of the same caste. Violators are punished by panchayati (councils), which exist at local levels for each caste.

Originally there were 4 castes: brahmans--the priests; kshatriyas--nobles and warriors (forerunners of modern rajputs); vaisyas--traders; and sudras--serfs. Over the centuries these 4 basic castes split into more than 3,000 separate subdivisions, based usually on occupation and geography. The caste system rigidified over a period of time, and it remains intact in most of rural India. The higher castes, which are of purer Aryan descent, dominate politics and business in rural areas.

Below the castes are 80 million casteless people, known as "untouchables." Though the Indian Constitution outlaws "untouchability" and discrimination against former untouchables, these people live in enforced poverty in most Indian villages. They may not dress well; they must live in inferior, segregated housing; and according to tradition they may not even worship in Hindu temples. There are even castelike subdivisions among untouchables.

In 1972 militant untouchables formed the Dalit (Oppressed) Panthers (after the American Black Panthers) to demand social and economic equality.

Tribal groups, some still relatively primitive, face similar discrimination. These 40 million people are primarily descendants of pre-Dravidian Indians.

The status of Indian women is paradoxical. On the one hand, India has only 932 women for every 1,000 men because of the tradition of female infanticide; on the other hand, the Prime Minister is a woman. Fifteen percent of the Congress Party's political candidates are women and 20% of the nation's doctors are women. Peasant women often dominate movements for food distribution and social change and even Muslim women are beginning to campaign for equal rights.

Hindus, who make up over 80% of the population, follow a religious tradition that confounds foreigners concerned about India's perennial food shortages. Hindus do not eat meat. (This is the origin of the term "sacred cow.")

Since independence, American aid agencies, the World Bank, and other Western governments have promoted the modernization of Indian agriculture, encouraging the use of machines, fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid grains. Because larger farmers could more easily adopt these more efficient methods, this "Green Revolution" in farming methods has accentuated the differences between rich and poor farmers, allowing large farms to grow even larger.

India has 15 main languages, most of which derive from Sanskrit (the ancient Brahman language), as well as 1,652 separate dialects.

In 1967 peasants in the Naxalbari region of West Bengal seized the land and killed the landlords. The movement, known as the Naxalite movement, spread to other areas of India. Though sometimes the name Naxalite is used to describe any land-seizing peasant movement, the Naxalites became a political party: the Communist party (Marxist-Leninist). The Government stifled the Naxalite movement and some 18,000 are now in prison.

India currently has as many as 40,000 political prisoners, including the 18,000 Naxalites, some of whom were imprisoned without trial. The non-Naxalite left wing in West Bengal charged the Congress with rigging elections in 1972, following earlier left-wing electoral victories which had been negated by presidential rule. The Congress Government responded to strikes there by arresting thousands, evicting workers from their homes, and forcing unions from their offices and plants.

In 1974, when India's railroad workers planned a strike, the Federal Government quickly arrested 20,000 leaders and workers.

Modern India's greatest hero is Mohandas K. Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (Great Soul). Gandhi, a lawyer who renounced material wealth, 1st developed a reputation as leader of the Indian community in South Africa. When he returned to India in 1914 he attracted the Hindu lower classes to the nationalist movement.

Gandhi was a nationalist, not a social revolutionary. He organized boycotts, strikes, and hunger strikes to attack British rule non-violently, but he never organized such campaigns to alter India's class or caste structure. He sympathized with the untouchables, calling them harijans (people of God), but he advocated only that they be allowed into the lower castes. He did not advocate abolition of the caste system. His program for land reform was weak as well: He urged landlords to donate 1/6 of their lands to the poor.

Gandhi's nonviolence was courageous, but somewhat inconsistent. He supported the British during W.W. I, but he advocated passive resistance to Hitler and Japan during W.W. II.

India has come a long way since the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1974 it startled the world by testing its 1st nuclear weapon.

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