India

What We Do in India

Freedom from Hunger seeks to reach 400,000 poor families through 28 partners, including microfinance institutions (MFIs) and Self-help Promoting Institutions (SHPIs) and to catalyze a national movement for integrated microfinance and health protection services. We are building on the successful work of our Microfinance and Health Protection program with Bandhan, a large MFI based in Kolkata, and our pilot replication activities with three additional partners in Orissa and West Bengal, as well as on the experience of the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s extension of Freedom from Hunger’s health education modules to eight other Indian MFIs.

Partnerships are in development with microfinance networks and associations, training institutes and government to engage in promotion, convening, technical assistance and training for the integration of health protection services with microfinance on a large scale in the poorest Indian states. 

About India

  • Area: 1,222,559 sq mi (slightly more than one-third the size of the U.S.)
  • Capital: New Delhi
  • Population: 1,095,351,995
  • Ethnic groups: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3%
  • Agricultural products: rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes; cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, poultry; fish
  • Average life expectancy at birth: 64.71 yrs
  • Fertility rate: 2.73 children born/woman
  • Infant mortality rate: 54.63 deaths/1,000 live births; the U.S. averages 6.43 deaths.
  • Religions: Hinduism 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other 1.8%, unspecified .1%
  • Population below poverty line: 25%
  • Languages: Hindi is the national language 30%. English is commonly spoken, along with Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi and Sanskrit; Hindustani.

Located just southwest of the Himalayan mountain range, a natural border that lies between India and China, the country's distinctive diamond shape is easy to find on any world map. It is roughly one-third the size of the United States, but with three times the population, making it the second most populous country in the world. Overpopulation and other factors have forced 25% of the inhabitants to live below the poverty line, and are rapidly depleting the country's natural resources.

Contrary to common belief, India is not solely a tropical desert-like area. Due to the country's massive size, the topography and climate are very different throughout the country. The temperatures are cooler in the north than in the south during the winter months, much like in the United States. However, unique to India are the two monsoon seasons. In June, the west coast of India experiences a weather pattern known as the “south-west monsoon,” named after the orientation of the winds that blow south to west. Similarly, between October and December, the east coast experiences the “north-east monsoon.” India's rare weather pattern occurs because half of the country's border makes up the shore of three bodies of water, including the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Gulf and the Bay of Bengal. Although the term “monsoon” can bring to mind images of destruction, such as flash floods and landslides, the monsoons in India are usually not bad times. The rain helps maintain the land's rich agriculture, specifically rice, wheat, cotton, tea, sugarcane and potatoes.

India is made up of 28 states and 7 regions. The states and regions all vary greatly. The states were formed according to what language those areas used, so each state has its own language. Although, with over 1,500 recognized dialects, it is hard to say that any language is constant throughout the country. Hindi is the national language (and spoken especially in northern India), and the south is primarily Dravidian-speaking. English is very widely spoken, also.

Similar to the diversity in languages, India is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Hinduism is known as the main religion, with about 80% of the population, 900 million people, as followers. Hinduism originated in India and is not in fact a religion at all. It was actually started as a way of life, and over time has taken the form of a religion. The Muslims make up the second most widely practiced religion, at about 13%. Other main religious groups of India include Christians, Sikhs, Buddists and Jains.

Even though language and religion vary drastically among India's 28 states, the importance of family is consistently the center of India's culture. Marriage is universal and divorce is extremely rare. About 50% of girls marry before the legal age of 18. Arranged marriages are still very common and “nonarranged marriages” usually only exist among the upper class.

In most parts of India, women must follow specific “veiling” guidelines. Since the weather is usually quite warm, the Indian women traditionally wear a piece of unstitched fabric called a “sari.” The word “sari” stems from the word “sati,” which means “strip of cloth.” This traditional cloth can be wrapped in many different ways to yield a beautiful and colorful layered look, and is usually worn over a blouse. A sari can, but doesn't always, completely cover a woman's body, sometimes including the head and face. In some parts of India, a woman must cover her face, usually with the end of her sari, when she is in the presence of men. The fact that the sari is made of unstitched fabric is very significant and historically important to Indian culture. They believe it is the only “pure” fabric. The way that a sari is worn varies greatly between the regions, but the tradition and importance of it remains constant.

Freedom from Hunger works in the far eastern corner of the country's diamond shape, which contains India's poorest states, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal. With over 300 million people living below the poverty line, more than that of Africa and Latin America combined, many Indians suffer from disease, poverty and hunger. India's cultural beliefs and traditions have left women particularly vulnerable. Freedom from Hunger and our partners are working to help enhance women's voices and influence in rural India.

In India, Freedom from Hunger is fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS (over 5 million Indians are living with the disease); helping communities prevent and manage malaria; and giving adolescent and teenage girls real options to early marriage by helping them develop life skills so they can earn a living, stay healthy and understand their rights.

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