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India - Powerful, Progressive and Poor

Published: 24.05.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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India is a vibrant country - colourful, clamorous, crowded and complex. Once the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, since 1947 an independent nation and today one of the world's fastest growing economies. What do you associate with it?


vibrant, clamorous, legitimately, emerging, legion, rank, grim, tenuous, sanitary, infant mortality, literacy, mediocre, ambiguous, precarious, equilibrium, contradiction, hardwired, myriad, cherish, divinity, inconsistency, implications, thrive, detrimental, unjust, brittleness, resilience


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Forfatter: Amendor

There is, legitimately, quite a lot of focus on India as an emerging heavyweight in the international community, both economically and politically.

  • India, the nuclear power.
  • India, the world’s biggest democracy with well over one billion inhabitants.
  • India, a leading actor in the ICT field.
  • India, the world’s fifth biggest economy (whose GDP is topped only by the EU, the US, China and Japan),
  • India, the country of tremendous economic growth despite a less than dynamic world economy.

The triumphant headlines are legion.

Poverty Remains

Waste collector Dinesh Mukherjee, 11, watches his friend jump over a puddle of toxic liquid at the Ghazipur landfill in New DelhWaste collector Dinesh Mukherjee, 11, watches his friend jump over a puddle of toxic liquid at the Ghazipur landfill in New Delhi
Fotograf: Parivartan Sharma
However, there is also another India. Poverty is still a real issue. With a GDP per capita of $3500, India ranks number 163 in the world – after Mongolia – and does less than half as well as China. In comparison, the GDP per capita in Norway amounts to $ 54600 – 15.6 times the Indian level. The grim list also includes tenuous sanitary conditions, social and economical inequalities, a rather high infant mortality rate (47.57 per 100 against 3.52 in Norway) coupled with a difficulty to control the population growth, low literacy especially among women (47.8% against 73.4% for men) and a mediocre life expectancy at birth; 66.8 against a world average of 67.07 (far better than Angola’s 38.76, but quite a lot less than Monaco’s 89.73.) In other words, the picture is rather ambiguous.


Shopping mall in Kolkata, IndiaShopping mall in Kolkata, India
Fotograf: Bikas Das
This, however, should maybe not come as a surprise. Indeed, this is a country where democracy and the caste system, Kama Sutra and arranged marriages, deep spirituality and Bollywood movies, Gandhi’s heritage and a nuclear arsenal all coexist in more or less precarious equilibrium. Besides, western cultural influence is increasing. India is also the home of multiple cultural groups. It has 22 official languages. Hindi is the most widely spoken, but English, a subsidiary official language, is used widely in political and economic life, as well as in inter-regional communication. A majority (80.5%) of Indians may be Hindu, but there are also large Muslim (13.4%), Christian (2.3%) and Sikh (1.9%) communities. If India had a middle name, it might very well be “Complexity”.

Is there a tolerance for contradictions hardwired into Indian society? After all, there is, e.g., a strong Hindu heritage, where a myriad of very different gods all represent different aspects of one Supreme Spirit, where one of the most cherished of these divinities, Shiva, is destroyer and upholder at the same time, where life and death are considered to be part of a unity that depends on both of them in order to be complete and where social classes are seen as the expression of a higher order. Whatever the explanation may be, many Indians, when asked about apparent inconsistencies, will claim that seeing them as contradictions is based upon a lack of in-depth understanding of Indian culture and society .

United in Diversity?

Students display Aakash after launching ceremony in New DelhiStudents display Aakash after launching ceremony in New Delhi
Fotograf: Parivartan Sharma
Will this tendency to see unity beyond conflict have implications for India’s ability to continue to thrive? On one hand, a situation that might, in other cultures, lead to social unrest, such as the big differences between rich and poor, rigidly defined social classes, etc., may be met with greater patience in India. However, failing to do anything about it – or, indeed, considering that such issues don’t belong at the top of the agenda – may have a detrimental effect on factors of economical and social growth. Leaving entire parts of the population, e.g. women, the poor, people from lower castes, out of the adventure also means that one reduces or even removes their ability to partake in the India's blossoming society. Besides, it also means accepting what many people would consider unjust including quite a lot of Indians, naturally.



Try the multiple choice questions in the task below.

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Forfatter: Amendor



  1. The article mentions a number of contradictions in Indian society. Explain why the following are contradictions:
    • Democracy and the caste system
    • Kama Sutra and arranged marriages
    • Deep spirituality and Bollywood movies
    • Gandhi's heritage and a nuclear arsenal
  2. Can you see any apparent contradictions of the same nature as the ones mentioned in the article in Norwegian society?
  3. What would your attitude be towards such inconsistencies?
  4. Can a society be too ordered? May, for instance, a difficulty to accept ambiguity lead to some sort of brittleness, due to a lack of resilience?


Choose one of the following topics and find out more about it. Make a multimedia presentation for the class.

  • Hinduism
  • Shiva
  • Gandhi
  • Outsourcing
  • Bollywood
  • Caste system


  1. Write an essay where you discuss the contradictory nature of Indian culture and your opinion of this complex society.
  2. Use the three pictures as the basis for an essay about the social differences in India.
  3. You are a visitor to India and today you have met Dinesh Mukherjee, the waste collector in the first picture. Write a blogg entry where you describe the meeting and what he tells you about his everyday life.



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