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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.