India: A Story of Contrast



India has the 6th largest economy in the world, yet up to 25% of the population lives below the poverty line. India’s universities produce an educated elite that competes with the best in the world, while more than a quarter of the country remains illiterate. Economic opportunity abounds for the upper class and men, while the lower classes and most women live a narrow existence. Join Active Minds as we explore these and other contrasts as we seek to understand India and how it fits into the global community.

Key Lecture Points

  • India has the second largest population in the world—1.2 billion people. Its population is four times larger than the population of the United States, the world’s third largest country by population. In much of the country, the population density is almost 1000 people per square mile.
  • Archeological evidence suggests proto-humans may have lived on the Indian subcontinent for millions of years. The Indus River Valley in northwestern India was home to one of the “cradles of civilization.”
  • The world’s major religions have all played a role in Indian history. Vedic religions, including Hinduism, evolved in India. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born and lived in India. There have possibly been Christians in India since the time of the apostles in the first century CE. Muslims held large areas of land in India for centuries.
  • Portugal’s Vasco da Gama inaugurated the European “Age of Discovery” by navigating around the Horn of Africa to arrive in Goa, India in 1498. The British East India Company held an exclusive royal charter for trade in India until it was replaced by viceroyalty called the British Raj in 1858. India was a vital asset to the British Empire. British rule over India led to the loss of livelihoods and deaths of millions of Indians; Britain also modernized India with new technologies like railroads and canals.
  • Britain granted India independence in 1947. At independence, the British government instituted the policy of Partition which divided British India into Pakistan, controlled by Muslims, and India, controlled by Hindu. 1000s of people died as a result of Partition and three resulting Indo-Pakistani wars.
  • Independent India implemented socialist policies, including a command economy. It was also allied with the Soviet Union until the fall of the USSR in 1991.
    India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It faces many obstacles to continuing rapid growth including economic inequality, gender inequality, major health challenges, sanitation, pollution, global climate change and automation.

Exploration Questions

  • What role has India played in world history?
  • What do you see as the biggest challenges to modern India? How can India’s leadership address those challenges? What are its major strengths?
  • What are the differences and similarities between the rapid economic growth of India and other BRIC nations—especially China?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever traveled to India? If so, what was your experience.
  • Are there elements of the Indian civilization that intrigue you? The food? The dress? The architecture?
  • Have you seen or personally experienced the effects of “outsourcing”? Tell your story.
  • Do you think India will surpass the US as a superpower? What will this mean to the US?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Khilani, Sunhil. Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. The history of India from the lives of 50 seminal Indians including the Buddha, Ashoka, Mohandas Gandhi and Indira Gandhi.
    Click here to order
  • French, Patrick. India: A Portrait. Knopf, 2011. 416 pages. French discusses India’s political, social and economic complexities.
    Click here to order
  • Luce, Edward. In spite of the Gods: the Rise of Modern India (paperback). Anchor, 2008. 416 pages. Luces work traces India’s emergence as a global peconomic presence.
    Click here to order
  • Giridharadas, Anand. India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking. Times Books, 2011. 288 pages. Reversing his parents’ immigrant path, a young Indian-American returns to India.
    Click here to order