Population. About 16 per cent of all the world's people live in India. Only China, which has a population of more than one billion, has more people than India. For details of India's population, see India in brief with this article. India is more densely populated than most other countries.
About 73 per cent of India's people live in rural areas. Most of the country's 557,000 farm villages have less than 1,000 people. About 27 per cent of the people live in urban areas. India has about 4,000 cities and towns. About 300 cities have populations over 100,000. Six cities have more than 3 million people. These cities, in order of population size, are Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Chennai (Madras), and Hyderabad. Calcutta, the capital city of West Bengal, has the greatest population density of any city in India, with an average of about 42,000 people per square kilometre.
Since the early 1900's, India's population has grown by several million a year. During the 1980's and 1990's, the population increased by as much as 18 million per year. The main reason for this "population explosion" is that improved sanitation and health care have caused the death rate to fall more rapidly than the birth rate. Population growth has led to serious overcrowding and has increased the problem of raising India's low standard of living. Many villagers leave the heavily populated rural areas to look for work in the cities, where wages are higher. As a result, India's city population grows about twice as fast as the population of the country as a whole. This has led to severe overcrowding and many other social problems in the cities.
Ancestry. India's people belong to a variety of ethnic groups. The two largest groups are the light-skinned Indo-Aryans and the dark-skinned Dravidians. Most Indo-Aryans live in northern India, and a majority of the Dravidians live in southern parts of the country.
The Dravidians were among India's earliest known inhabitants. About 2500 B.C., they created an advanced civilization in the Indus Valley. About 1500 B.C., central Asian peoples called Aryans invaded the Indus Valley and drove the Dravidians south.
Beginning about A.D. 1000, central Asian Islamic peoples, mainly from the area that is now Afghanistan and Iran, settled in India. Many of their descendants live in the northeast, especially in the
of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Mongoloid peoples live in the Himalayan region along India's northeastern border and in the states that border Burma. Most members of such minority groups as the Bhils, Gonds, Khasis, Nagas, Oraons, and Santals live in remote hills and forests.
Languages. The people of India speak 14 major languages and more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects. The major languages of India belong to two language families--Indo-European and Dravidian.
Indo-European languages are spoken by about 73 per cent of the people, mainly in the northern and central regions. They include Hindi--which is India's most widely spoken language--and its closely related form Urdu. These languages come from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language with many words similar to words in European tongues.
Dravidian languages are spoken by about 24 per cent of the population, mainly in the southern part of the country. They include Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu. People in the northern Himalayan region and near the Burmese border speak Sino-Tibetan languages. Some ethnic groups in eastern India speak Mon-Khmer languages.