The developmental origins of health disease (DOHaD) hypothesis proposes that altered environmental influences (nutrition, metabolism, pollutants, stress and so on) during critical stages of fetal growth predisposes individuals to diabetes and other non-communicable disease in later life. This phenomenon is thought to reflect permanent effects (‘programming’) of unbalanced fetal development on physiological systems. Intrauterine programming may underlie the characteristic Indian ‘thin-fat’ phenotype and the current unprecedented epidemic of diabetes on the backdrop of multigenerational maternal undernutrition in the country. India has been at the forefront of the DOHaD research for over two decades. Both retrospective and prospective birth cohorts in India provide evidence for the role of impaired early-life nutrition on the later diabetes risk. These studies show that in a transitioning country such as India, maternal undernutrition (of micronutrients) and overnutrition (gestational diabetes) co-exist, and expose the offspring to disease risk through multiple pathways. Currently, the Indian scientists are embarking on complex mechanistic and intervention studies to find solutions for the diabetes susceptibility of this population. However, a few unresolved issues in this context warrant continued research and a cautious approach.