India is a land of ancient civilisations. India's social, economic and cultural configurations are the product of a long process of regional expansion. Europeans came to India in the 17th century. In the competition for supremacy, the English emerged as the 'winners'. Although British colonial rule ended in 1947, and the French and Portuguese left a few years later, the former colonial powers left behind buildings and structures that make certain cities in India heritage cities. Today, cities such as Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Panaji and Puducherry act as gateways to the past.

Modern India covers an area of 32,87,263 sq km, stretching from the snow-capped heights of the Himalayas to the tropical rainforests of the south. It is the 7th largest country in the world and one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse nations, with some of the most deeply religious societies and cultures. Religion plays a central and defining role in the lives of many of its people. Although a secular country with a Hindu majority, India has a large Muslim population.

One of the major themes running through Indian life is social interdependence. People are born into groups - families, clans, sub-castes, castes and religious communities - and feel a deep sense of inseparability from these groups. People are deeply connected to others, and for many the greatest fear is the possibility of being left alone without social support. At the same time, India is a hierarchical society. Whether in North or South India, Hindu or Muslim, urban or rural, virtually all things, people and social groups are ranked according to various essential qualities.

India is a country of extreme contrasts: there are booming centres like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore with a growing number of enormously wealthy families, but there are also millions of people living in extreme poverty. India's population has almost doubled in 40 years. Half of its population, 600 million people, are under the age of 25. These demographics offer huge opportunities for economic growth and higher incomes - but only if India can harness this potential by providing more education and jobs.