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FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut

Rough Cut: India: A New LIfe
Background Facts and Related Links
Read more about India's economic boom and its growing social divide.

Country Profile

India is the seventh largest country in the world and the second most populous, with an estimated 1.1 billion people. It lies at the center of the South Asian subcontinent, bordered by Pakistan to the west; China and Nepal to the north; Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma to the east; and the Indian Ocean to the south.

Indian Street

Vijayawada Street

India gets its name from the Persian word Indus, or Hindu in Sanskrit. It was in India, and along the eastern edge of the great Indus River Valley, that Hinduism first blossomed between 2500 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Today, more than 900 million people practice Hinduism, mostly in India and Nepal, making it the third most widely observed religion in the world, behind Islam and Christianity.

Politics and Economy

Since its independence from Britain in 1947, India has become the largest democracy in the world. Like the United States, the Indian Republic is secular, has a constitution, and divides its government into three branches -- executive, judicial and legislative. In 2002, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the 76-year-old retired scientist who had worked on India's missile program, was elected president. Kalam was the candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Street Vendor

Street Vendor

During its 70 years of independence, India has faced its share of struggles. Within weeks of independence from the British, the first of three wars with Pakistan broke out, in which hundreds of thousands died on both sides. A year later, in 1948, India's revered spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated. In the 30 years that followed, two prime ministers were assassinated, and Islamic militants from Pakistan attacked the Indian parliament in 2001, leading to a nuclear standoff between the two countries in 2002.

In May of 2007, India confirmed its booming economy with an annual growth of 9.4 percent, the highest gain since 1998-99, when the economy grew an impressive 10.5 percent. Much of India's economic success comes from its growing and well-educated middle class, buoyant foreign investment and industry expansion across the country, especially in technology and pharmaceuticals. Given its impressive growth and $4 trillion in annual GDP, economists predict that India is well on its way to becoming one of the top-five performing economies in the world.

India's Poverty and Homeless Children

Despite this boom, India's per capita income, although rising, was a paltry $3,700 in 2006, ranking it 124th in the world. This low per capita income is one factor that marks the sharp divide between India's wealthiest and poorest citizens. Approximately 35 percent of India's 260 million people (a group almost equal to the entire population of the United States) still earns $1 or less a day. And according to the United Nations, 70 million people earn less than $2 a day.

Boy on Indian Street

As India continues to grow in economic stature, there's much debate over the country's ability to tackle poverty and urban homelessness. A 2001 census reported that 78 million people across India were living without a home, many in overcrowded urban environments.

The problem has become particularly acute for homeless children, one-fifth of whom receive no education. According to Indian Embassy figures, there are 314,700 children living on the streets of Bombay [Mumbai], Calcutta [Kolkata], Madras [Chennai], Kampur, Bangalore and Hyderabad, and another 100,000 live in New Delhi; however, these numbers may not reflect the true picture, as accurate census information is difficult to collect.

Some measures have been taken by the government to protect children. In 1974, India adopted the National Policy on Children, which largely focused on child labor protections. In 1990, after the U.N.'s World Summit for Children, the National Plan of Action for Women and Girls was set up, which helped to increase public funding for children's welfare programs. But it's unclear how much attention the government has focused solely on the issue of homelessness among the young.

In India today, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of homeless children remain vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, exploitation by unregulated employers, abduction and hunger, with few ways to escape their situations. Nongovernmental agencies and religious foundations have largely assumed the government's role in providing shelter and protection to street children.

Sources: CIA World Factbook; BBC; The Economist; Financial Times; UNICEF; World Health Organization.

Related Links

Navajeevan Bala Bhavan: New Life Children's Home
This nonprofit in the city of Vijayawada in southeast India was created in 1989 by the Municipal Corporation of Vijayawada and the Salesian Brothers of the order of Don Bosco. The aid group specializes in breaking what it calls the cycle of "street addiction" that afflicts homeless children in Vijayawada and inner cities across India.

Streetkidnews Blog in India
The Streetkidnews blog is part of a worldwide network of blogs highlighting the specific problems facing children who live and work on the streets. Organized by locations around the world, the site has more than 100 posts on the problems in India.

India's Economy Hits New Growth Rate

This Financial Times story reports on India's staggering economic growth and notes that, during the week of May 31, 2007, India's stock market reached 1 trillion dollars for the first time.

Indian Embassy on Children

This brief article from the India Embassy outlines the government's policy record on the rights of women and children.

India Timeline
This BBC timeline provides a brief chronology of events in India from the end of the 19th century to the announcement of the economy's 2007 record growth. There's special emphasis on events of the last 20 years, from the beginning of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to the India-Pakistan conflicts.

India: Hole in the Wall
This 2002 FRONTLINE/World produced by Rory O'Connor features the work of Dr. Sugata Mitra, a computer scientist and social entrepreneur who constructs free Internet kiosks in poor neighborhoods. The film highlights the growing divide between the rich and the poor in India's cities, and the accompanying Web site provides a wealth of resources -- from a history of the technology industry in India to an interview with the reporter and a look at his notebook.

The Skoll Foundation
Visit the Skoll Foundation Web site to learn more about other international projects supported by the foundation. The fund was set up in 1999 by former eBay president Jeff Skoll to invest in social entrepreneurs who are using innovative ways to bring about systemic change in underserved communities around the world.

Social Entrepreneurs

Watch other FRONTLINE/World stories on our Web site focusing on the work of social entrepreneurs from India to Uganda and South Africa.

-- Rob Krieger