How Did Partition Change the Religious Map in Punjab?

July 2015 Update: See my more detailed look at Punjab here (but read this post too of course!).

Ever since I became interested in the Partition of India, I have been puzzled by the dearth of good maps showing the distribution of different religious communities in India on the eve of Partition in 1947. The main religions in India are few enough to make mapping possible but numerous enough to make it interesting; the British had carried out a detailed census of India as recently as 1941. All the information exists, and the story of Partition is one of the most consequential of the last century. So where are the maps?

I took matters into my own hands and made some new maps. For the map posted below, I used the 1941 Census numbers and this map as a base. The base map is one of the few decent maps available showing the pre-Partition religious situation in Punjab, and, more importantly for my purposes, it shows the districts and main princely states of the region.

A quick primer on Punjab in 1947: Most of the undivided Punjab region was part of the British Indian province of Punjab. Some medium-sized princely states were sprinkled in as well. Most Punjabi speakers lived in Punjab, though some lived (and still live) in what was then called the North West Frontier Province. The southeast and northeast of Punjab province was inhabited by non-Punjabi speakers. The Punjab region was home to about 35 million people, roughly 4/5ths of whom lived in Punjab province, the remaining 1/5th in the princely states.

The Punjab had seven cities with populations over 100,000. The capital, Lahore was the largest with 630,000, followed by the Sikh holy city, Amritsar, which housed 390,000. The other five were Rawalpindi, Multan, Sialkot, Ludhiana, and Jalandhar, all with populations between 100,000 and 200,000. All but Jalandhar and Rawalpindi had Muslim majorities. Those two had Muslim pluralities (or, if you prefer, Hindu+Sikh majorities). The overall religious distribution in Punjab, including the princely states, was 53% Muslim, 30% Hindu, 14.6% Sikh, 1.4% Christian, and 1% Other. Muslims were concentrated in the west, Sikhs in the center, and Hindus in the east. Hindus were also relatively prevalent in cities and Sikhs in rural areas.

Below is my new map, which takes the base map with districts colored simply by whether it was majority Muslim or non-Muslim, and adds two things. One is that it distinguishes between Hindus and Sikhs, so you can see where the “non-Muslims” in question were predominantly Sikh or Hindu. The other is the color gradient, which allows me to show districts where Muslims were 51% as different from those where they were 95%. In the map below, bright green signifies Muslims, blue is for Sikhs, and red for Hindus:

Punjab Religions 1941

The Punjab can be divided into five areas. One is the west, which was generally 80% or even 90% Muslim. The second is the center-west, which was majority Muslim, but typically around 60% and with large Sikh minorities. The third area is in the center-east, with no obvious majority religion. This is where much of the worst carnage during Partition took place. In some places, the Sikhs were a plurality, in some the Muslims, and in some the Hindus, but rarely was any one community a majority. The fourth area is to the southeast, in what is now Haryana. This part of the Punjab had a Hindu majority, but it was relatively narrow, and the communal split was Hindu/Muslim, with few Sikhs in the mix. In this map, Delhi is included as zone four, because communally and culturally, it was similar to the nearby parts of the Punjab. The fifth zone, which corresponds to the modern state of Himachal Pradesh was almost exclusively Hindu. Below is the same map, but with my zones drawn in:

Punjab Regions

Looking at this map, reasonable Partition lines are fairly obvious. Pakistan should get areas one and two, and India four, and five, with three being divided between the two, probably with most of it going to India. Below is the map again, with the claims made by Congress (in black) and by the Muslim League (in white), as per these maps, drawn in:

Punjab 1947 Claims

The difference between the two claims is stark. The Congress claim is maximalist: in addition to the heavily Hindu areas (4 and 5), they claimed all of zone 3, 2, and even a few parts of 1. I don’t know what the argument for giving those heavily Muslim regions to India would have been. Perhaps it was a negotiating tactic, or an attempt to keep the Sikh heartland undivided. The Muslim League asked for much less, only claiming zones 1 and 2 and most of the Muslim plurality parts of zone three. Below is the final boundary (in pink) drawn by the British:

Punjab Claims+Boundary

To my eyes, this looks like an extremely favorable result for India. No Hindu/Sikh majority district went to Pakistan, while several swaths of Muslim majority territory ended up in Indian hands. The explanation that comes to mind is that the British wanted to try to ease the damage Partition would do to Sikhs, who clearly got a raw deal with Partition. Their homeland was split in half, leaving many of their holiest sites, including the birthplace of the founder of Sikhism, abandoned in Pakistan. Lahore, which had been the capital of their early 19th century empire, also went to Pakistan. Unlike the Muslims, they didn’t even get a state out of the carnage, and in Punjab as it was then formulated, they would remain a minority. The British respected the Sikhs perhaps more than any community in India, because of their long service in the British India Army, and their loyalty during the 1857 revolt. Perhaps the generous lines on the map were intended to keep as many Sikhs in India as possible, and therefore reduce the number of uprooted Sikhs . My theory would also explain the very favorable lines in Sindh (or no lines: Sindh wasn’t partitioned despite a Hindu majority in the southeast) and Kashmir. The British expected the Muslim-majority Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir to accede to Pakistan, leaving the Hindus in the southern Jammu area in Pakistan. The British plan in Sindh and Kashmir balanced the pro-India lines in Punjab (obviously, India foiled the plan in Kashmir).

In any case, whether the British had complicated motives, or just didn’t know what they were doing, the lines were drawn, and all Hell broke loose. Virtually all of the Punjabis who found themselves on the wrong side of the new border left or died trying. It was one to the largest population exchanges in history (around 11 million people in Punjab crossed the new border). Here is the 1941 map again:

Punjab Religions 1941

Below is the religious picture of the greater Punjab region today (or ten to fifteen years ago when the data I used were collected). I added Buddhists in yellow, and since I couldn’t find any district-level data for Pakistan, I colored all of the Pakistani side the same color (97.2% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, 0.5% Other, which is the overall religious breakdown for West Punjab). I assumed that, with half a percent of the population, Hindus and Sikhs wouldn’t show up anyway. There is one religious map of Pakistan, which shows a Hindu majority in the desert south of Bahawalpur. I do not know what numbers this is based on, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else, so I’m ignoring it, at least until I find their data.

Greater Punjab Religions Today

Obviously, the Pakistani side is almost completely Muslim, while the Muslims have left the Indian side except in the area south of Delhi. A pocket of Buddhists has emerged in the sparsely populated far north, apparently mostly consisting of Buddhist refugees from Tibet. The Sikh population is completely concentrated in what is now the Indian state of Punjab, where they are a majority. In 1941, they were not a majority there, but the Muslims left and Sikhs from Pakistan arrived. Over all, Partition drastically changed Punjabi culture and demography in ways that would profoundly influence the courses of both India and Pakistan, and the maps tell the story in the simplest and most direct way.

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25 thoughts on “How Did Partition Change the Religious Map in Punjab?

  1. You have indeed done great job at this!!. Just to add the sikhs still got a raw deal 😦 The hindus as the map suggests were well off overall, the Muslims ended up with a country aswell whereas central punjab or majha the sikh homeland where sikhs formed a sizeable proportion in most tehsils was cut by half. At most only 60% of the sikhs ended up on the eastern side while more than 40% were rendered homeless! Definitely the most illogical and brutal boundary drawn in human history. By a man named raddcliff who had never been in india and was commanded by the crown to get the job done quickly in a month time. Anyways not much can be done now! The eastern buddhist territories of lahul and spti have always been buddhist. They were always tibetan and only became part of south asia back in 1830s when it was annexed by the sikhs and added to sikh empire.

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  2. punjab is 60 % majority sikh populat, but only in smalest side in bw the punjab but also good because now they have got amritsar, juludur,ludhiana ,bathinda,patiala with majority sikh population ,now sikhs have to be start their in haryana where they make 5 % only and in delhi also 5 % they have smal population in rajasthan 1.4 % ,uttarakhand 2% ,himachal 1.2%,jammu and kashmir 2% ,chandigarch 16 – 20 % and in canada they make 2 %

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  3. Sirs,
    Partition of Punjab and Bengal came as a bolt from the blue to residents.
    The beauty of division was to Isolate Bharat/India from East and West hostilities contained the economic growth and betterment of public at large.
    Each nation trying to loom larger than its size.
    India is locked to be linked terrestrially linked to West and East.
    Hence, incurring heavy expenditure.
    Pakistan can be Excising agent to allow any cargo traffic of all sorts.
    This Partition of Sub-Continent was on demand of American Pressure on UK.
    By the vigilant division we have Muslim Punjab and Sikh Punjab contiguous to each other. Each religiously not harmoniously comfortable with one another. All important historical Sikh sites are in Pakistan.
    Many more just not be discussed.
    Had the Partition not taken place This Subcontinent would have been advanced region than China and Many European countries due to its educational standards.
    Europe after WWII, wouldn’t been able to find big markets, etc.etc.
    Good day.

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    • Thanks for the comment. I disagree with one point however. I don’t think that Partition was pushed onto the UK by the United States. While the U.S. has certainly made its share of mistakes in South Asia, this was not one of them. In my opinion, Partition was almost entirely driven by the British trying to extend the life of their decaying empire. This failed, but the idea was to keep a part of India under the control of a friendly group. The Congress leadership was seen as way too anti-British to work with, and Jinnah cannily established himself and the Muslim League as a more pro-Western alternative.
      To the extent that the United States’ leadership cared about India (not much), it was against Partition. Franklin Roosevelt, who was the American President when many of the key decisions that led to Partition were made, was opposed to Partition, and wanted British rule in India to end as soon as possible. He had bigger fish to fry in Europe and East Asia though, so he didn’t get very involved in Britain’s India policy. By the time India was partitioned, Harry Truman was President, and, though he was more tolerant of European colonial ambitions than FDR, I am not aware if he ever took a public position on Partition. In the 1950s he did start the United States’ close Cold War relationship with Pakistan.

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  4. On re-reading, the post it is not clear if several swathes of Muslim majority areas went to India. Your maps dont seem to show this. You say area 1 and 2 should have gone to Pakistan, and thats pretty much what they got, barring the Hindu majority region of the Gursdaspur district.

    Also, remember that for Partition purposes, Hindus and Sikhs were considered a single unit, vis-a-vis Muslims, so I think that in the context of partition these maps will become much clearer if you pooled the Hindu and Sikh population together. Of course, you can retain the Hindu-Sikh-Muslim map as well to show how plural British Punjab was.

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    • Thanks for the comment. There were two Muslim majority areas that were contiguous or nearly contiguous with Pakistan that ended up in India. One is the part of Gurdaspur district that went to India, which from what I can tell had a very slight Muslim majority in 1947. It certainly didn’t have a Hindu majority, as the non-Muslim population was about 45 percent Hindu, 45 percent Sikh, and 10 percent Christian. Also, because of the way the lines were drawn, Kapurthala state had no real option of acceding to Pakistan, despite being 56 percent Muslim.

      But there is a larger point I want to make. When I wrote this post about a year ago, I was just crystalizing a concept that I have come to believe is the secret to the success of colonial regimes. That is, if you control the rules of the game, you control its outcome. The British understood this, perhaps better than any imperial power, though a few other countries have mastered it since. There was no reason that the British had to lump the Sikhs and Hindus together. They could have given the Sikhs a state in central Punjab, as the Sikhs preferred. They could have given all of Punjab, which had an overall Muslim majority, to Pakistan, as Jinnah demanded. They could have given Pakistan any district in which Muslims were the plurality instead of the majority.

      Since their main strategic motivation for dividing British India was to keep key areas under the control of a friendly government, they decided against giving the Hindu and Sikh parts of Punjab to Pakistan. The British thought a larger Pakistan, including all of Bengal and Punjab and possible Delhi, would be more unstable without improving its strategic value. However, if the British had also believed that Delhi or Amritsar were crucial to British strategic goals in the early Cold War, the rules would have been set up differently to ensure that they ended up in Pakistan. For example, if China had fallen to the Communists in 1946 instead of 1949, I suspect that the British would have made sure that Pakistan got all of Punjab and Kashmir, and maybe Assam as well (which was considered at one point). I think most alternative scenarios for how to divide the territory, other than not dividing it of course, would have led to a smaller India.

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      • In regard to why the British awarded large portions of Muslim majority land in Central Punjab to India v/s to Pakistan, I think I agree more with your original point that the British wanted to reward the Sikhs for having collaborated/stood with them through their colonization of India. I don’t think the British expected the carnage that descended upon Punjab at the time of Partition. So I don’t imagine that the ethnic cleansing that followed was part of their strategy. If anything, they just wanted to get out of India as soon as possible and came up with demarcation lines that seemed most convenient to them while keeping their interests (i.e more land for Sikhs) in check.

        I also think that you’ve overplayed the British-Congress rivalry. While the British definitely did not get along with Gandhi and his swadeshi policies, they had a much easier relationship with Nehru. On the other hand, the British had a general animosity towards Muslims stemming from the 1857 rebellion and the Mountbatten v/s Jinnah rivalry didn’t make things easy either.

        In some ways the Punjabi Muslims got the raw deal from the partition – about 8% less area than they deserved and a much higher casualty rate from the resulting Partition riots. But looking at it another way, they got the entire country of Pakistan to rule, since they are the dominant ethnic group in that country.

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        • The Sikhs were the worst sufferers of partition as they lost their historic Gurdwaras and lands to Pakistan. The argument has been made the Pakistan should have got more of the east Punjab area because they were a majority in a few of the tehsils. But the partition agreement contained a reference to ‘other factors’ which though not clearly defined could have been used to greater advantage of the Sikhs. Take for instance the Lahore district. Although the Muslims were over 60% in population yet the land and revenue records show a completely different view of the district. In terms of land area held by each community, the Sikhs owned 936,349 acres, the Hindus 89,834 acres and the Muslims 511,797 acres. The total acreage of Lahore district was 1,662,456 acres. This means that the Sikhs owned a majority of land about 57% and combined with the Hindu share this took the non-Muslim land ownership to 61.72%. Although it could be argued that Sikh land ownership could be excluded with regard to the canal colonies as these had been previously barren or postural land owned by Muslim tribes, the land ownership of Sikhs in Lahore was one of ancestral land that held been held for hundreds of year prior to the mostly Hindu Jats of that district converting to Sikhism. Added to the Sikh land ownership, the city of Lahore was basically a city that was owned by the Hindus as they had the overwhelming commercial interests in that city. It would be interesting if the owner of the blog would also make some maps of what would have been partition line if land ownership in the district or tehsil was made the basis of the partition rather than just a simple population majority.

          With regard to Muslim loss of life in the partition, there has been an interesting book that was published a few years ago which unlike most books by Pakistani Muslim writers clearly blame the Muslim league for the chain of violence in Punjab for attacking the Sikhs in Rawalpindi district in March 1947. The Muslim league having started the chain of violence did nothing to prepare the East Punjab Muslims for the Sikh and Hindu reaction that would come when the partition line was drawn. The writer also put forward the theory that since the Sikhs had suffered violence earlier in West Punjab, their leadership had been able to prepare for the coming violence much more than the Muslims could.

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          • Sorry, this comment got kind of lost in the shuffle, but I think it would be interesting to look at property ownership in Punjab. However, I disagree that property should have been factored into Partition, as I don’t support counting certain people more because they own land. It would add an extra layer of context though, and I would be happy to make a map showing property ownership. Where did you get the numbers cited in your comment?

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  5. Partition of India was one of the biggest mistakes of our so called GREAT leaders particulary Mr. Jinnah who died just one year post partition. People were forced to leave their ancestral land and were asked to migrate only because they dont follow the faith that the majority follows, ironically this happened in the land known for its long history of religious tolerance, in a land of great saints like Nanak and kabir who were the ambassadors of Hindu/ Muslim unity. I personally feel that the British couldnt digest the unity and feared that India could become a superpower if not divided at the right time.

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  6. Lets try to make a better future for India and Pakistan so that both countries can live in peace and get prosperous.Try to live like good neighbor but personally I am against the partition of india but I think may be it has some good things also .may be Now india is more peaceful than if we share a border with Afghanistan and Iran.

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  7. Good discussion. For a matter of record let me add that seven Muslim majority tehsils were given to India.
    1. Jullundur (51.16 %)
    2. Nakodar (59.41 %)
    3. Ferozepore (55.25 %)
    4. Zira (65.26 %)
    5. Ajnala (59.46 %)
    6. Gurdaspur (52.16 %)
    7. Batala (55.07 %)
    8. Kapurthala State (56.49 %)
    9. Dasuya (50.05 % Muslims + Christians)

    All the above areas are contiguous to Pakistan. Kindly correct one mistake, Jalandhar was a Muslim majority city with a population of 59.31%. In addition to that Muslims were single largest groups in the following tehsils:

    1. Amritsar (45.49 %)
    2. Hoshiarpur (45.09 %)
    3. Ludhiana (39.27 %)
    4. Muktsar (42.79 %)
    5. Fazilka (43.28 %)

    Now I leave to your readers to decide how fair this partition was. For more details and tehsil level maps I invite you to visit my blog:

    pakgeotagging.blogspot.com

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  8. Now you know why Pakistan is weary of India. The areas in which there was Muslim majority went to Indian. Then J & K was grabbed by India though it was clearly Muslim majority and princely states were told to choose the side based on aspiration of their people which never happened. The plebiscite never happened as well as India knew that Kashmirs will vote for independence. The instrument of accession has no value though it is the legal basis on which India claims Kashmir. It has no value as Maharajah did not consult it’s people and joined India against it’s wishes. You Indians think that land grabbing for your interest is fine and morale. We don’t think so and therefore there has been no peace with India for so long. And funny thing is that you cannot fight and win a war against us either and you know it. The day conflict start, it will be sad day for India as it is not 1947.

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  9. Pingback: Why Wasn’t Sindh Partitioned in 1947? | Patriots Forum

  10. Pingback: How Mountbatten favoured Nehru | Reality is Often Bitter . حقيقت اکثرتلخ ہوتی ہے

  11. In my opinion partition was good for both India and Pakistan, IN THE SENSE that a long civil war was probably avoided. The present situation in India is that minorities (under the Ultra- Hindutva government) are treated so badly. Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Sikhs and Dalits to name a few are treated as inferior and they, along with their places of worship are attacked. The model for a secular India that Gandhi, Nehru and Patel intially had, has failed. In fact present government is even talking about setting up a statue to honour the man who murdered Gandhi! People forget that up until the British raj, India was never an actual country, rather it was a set of Princely States. Ideally all the various provinces should have been given independence and several states should have come about, instead of just two. To elaborate this point, let’s take the example of Punjab, which was most affected. Punjabis from both India and Pakistan have more in common with each other, in terms of language and culture etc. then they do with people from other provinces in their countries. As a Punjabi myself, I can relate to Punjabis from Pakistan, than say someone from South India. However I think as a people, we have moved on too much for Provinces like Punjab to be reunified. It may have been possible 30 plus years ago, when many of the older generations who lived in the greater Punjab, prior to partition were in abundance. Most of those people have passed on and the present generations are becoming more and more Indian or Pakistani then Punjabi. There seems to be a lot of hate and narrow mindedness that is pumped out in the media, and even educational establishments feed negative propaganda. Many Indians and Pakistanis have such strange views about each other. More than 90% of it being untrue. I am not anti-India or anti-Pakistan, as often is on such forums. (One has to pick a side and then curse the other side as much as possible). I am simply putting forward my own view. I would like to add one thing. After the Second World War, all the nations involved have put the conflict behind them and moved on for teh sake of prosperity. India and Pakistan have instead wasted all their resources on trying to outwit each other. Every politician tries to gain popularity on the politics of hate and fear. Maybe we can learn from others to create a better future or continue to waste more and more wealth in this petty argument that only makes certain individuals richer.

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    • Sir I would like to educate you a bit because I’ve came to know, from articles on Web, that Pakistan teaches negative things about Non- Muslims (especially Hindus) in it’s education system.
      First of all there is almost zero discrimination towards Dharmic Religions i.e. Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs (1984 riots were political not religious).
      As a neutral person. I would say there is indeed discrimination towards Christians and Muslims (Reverse is also true hindus discriminated by Christians in North East India). Reasons are different
      1. Christians —> It’s mostly conversion of tribals and money related conversions. This kind of discrimination is mostly absent in Southern India and North East India.
      2. Muslims –> There you have multiple reasons. Terrorism association, Meat eating habits, Partition scar etc. From my perspective this is present almost everywhere in India.

      See these incidents are obvious when you have more than 1 billion people with different philosophy/ideology.
      But there is big difference. You know Muslims face a lot of problems in France and are discriminated. But comparing the discrimination faced by minority (Abrahamic Religion) in India to Pakistan is like comparing the situation of Non-Muslims(Minority) in Saudi Arabia to Muslims (Minority) in France.
      I hope you got my point.

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  12. Good job with this. The maps are well made and easy to understand and I agree with the way you have divided the province into 4 zones.

    However, I do disagree with the conclusion you have come to (that the partition of Punjab was favorable to India). This is because the conclusion one comes to largely depends on the context of the partition.
    If you view it the partition of Punjab a Hindu vs. Muslim vs. Sikh partition, then the result is favorable to India. However, it is more accurate to view it as a split between an exclusively Muslim Pakistan and a secular India. If we view it this way, it makes sense to put Muslims plurality (but non-Muslim majority) districts; eg. a district which is 40% Muslim, 30% Sikh, 30% Hindu in India rather than Pakistan. Similarly, it justifies putting small Muslim majority towns/ countryside in India for the sake of larger non-Muslim majority ones.

    If we examine it with this lens, then only one Muslim majority district has gone to India; although many Muslim plurality districts have. The single Muslim majority district which ended up in India is Gurdaspur (modern day districts Gurdaspur and Pathankot in India and tehsil Shakargarh in Pakistan). Gurdaspur is a complicated case, at partition, it had a slight Muslim majority. However, Muslims were only a majority if Ahmadis were counted as Muslim; the problem is that mainstream sects of Islam considered Ahmadis heretics and therefore non-Muslim. Thus by their own standard, Gurdaspur district was non-Muslim majority to the Islamic authorities; in fact, Pakistan has officially declared Ahmadiyya as a non-Muslim faith.

    In conclusion, based on the context of partition, the inclusion of all ‘Zone 3’ districts in India. Furthermore, the presence of the Ahmadi community (and the way they were viewed by Sunni Islam) justified the inclusion of the one ‘Zone 2’ district that was given to India. I don’t think the partition was perfect by far, but the division of Punjab was quite fair, given the negotiating positions of all parties.

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