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INTRODUCTION

Any book about India must begin with a range of descriptors that demonstrate the vastness of the land and the diversity of its people. This book is no different and given its chronological task from 1947 to 2000, it is valuable to take a snapshot of this diversity as it appeared at the beginning of the twenty-fi rst century. India in 2001 had 28 states and 7 union territories governed by a mix of national and regional political parties. Its citizens (1.028 billion, according to the 2001 Census) spoke 844 languages and dialects, 22 of which were recognized for legal use in India’s Constitution. Among these were Hindi and its related language Urdu, which were spoken by more than 470 million people. English was the fi rst or second language of about 90 million people as estimated by the English-language news media. India is religiously diverse as well and although the Census showed that about 80 per cent of the population was identifi ed as Hindu, the category of Hindus has a wide range of meanings in different contexts. Also the Census shows 13 per cent of the population to be Muslim, giving India the second largest Muslim population in the world. In addition there are communities of Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, animist practitioners, and other religious groups as well.