A Closer Look At How Partition Changed Punjab’s Religious Map

When I wrote my first post on this blog about a year and a half ago, I only had access to religious data at a district-by-district level for Punjab (and also Bengal). When I wrote my post on Kashmir, I switched to using sub-district (or tehsil) data, which is more detailed. Since then, all of my posts on Partition have used that more detailed data from the 1931 Census. I decided to revise the Punjab map using the tehsil data. I won’t rewrite the whole post here though I encourage you to read it here. Instead I’ll compare the original map to the new one, and discuss a few features that the increased resolution reveals.

Punjab Religions 1941

Punjab 1931 Religion Tehsil

Apart from the obvious improvement in quality, and my addition of much of the North-West Frontier Province to the second map, there are a few details worth commenting on, though obviously the overall picture remains largely unchanged. First there was an overwhelmingly Muslim pocket due south of Delhi, far from any other Muslim majority area. Second, the increased detail really emphasizes the concentration of Sikhs in the southern half of what is now the Indian state of Punjab. The northern half of Indian Punjab was very mixed, with large Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh populations. Third, Amritsar and Tarn Taran tehsils, which are the Sikh-plurality (blue) tehsils directly in the middle of the province, were mostly surrounded by Muslim-majority or Muslim-plurality tehsils. This will be relevant when we look more closely at the partition lines later in the post. Finally, I noticed the Sikh-heavy area west of Amritsar centered on Lyallpur (modern-day Faisalabad). This part of Punjab was the focus of a major British plan to irrigate previously arid parts of Punjab and turn them into agricultural centers. Often, Sikhs migrated to these so-called canal colonies, where they were given plots of land to farm. The west-central part of Punjab, where most of these colonies were, tended to be Muslim-majority, but with a larger Sikh than Hindu population. Farther west, the Muslim majority became more pronounced, but the minority population was mostly Hindu. Below is a map of the non-Muslim Punjab population, to reveal the Hindu/Sikh distribution (the “Sikh” category actually includes all other religions, but the Sikhs made up the overwhelming majority of the non-Muslim, non-Hindu population).

Punjab 1931 Hindu:Sikh

I adjusted the opacity so that the colors look more faded as the non-Muslim share of the population decreases. As you can see, the Sikhs are mostly concentrated in the central Punjab. Hindus are much more numerous than Sikhs in the south and west of the state. I think this may be due to the canal colonies, which were located in the west-central Punjab and were a major magnet for Sikh migrants in the early 1900s. Farther west and south, the main minority is presumably the ten or fifteen percent of the original Hindu population who didn’t convert to Islam during the seven centuries or so of Muslim rule over western Punjab.

In this post, I experimented with a few different ways of presenting the data. The map below, requested by Vikram, a commenter, is a map depicting the Muslim vs. non-Muslim breakdown, which was the basis of the British partition lines.

Punjab Muslim:Non-Muslim

Now here is the same map, but with the partition line drawn in.

Punjab Muslim:Non-Muslim Radcliffe Line

Here we see clearly that the Radcliffe Line (the official name of the border between India and Pakistan) in Punjab was very favorable to India, as I noted in my original post. Not a single non-Muslim-majority tehsil or princely state ended up in Pakistan, while nine Muslim-majority tehsils or states ended up in India. Furthermore, seven of these were contiguous or near-contiguous with Pakistan. Here is the same map with the nine Muslim-majority tehsils given to India highlighted.

Punjab highlighted tehsils

The seven Muslim tehsils near the Pakistan border plus the two non-Muslim tehsils they surround, Tarn Taran and Amritsar, had an overall religious profile of 52.0 percent Muslim, 27.3 percent Sikh, 18.4 percent Hindu, and 2.1 percent Christian. Therefore, theoretically, the concept of  “two nations” would have been better served if the whole block had gone to Pakistan. That way, only four tehsils would have been “stranded” on the wrong side of the line, two per country. That still wouldn’t have been a satisfying solution to me though because the goal of Partition should have been to minimize displacement of people, not create a solution that was abstractly “fair” to both India and Pakistan. I think a better option would have been to give as much of this Muslim-majority block as possible to Pakistan while keeping Tarn Taran and Amritsar in India. There would have been two obvious options for achieving this goal. One would have been for Kapurthala state, southeast of Tarn Taran and Amritsar to accede to India while the remainder of the Muslim tehsils went to Pakistan. Alternatively, Gurdaspur and Batala tehsils, just to the north of Amritsar, could have remained with India while the other Muslim-majority tehsils and Kapurthala state went to Pakistan.

I judged which of these would have been better by assuming that all “stranded” Sikhs and Hindus would have moved to India, all Muslims would have moved to Pakistan, and Christians would have stayed put, as that is how Partition played out in general. Then I calculated how many refugees would have been expected under each scenario. The first scenario, Partition as it actually occurred, resulted in about 1,359,000 refugees from this pocket of Muslim-majority areas given to India. The second scenario, Kapurthala staying with India, would have generated 1,167,000 refugees and would have looked like this:

Punjab Non-Muslim option 1

The third would have involved Gurdaspur and Batala staying with India, would have resulted in 1,177,000 refugees, and would look like this:

Punjab Non-Muslim Option 3

A possible fourth option would have been for the whole area to go to Pakistan. That would have resulted in 1,195,000 refugees and look like this:

Punjab Non-Muslim Option 4

Obviously, if we reject the rules set up by the British and think outside the box, there are other possible outcomes that could have reduced or eliminated refugees. Some such possibilities include a multi-religious neutral zone in central Punjab, an independent and united Punjab, or no Partition of India at all. However, accepting the rules as defined by the British, the second option of Kapurthala going to India would have had the fewest refugees. Unsurprisingly, the British chose the one that created the most refugees. It is quite possible that the British wanted to make sure that the Sikhs, who were left in a very bad situation by Partition, would not be forced to abandon Amritsar, their holy city. Thus all the Muslim tehsils around Amritsar were given to India to make Amritsar more defensible and less exposed. It isn’t obvious to me though that the border in option two above was dramatically less defensible. Amritsar was more exposed, but any border through that part of Punjab would be difficult to defend given the flat topography. And the British left Pakistan divided in two and separated by the length of India, presumably a much greater obstacle to defensibility than a zigzag in the Punjab border. It should also be noted that the actual border drawn in that exact region proved impossible to defend for Pakistan in the 1965 war, when India invaded and ended up on the outskirts of Lahore by the time a cease-fire was declared.

Perhaps the British were willing to give India a favorable deal in Punjab (and as commenters have pointed out, in Bengal too) as a way of convincing the Congress leadership to accept Pakistan’s creation. I think that the main reason the British supported Pakistan’s creation is that it kept the most strategically valuable parts of British India in somewhat friendly hands. The North-West Frontier Province, parts of Kashmir (which the British expected to go to Pakistan), and perhaps Balochistan were strategic in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which was already underway by 1947. As long as those territories ended up in Pakistan, the British probably weren’t too picky about what else ended up where. They may have promised and delivered India a favorable deal to ensure that India’s leadership wouldn’t get difficult and prevent the British from leaving the subcontinent quickly and unobtrusively. The British also wanted to ensure that India’s leadership wouldn’t drag its heals on recognizing Pakistan’s legitimacy (India voted in favor of Pakistan’s admission to the UN, Afghanistan was the only country opposed). So maybe the generous amount of land given to India in Punjab and the strategic headwaters in Bengal were meant to quietly grease the wheels for the British Empire’s withdrawal from South Asia and Pakistan’s entrance onto the world stage.

Finally the original goal of this project was to examine how Partition affected the religious demographics of Punjab, so I will post the original map with the 1931 populations, and the map with 2001 (India) and 1998 (Pakistan) populations so you can see how Partition changed Punjab forever. It is especially worth noting the change in the Muslim-majority teshils that remained in India, which must have lost a majority of their population in 1947, and the narrow Muslim-majority tehsils in Pakistan, which lost just a bit less than half.

Punjab 1931 Religion TehsilPunjab Religion Today

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How Did Partition Affect North India?

Last time I wrote here, I looked at Sindh, a province that was overwhelmingly Muslim in 1931, but had a few regions with Hindu majorities. I wondered why Sindh hadn’t been partitioned along with Punjab, and I got some really great responses from readers in the comment section. I have a theory now that I think makes sense, which I will get to later in this post. First though, I want to discuss north India. As I mentioned in the Sindh post, a large group of Urdu-speaking Muslims from north India migrated to Sindh upon Partition. I decided that an examination of how they changed their new homeland was incomplete without looking at how their departure affected the place they left. Did north Indian Muslims leave in large enough numbers to have an impact on the overall demographic profile of north India? The Muhajirs, as the migrants and their descendants are known, didn’t all come from one place, and typically any person who voluntarily moved to Pakistan in 1947 is defined as a Muhajir. However, the largest number came from the Urdu-speaking north, mainly the state of Uttar Pradesh (then called the United Provinces), and to a lesser extent Bihar. In this post, I chose to focus on those two states, as well as the modern-day states of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, which were separated from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively only a few years ago.

Like Sindh, these provinces of British India were not partitioned in 1947; instead India got all of Bihar and the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. The Muslim population of both provinces was relatively sizable though, and had traditionally wielded significant power. The Mughal capitals of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are in UP, as is Lucknow, which was the cultural capital of north India in the post-Mughal era and is still one of the centers of Shia Islam in South Asia. Deoband and Bareilly, the founding locations of the Deobandi and Barelvi movements of Sunni Islam, are both in Uttar Pradesh. UP was also an early source of strength for the Muslim League. In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League won 26 seats in the United Provinces, compared to one seat in the North West Frontier Province, Punjab, and Sindh combined (these territories make up most of modern day Pakistan).

As usual, I’ll give a sketch of the basic demographic picture pre-Partition. According to the 1931 Census, Bihar, which included the modern-day states of Bihar and Jharkhand (as well as Odisha, which I excluded here), was 80 percent Hindu, 12.7 percent Muslim, and 7.3 percent Other. In this case, most of the “Others” were followers of the so-called “tribal” religions that may predate Hinduism in South Asia. There was also a fairly sizable Christian minority, numbering in the several hundred thousands. The United Provinces had broadly similar demographics: 84.4 percent of its population was Hindu, 15 percent Muslim, and 0.7 percent Other. Obviously, the big difference between Bihar and UP was the presence of the tribal religions in Bihar.

Both Bihar and the United Provinces were classified in the 1931 Census as overwhelmingly Hindustani-speaking. Hindi and Urdu, which are two standardized forms of Hindustani, are in fact spoken in Uttar Pradesh. This classification is a bit problematic for Bihar, because today the language spoken in Bihar is typically classified either as a separate language (Bihari), or as a cluster of related languages. Linguistically, the most interesting part of the region is the Chota Nagpur division, which is roughly equivalent to today’s Jharkhand state, which at the time was in southern Bihar. The 1931 Census suggests that 47.5 percent of the population was Hindustani-speaking. Obviously, we don’t know how those languages would be classified today, but according to Wikipedia, the Bihari languages spoken in Jharkhand include Maithili, Khortha, and Angika. I don’t know how accurate that is, but if correct, it suggests that Chota Nagpur division’s “Hindustani” speakers in 1931 spoke a Bihari dialect and not modern Hindi.

The remaining 52.5 percent of Jharkhand/Chota Nagpur’s population is even more interesting. 21 percent were Bengali speakers, concentrated near the border with Bengal. These areas were transferred to West Bengal after Partition. 3.4 percent spoke Oriya, which is the dominant language of neighboring Odisha (then called Orissa). 6.6 percent spoke Kurukh, a Dravidian (South Indian) language. 18.8 percent spoke one of three Munda languages – Santali, Mundari, and Ho. These languages are really unusual, as they belong to the Austroasiatic language family. Their closest relatives are spoken in Southeast Asia. Vietnamese and Khmer (the main language in Cambodia) are the two largest languages in this family. One possible solution to this puzzle is that the Austroasiatic peoples were the indigenous population of India before the Indo-Aryans swept through north India 4,000 years ago, and even before the Dravidian peoples arrived several thousand years before that. The small pockets of Munda speakers in India’s most remote areas could be the last remnant of that long-lost chapter of India’s history. It is also possible that they arrived in India much more recently.

Like the Muslim-majority areas of Punjab, Kashmir, Bengal, and Sindh, where Hindus were disproportionately present in urban areas, Muslims were overrepresented in Hindu-majority north India’s cities. The United Provinces had seven cities with at least 100,000 people, and all of them had a higher percentage of Muslims than the state as a whole (15%). Its largest city, Lucknow (251,000 people), was 56.7 percent Hindu, 40.5 percent Muslim, and 2.8 percent Other. The next six cities by population were Cawnpore (68.6 percent Hindu, 29.9 percent Muslim, 1.5 percent Other), Agra (61.8, 35.1, and 3.1 %), Benares (68.5, 30.8, and 0.7 %), Allahabad (65.6, 31.2, and 3.2 %), Bareilly (46.8, 52.0, and 1.2 %), and Moradabad (39.1, 57.6, and 3.3 %). Patna, Bihar’s only city with over 100,000 people, was 74.9 percent Hindu, 24 percent Muslim, and 1.1 percent Other.

Below is my map of religion in north India in 1931:

North India, 1931

To me, a few things stand out. Obviously, north India was heavily Hindu at the time, but there was considerable regional variation. The northwestern reaches of the United Provinces, what is now Uttarakhand, was nearly 100 percent Hindu. Just to its south, in what is now northwestern Uttar Pradesh, the population was approximately evenly split between Hindus and Muslims and some parts were Muslim majority. The rest of UP and much of modern-day Bihar were solidly Hindu. Several of north India’s large cities stand out as a bit less overwhelmingly Hindu than the surrounding countryside; Agra, Lucknow, and Allahabad in particular caught my eye. The very northeastern tip of Bihar was solidly Muslim. In the south, in what is now Jharkhand, the religious picture shifts from Hindu/Muslim to Hindu/Tribal. Northern Jharkhand blends seamlessly with southern Bihar and was largely Hindu. The two pockets of tribal religion (with a Christian minority) are very noticeable. These areas are also where the Austroasiatic languages I mentioned earlier were spoken. The bright red pocket nestled between the two tribal strongholds is where the Bengali-speaking population of the state was located. This region was transferred to West Bengal after Partition, presumably because it was a more natural fit with that Hindu-majority Bengali-speaking state. When I started making this map, I was most interested in the Muslim population of north India. This was a fairly urbanized Urdu-speaking population, which supposedly made up the bulk of the Mohajirs who migrated to Pakistan in 1947. I wanted to see if there was a noticeable drop in the Muslim population of Uttar Pradesh after Partition. Below is the religious map of north India as of the 2001 Census:

Religion in North India, 2001

Clearly, Uttar Pradesh did not experience an exodus of its Muslim population in 1947, as the general map didn’t change much from 1931 to 2001. There are a few marginal changes though. First, a few areas in Uttar Pradesh seem to have become more Muslim since 1931, which is presumably a reflection of the much higher Muslim birth rate. Still, the Hindu nationalist hysteria about north India being swamped by high Muslim fertility is not borne out by these maps overall. Second, it appears that some of the cities have become less Muslim. That may be a product of the higher resolution of the 1931 map, but the Mohajirs are generally reported to have originated in the cities of north India, so maybe the urban Muslim population left in 1948, while the rural Muslim population stayed behind (similar to Sindh, where the urban Hindus left and the rural Hindus remained). Third, the northeastern corner of Bihar seems to have become less Muslim (though the borders have changed slightly). There was a population in Bangladesh, called Biharis, who were sort of similar to the Mohajirs. They numbered only a few hundred thousand, and lived mainly in the big cities of the former East Pakistan. After Bangladesh gained its independence in 1971, they were left in a bad situation, because the Bengalis saw them as foreigners, and linked them to the West Pakistanis, and India and Pakistan had no interest in taking them. Perhaps they originated in the northeastern part of Bihar. If so, their absence is faintly noticeable. The fourth point of interest is that about half of the followers of “tribal” religions in 1931 are no longer classified as such. The northeastern cluster of “others” on the first map has vanished. Most of the population seems to be Hindu, though there are a few more Muslims in the area too. I don’t know whether there has been mass conversion of these people since 1931, or if they still have the same religious practices but are not categorized as Hindu. Because Hinduism is a flexible religion, they might have started identifying as Hindu without significantly changing their beliefs.

These are details though. The larger picture is that the religious map of north India has remained largely unchanged since 1931, with the small number of Muslims leaving in 1948 cancelled out by the high birth rate of the majority who remained. India has about five times as many Urdu-speakers as Pakistan, which would imply that about 85 percent of north India’s Muslims stayed in India. So it seems that Partition didn’t affect north India very much, even though the minority of the Muslim population that left played a large role in Pakistan’s early history. Bihar and the United Provinces were both hit by the communal riots of 1946 and 1947, and they linked Punjab in the west to Bengal in the east. So they were certainly part of the larger Partition story, but were peripheral compared to the epicenters in Punjab and Bengal.

Finally, as mentioned above, in my last post, I wondered why Sindh wasn’t partitioned by the British, and I received a number of very interesting responses from readers. Debraj Chakrabarti pointed out that perhaps the better question was why Congress didn’t demand for Sindh to be partitioned. Vikram theorized that Congress might have avoided a partition in Sindh to prevent the Muslim League from demanding Muslim-majority areas in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. I think they were on the right track. The missing piece, I believe, was why Congress would care whether India had a piece of Sindh versus a piece of Bihar. The answer, I suspect, is in other readers’ comments. Abdul Khair Khan and Indy both made the point that Congress might have wanted the strange lines in the Bengal partition because the Muslim-majority areas of northwestern Bengal were important for Calcutta’s economy. The argument they made is that Congress was willing to swap Hindu and Buddhist-majority areas in less strategic parts of Bengal in order to hold on to the economically important headwaters of the Hoogly River. Combined, these theories lead me to conclude that Congress chose not to request a partition in Sindh because they were afraid that the Muslim League would respond by claiming Muslim areas in Bihar, as well as adjacent Muslim-majority parts of West Bengal containing the headwaters of the Hoogly River. This would have necessitated new partition lines in Bengal that were less favorable to India, although more logical from a purely demographic perspective. Additionally, had Pakistan received northeast Bihar, eastern India would have been physically divided from the rest of the country. I think that explanation makes sense, so thank you to the commenters who helped me gain a better understanding of why the final lines were drawn the way they were.

Why Wasn’t Sindh Partitioned in 1947?

In what is probably the final installment of my examination of the Partition of British India in 1947, I will look at the province of Sindh. I have written previously about Punjab, Bengal, and Kashmir. Bengal and Punjab were officially partitioned along religious lines. Kashmir was subject to a de facto partition, which did not follow the religious divisions of the state. Sindh was not partitioned in 1947, but I would argue that it should be considered in any examination of which country got the more favorable deal in Partition. Sindh also provides an interesting clue as to what might have happened in Kashmir or Bengal had they been left undivided and under Pakistani control. Sindh had a Muslim majority, but several of its eastern sub-districts had a Hindu majority. These sub-districts were contiguous with India, but Sindh was spared a partition.

First though, let’s take a look at Sindh’s demographics as of the 1931 Census. Sindh had about 4.1 million people. About 73 percent were Muslims, 26 percent were Hindus, and 1 percent belonged to other religions, mainly Christianity and Sikhism. In Sindh, the Hindu minority was concentrated in urban areas, while Muslims dominated the countryside. In four of Sindh’s five largest cities, Hindus were an absolute majority. Larkana and Shikarpur, with populations of 25,000 and 62,000 inhabitants respectively, were the two largest cities in northwest Sindh. Larkana was 62.7 percent Hindu, and Shikarpur was 63.5 percent Hindu. Sukkur, in north-central Sindh had about 65,000 people, 58.8 percent of whom were Hindu. Hyderabad, Sindh’s second largest city had 96,000 people and was 70.5 percent Hindu.

The only major Sindhi city without a Hindu majority was Karachi, Sindh’s largest city then and now. Karachi had a very narrow Muslim plurality, 47.8 percent Muslim to 46.6 percent Hindu, with about 5.6 percent of its population belonging to other religions. About 3 percent of Karachi’s population was Christian, and Sikhs and Parsis (Zoroastrians) each constituted 1 percent. This means that Karachi had a non-Muslim majority, which in Punjab determined that an area went with India.

The British record keeping was a bit spotty on divisions within Hinduism and Islam (as opposed to Christianity, which the British documented extensively despite Christians making up only a couple percent of the population). In Sindh, they did record the Sunni/Shia split, and found that 96.1 percent of Sindh’s Muslims were Sunnis. That is surprisingly low, and I wonder if they were able to accurately distinguish between the two sects. After all, it took the British about one hundred years to accurately distinguish between Hindus and Muslims in Bengal.

The final piece of the demographic puzzle for Sindh is language. Sindh’s language landscape in 1931 was different in its nature than the other provinces I have discussed so far. In Bengal, language was not relevant, as Bengali or a closely related dialect was spoken by virtually the entire population. In both Punjab and Kashmir, there were several different linguistic zones. For example, Punjabi was spoken in much of Punjab, but Hindi was spoken in the southeast. Sindh doesn’t look like either of these models. Sindhi-speakers were the plurality in every district, but almost every district had linguistic minorities. Overall, Sindh was 69.9 percent Sindhi-speaking. The two largest linguistic minorities were the Balochi-speakers (7.1 percent), Saraiki-speakers (6.2 percent), and Rajasthani-speakers (3.2 percent). Brahui, Hindi, Punjabi, and Gujarati were all around 2 percent. So too were Kutchi, which is considered a dialect of Sindhi, and Dhatki, a dialect of the very poorly defined Rajasthani language. The Princely State of Khairpur was the only part of Sindh where Sindhi-speakers constituted more than 90 percent of the population. Everywhere else, significant linguistic minorities existed. For example, 29 percent of the Sindh Frontier district’s population was Balochi-speaking, 12.8 percent of Nawabshah district spoke Saraiki, and 6.4 percent of Karachi district spoke Hindi/Urdu. The linguistic and religious demographics of the province have both changed since 1947, but before getting into that, let’s take a look below at the map of religion in Sindh as of 1931:

Sindh Religion 1931

Unlike Kashmir, Bengal, and Punjab, Sindh had a relatively clean Hindu/Muslim split, with no third group to complicate things. Unsurprisingly, given the fact that Muslims were three quarters of the population, Muslims predominated throughout most of the province. There are three areas in the state where that was not true. Karachi sub-district, in the southwest, was 52.5 percent Muslim (note that I was discussing the city of Karachi above, and not the larger sub-district). Non-Muslims were almost at parity there. The central Hyderabad sub-district was almost perfectly split, with Muslims consisting of 49.4 percent and non-Muslims 50.6 percent. The most interesting area however is the southeast of the province. Four sub-districts, Umarkot, Nagar Parkar, Mithi, and Chachro all had Hindu majorities, and several nearby sub-districts were 40 or 45 percent Hindu. The four Hindu sub-districts combined were about 57 percent Hindu. Below is the same map but with a border added where a theoretical partition along religion lines would have occurred.

Sindh 1931 with border

I would be very interested to know why these sub-districts did not end up in India. In Bengal for example, one Hindu district ended up in Pakistan, but India was compensated with Muslim-majority districts in a different part of Bengal. In fact, one of the commenters on my Bengal post says that that swap may have been made at the request of the Indian leadership as a way to minimize the economic damage Partition would cause to Calcutta. In Sindh, this was not the case. The only arguments I can think of for not partitioning Sindh are that doing so would have created an undefendable border, that a partition was not worth it given that only a small portion of the province would have changed hands, or that Hindu-Muslim relations in Sindh were so good that a partition was not needed. The first of these is obviously lacking in merit as the British do not appear to have considered this factor in partitioning other provinces. For example, the Punjab line became one of the least defendable borders in the world. It is a line through flat farmland following no geographical logic, and it proved very problematic for Pakistan when India invaded in 1965. So if geography were a consideration, it would have precluded the division of Punjab. Also, much of Sindh’s border with India is a proverbial line in the sand (through the Thar desert). Furthermore, in the far south, the marshy area on the Sindh-Gujarat border has in fact been disputed since 1947, sometimes violently, so the borders drawn in 1947 weren’t clear and logical anyway. The second argument, that giving only the southeast subdistricts with Hindu majorities to India was pointless, is undermined by the fact that most of the Muslim majority district Sylhet, which was part of Assam province, went to Pakistan in 1947, despite the fact that Hindus in the rest of Assam were about as dominant as Muslims in Sindh. The final possibility, that Sindh didn’t need to be partitioned because Hindus and Muslims got along so well, may hold merit, especially if, like me, you are generally against using religion to define a country. However, trusting in good inter-communal relations seems inconsistent with the philosophy of partition, which did not take the Hindu-Muslim relations into consideration, but rather focused on creating separate Hindu and Muslim nations.

My theory is that leaving Sindh united was a de facto compensation for Pakistan, as the lines drawn in Punjab were quite favorable to India, with several Muslim majority regions ending up in India. Now let’s take a look at how the religious makeup of Sindh has changed since 1947. The map below is based on 1998 census results:

Sindh Religion 1998

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many more Hindus stayed in Sindh than stayed in Punjab. Still, a large number of Hindus left Sindh for India, and their descendants are believed to number three to four million people. There are also about three million Hindus left in Sindh. However, The extent of Hindu flight was not uniform throughout Sindh. As I pointed out above, Sindh’s Hindu population was heavily concentrated in urban areas, and they were the majority in most of Sindh’s cities. According to the 1998 Pakistan census, Hindus now make up only 3.2 percent of Sindh’s urban population, but are 11.6 percent of the province’s rural population. This means that the vast majority of the urban Hindu population left in 1947, but many more of the rural Hindus stayed, perhaps because they lacked to means to leave. An extreme example of urban Hindu flight is Karachi. In 1931, 46.6 percent of Karachi’s population was Hindu. In 1998, Karachi was only 0.9 percent Hindu.

The flight of Sindh’s urban Hindu elite can be linked with the most important effect of Partition on Sindh – that is the arrival of the Muhajirs from India. The Muhajirs were part of the Muslim urban elite of north India who left for Pakistan in 1947. They are still a major force in Sindh, and they are incidentally the only Pakistanis who speak Urdu, which is indigenous to north India, as a first language. They are quite prominent in the arts and business. Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf is also a Muhajir (born in Delhi), though Muhajirs aren’t particularly well represented in the army. For the most part, the Muhajirs didn’t settle in Punjab, which was being ripped apart by religious violence caused by Partition. Instead they went to the very same Sindhi cities that the Hindu Sindhis were in the process of leaving. Karachi, which, as noted, was essentially emptied of its Hindu population, was also the largest destination for the Muhajirs. As a result, Sindh essentially traded one urban elite for another. The impoverished rural Hindu population, however, largely stayed behind. To give a sense of where the Muhajirs live now, here is a map of language in Sindh. Muhajirs, who are Urdu-speakers, are predominant in Hyderabad and Karachi, though they are present in most of Sindh’s major cities. .

Sindh Language 1998

The swapping of indigenous Hindu Sindhis for Urdu-speaking north Indian Muslims has had serious implications for Sindh and Pakistan. First, on a macro level, Sindhi culture was impoverished when the urban Hindus left, as any culture that becomes less diverse is. The political weight of the rural Hindus who remained in Pakistan was also reduced, not just because their numbers were reduced, but also because middle-class urban Hindus who could have formed the core of a Hindu voting block in Pakistani politics left for India. More importantly, the Muhajirs who replaced the Hindus played a huge role in shaping Pakistan’s early development. They were closely linked to Muhammad Ali Jinnah (who himself was technically a Muhajir) and his Muslim League. This meant that they dominated Pakistan’s politics from independence until the first military coup in 1958. Their stint as Pakistan’s ruling elite was disastrous. They failed to build democratic institutions, were unable to forge a unified national identity between Pakistan’s eastern and western wings (now Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively), couldn’t gain popular support, and ultimately were swept aside in a coup. The probable reason the Muhajirs failed as a ruling class was that they were essentially strangers in a foreign land. They spoke a different language and had no understanding of Sindhi, Pashtun, Baloch, Bengali, or Punjabi culture. By the time democracy reemerged in Pakistan after the 1971 War, the Muhajirs had withdrawn politically to Karachi, where they still dominate today, leaving the governing of the rest of the country to indigenous politicians from Punjab and Sindh.

Economically the departure of Hindus, both from Sindh and Punjab, was debilitating. In 1947, Hindus dominated commerce, industry, and especially banking throughout most of what became Pakistan. The only profession in which Muslims predominated was leather tanning, which is an industry Hindus abhor for religious reasons. When the Hindus fled, they left Pakistan without its urban middle class. Muslims tended to be farmers, and the Muslim elites were mostly landowners. Eventually, Muslims filled the roles abandoned by the Hindus, but Pakistan would have benefited if the Hindus had stayed and the economic transition had been smoother.

In the aftermath of 1947, Sindh experienced huge ethnic and religious upheaval, which shaped the future of the province in many ways. Karachi, which had been a Sindhi city but was split about equally between Hindus and Muslims, turned into an Urdu-speaking city (though the Pashtun population is rapidly growing), but one that is almost completely Muslim. Sindhi-speakers made up only about 7 percent of the city’s population in 1998, and have probably declined since then. Hyderabad, which was the historic capital of Sindh, is now Urdu-speaking. The countryside remains almost exclusively Sindhi speaking, and has retained more of its Hindu presence. While the demographic upheaval was less dramatic than in Punjab, it was arguably more drastic than was happened in Bengal after 1947. The changes in Sindh demonstrate that it wasn’t only the specific act of partitioning Punjab and Bengal that caused demographic shifts. The fact that the population exchange along religious lines was not contained in Punjab and Bengal, but spread to Sindh, the North West Frontier Province, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Delhi (these last three were where the Muhajirs predominantly originated) argues against an interpretation of Partition as a tragic event of limited geographic significance. Instead, the division of India destabilized the demographic, cultural, and political landscape even in areas that were not directly partitioned. In short, Partition was a tectonic event, which changed the trajectory and the demographic and social makeup of South Asia in a manner similar to World War II in Europe or the Civil War in the United States.

Indian Election Results Map

I don’t have that much to add to the conventional wisdom about India’s election results. It was an even bigger landslide for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) than expected, with the NDA’s leading party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), winning enough votes to rule without a coalition. This is the first time one party has won enough seats to form a government by itself since Congress after the 1984 elections. It is very likely this will turn out to be a pivotal election in Indian history, and only time will tell whether Congress will recover enough to compete for a majority. The BJP clearly has broken through the ceiling that appeared to cap its share of the vote in the low 20s. I have created a map of the election, which, unlike some of the maps I have seen so far, doesn’t paint all of the NDA parties one color, the UPA parties another, and every other party a third. Every party that won more than one seat gets its own color, which allows one to see that India’s politics remain extremely messy and fractured despite the NDA’s landslide.

2014 Lok Sabha Results

First, I notice that Wikipedia has a map up that uses the same base map as me, and even some of the same colors (to be fair, orange for the BJP and blue for Congress is pretty standard). I’m posting this anyway because I have a little more detail with the small parties and because I already made the map. Here are a few of my takeaways:

1. The Regional Parties Fizzled– There was some chatter that a third front would emerge in the space between the unpopular and exhausted Congress and the toxic and divisive BJP, but it totally failed to materialize. Some regional parties did quite well, and overall the non-NDA and non-UPA parties didn’t lose much ground, but the formerly inexorable rise of the regional parties has been halted. For the first time since 1999, the BJP and Congress combined for more than half of the popular vote. By my count, there were six major regional parties that suffered near total wipe outs this year. In two cases, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) losing to the All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s drubbing at the hands of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, the change is of little import on the national stage.  None of the parties involved were part of either coalition heading into the election. Three parties fell victim to the BJP’s surge in north India. The Janata Dal (United), which won 20 of Bihar’s 40 seats in 2009, won zero seats this year. Similarly, two of Uttar Pradesh’s most important parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) went from 23 and 21 seats respectively in 2009, to 5 and zero in 2014. Finally, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, which has been the dominant party in Jammu and Kashmir since Independence, lost all three of its Lok Sabha seats to the People’s Democratic Party. While some regional parties did fine, the overall trend of the election for smaller parties was negative. In 2009, the BJP and Congress combined for 47.4% of the popular vote and 322 seats out of 543. This year, they won 50.3% of the popular vote and 326 seats.

2. The BJP’s Strength Comes from the Hindi Belt– One  result that really jumps out to me is that much of the BJP’s support comes from the Hindi-speaking parts of India. Hindi is a very poorly defined language, but the broadest definition of the language would include standard Hindi, the various regional dialects in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc., and the languages spoken in Bihar and Rajasthan. If we use this definition, that gives us a Hindi belt containing Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. These states hold 225 (41%) of the Lok Sabha seats. The BJP, not including its coalition partners, won 190, or 84.4% of these seats. Add in the BJP’s coalition partners, the number goes up to 201 and 89.3%. The rest of India has 318 seats, of which the BJP won 92 or 28.9%. With coalition partners, the numbers go to 135 and 42.5%. To make the difference more visual, I have two maps below, the first with the non-Hindi areas whited-out, the second with the Hindi belt whited-out:

Hindi Belt

Hindi Belt Election Results

Non-Hindi Belt

Non-Hindi Belt Election Results

Obviously, the BJP did well in the non-Hindi areas, but its dominance was nowhere near as pronounced as it is in the Hindi belt. As to why the BJP did so much better in the Hindi belt, I can only speculate. The north and west of India have always been more receptive to the Hindu nationalist ideology. One possibility is that the Hindi-speaking peoples don’t have an ethnic identity that transcends caste and religion. People who speak Tamil also belong to the Tamil ethnic group. The same is true for Kashmiris, Bengalis, etc. Hindi is one of only a few languages that does not have an ethnic group attached to it. As a result, religious and caste identities play a larger role in the Hindi belt in defining a person’s identity. It is probably not a coincidence that caste-based parties such as the BSP and SP typically do much better in the north, although they did poorly this year.

3. Congress Lacks an Obvious Base from which to Launch a Comeback– The other aspect of this map that I find striking is how comprehensive Congress’s defeat was. Congress didn’t just lose a few critical swing areas, but hold onto its strongholds; it lost nearly everywhere. This wasn’t John Kerry in 2004; it was George McGovern in 1972. Even in areas that the BJP failed to win, Congress lost badly to the key regional parties. Obviously, Narendra Modi could stumble, but it looks like Congress has a lot of work to do even to be competitive on a national level, let alone win a general election. This election showed that all of Congress’s post-Independence goodwill has totally evaporated. If the party wants to win in the future, it will have to move away from relying on its admittedly illustrious history being enough to win it votes by default. I also think that it’s time for the Gandhi family to go. Congress hasn’t had a leader with any real political talent since Indira Gandhi, and even she had a very problematic legacy as Prime Minister. Jawaharlal Nehru was a legend and India’s most important leader other than Mohandas Gandhi, but there is no reason that his mediocre great-grandson should be in control of what is still India’s second largest party. Congress needs to become a true left-wing party to provide a counterweight to the BJP. It should not continue as a vehicle for members of the Gandhi family who have nothing better to do with their time.

Finally, I just wanted to consider how Indian politics might look now if Partition had never occurred. It has been argued, persuasively in my opinion, that Partition created the conditions necessary for radical Islam to flourish in Pakistan. Obviously, it is too soon to tell if Narendra Modi will end up moderating like Atal Vajpayee, the last BJP Prime Minister, or catering to the radical Hindu fringe of his party. Still I wonder if Partition didn’t create the necessary conditions for Hindu fundamentalism as well, but the effects have been delayed by luck and better leadership in India. Hindu-Muslim relations in north India have always been worse than in the rest of the country, and India as currently constituted is politically dominated by the north. I wonder if an undivided India, with 500 million Muslims instead of 180 million would have elected a party like the BJP. Right now, Muslims are too geographically dispersed to be a powerful voting block. But the BJP won only 9% of the Muslim vote, according to this New York Times article. If they’d had to compete in Lahore, Peshawar, or Chittagong, that level of Muslim support probably would have been crippling to Modi’s Prime Ministerial hopes. It has been clear for years that a Pakistan ripped away from the traditions of South Asia and reoriented towards the Muslim world will suffer from a lethal combination of extremism and rudderlessness. I wonder if a democratic India, shorn of two thirds of its Muslims, lacks a necessary check on the authoritarian tendencies of its Hindu nationalists, but we’re only just starting to realize it.

Update 07/30/2014: When I first wrote this post, I neglected to mention how Modi’s election could change India’s relationship with the United States. To me, it isn’t yet clear what effect the new Prime Minister will have. President Obama apparently had a strong personal relationship with Manmohan Singh, but the U.S. disengaged from India under Obama, possibly because it was clear that the Congress government would not recover from numerous corruption scandals and was essentially living on borrowed time. Now that the Indian government has a strong mandate, perhaps the U.S. will seize the opportunity to recommit to the relationship with India despite the fraught history the U.S. has with Narendra Modi. Modi was the subject of a travel ban in the aftermath of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, but that ban has been lifted, and Modi is expected to visit Washington D.C. in September. On the American side, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to India this week and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will follow next week. Modi has billed himself as an economically focused leader, which could lead to improved economic ties with the United States if, as promised, he passes reforms that make it easier to do business in India. In the short-term, the U.S. is likely to be cautious with Modi, trying to balance the need to strengthen one of the U.S.’s most important relationships in Asia while also remaining wary for now about Modi’s checkered past and questionable commitment to multiculturalism and democratic values.

Elections, Elections! (Afghanistan Election Results Map)

South Asia is currently in the midst of two momentous elections. Afghanistan wrapped up its first round of voting in early April, and the preliminary results were released a couple of days ago (update: official first round results here). India’s elections are in progress, with Punjab, Gujarat, the part of Andhra Pradesh that will become Telangana, plus parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Kashmir voting today. Because we don’t yet know the results of India’s elections, I’m mainly focusing on Afghanistan in this post, but I have some thoughts about the Indian election at the end. The first round of the Afghan election failed to produce a winner, as no candidate exceeded 50% of the vote. This means that the top two vote-getters, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah, will face each other in a runoff in late May or early June. Before we get into any analysis, here are some maps of the election results. This first map shows the winner of each province:

Afghanistan 2014 Winners by Province

For a more detailed look, the next map shows the colors in proportion to the percentage of the vote each candidate won, to distinguish between a landslide and a narrow win:

Afghanistan Election Relative Vote

Notice for example that while Ghani won the south and the east, he dominated in the east, but eked out most of his wins in the south. To me, this map yields several interesting pieces of information:

1. Karzai’s Clout- President Hamid Karzai was widely seen as supporting Zalmai Rassoul, a southern Pashtun. Karzai’s brother Quayum withdrew from the race and supported Rassoul, making Rassoul the likely proxy for Karzai. Rassoul never really had a chance to make the runoff, but how well he did could indicate how much clout Karzai has left, and how much influence he will retain when he leaves office.

With the results in, things don’t look good for Karzai. Rassoul netted about 11.5% of the total vote, finishing a distant third, behind Abdullah (44.9%) and Ghani (31.5%). He did win Karzai’s home base of Kandahar, but he was shut out everywhere else. Rassoul only surpassed 20% of the vote in a few southern provinces: Urozgan, Zabul, Helmand, and Nimroz. He received 8.4% of the vote in Kabul. This would seem to indicate that outside of Kandahar, Karzai’s support and influence have largely eroded, even in the south. I wonder if these ugly results for Rassoul will change Karzai’s thinking on whether to leave Afghanistan when his term is over or even seize power by declaring a state of emergency.

2. A Tajik President?- If Abdullah wins the second round, he would be one of the very few non-Pashtuns to lead Afghanistan. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, consisting of roughly 40% of the population. Abdullah is half Pashtun and half Tajik, but he is identified mainly as a Tajik and he was a member of the Tajik-led Northern Alliance in the 1990s. Afghanistan has been led by Pashtuns for almost all of its history, with one notable exception being Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was president in the 1990s between the fall of the Soviet puppet government and the arrival of the Taliban. The question about an Abdullah win is whether the Pashtuns would accept a northerner, especially one with close ties to Ahmed Shah Massoud, as President. Ethnic tension in Afghanistan has been relatively low since the American intervention, but if Abdullah fails to convince the Pashtuns of his legitimacy, the stage could be set for a north vs. south civil war to reignite.

3. Where were the Uzbeks?– One of the more mysterious results of the election was Ghani’s relative weakness with Uzbeks, who make up about 9% of the population. His top Vice President (they get two in Afghanistan) is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord who fought the Taliban in the 1990s, sometimes as part of the Northern Alliance. He was selected to ensure that Ghani had at least one ethnic group other than the Pashtuns in his corner. Ghani won two northern provinces, Juzjan and Faryab, but failed to win several other provinces– such as Samangan and Kunduz– that are thought to have large Uzbek populations. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that there was vote fraud in those provinces, and Abdullah didn’t really win them. Two is that Dostum only influences the western Uzbeks in Afghanistan. Three is that many Uzbeks didn’t show up to vote. Four is that there aren’t as many Uzbeks as is usually assumed.

To me, the fourth explanation is the most logical. Afghanistan has never done a full Census, with the most serious attempt in 1979 interrupted by a coup, civil war, and the Soviet invasion. The most common map of Afghanistan’s ethnic makeup, seen here, is of unknown providence (to me at least), but it very well could be decades old. This map, which is not the usual map shown for Afghan ethnic groups, seems to dovetail better with the election results, and it shows the Uzbek area as much more limited in size. My other reason for leaning towards a smaller Uzbek population is that there is no explanation that makes sense for why one of the first three options is right. I have seen no indication that Dostum only holds sway of part of the Uzbek population, that voter fraud was particularly bad in the north, or that half of the Uzbeks didn’t vote while the other half did. If indeed the Uzbeks are fewer than previously thought, or live in a more concentrated area, then the ethnic makeup of the north needs to be reevaluated, and the strength of the Tajiks may be greater than everyone has assumed for years.

Who will win?– A lot depends on who the also-ran candidates endorse, but Rassoul or fourth place finisher Pashtun warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf could put Abdullah over the top if they swing their votes to him. Unless Ghani manages to rally all of the non-Abdullah candidates to his side, he will have a very tough time making up the lost ground. Even if he does, Abdullah could win on his own, especially if the Uzbeks are less influential than Ghani calculated and turnout is low in the Pashtun south. So I think that Abdullah is the likely winner. The real question is how close the runoff will be and how much trouble the Taliban causes. Neither one of these is knowable right now, but a very close result would open the door to claims of fraud from the loser, and Taliban attacks could de-legitimize the results or even goad Karzai into calling a State of Emergency and holding on to power.

A few thoughts on India’s elections– India’s elections are still ongoing, so it is hard to come to any conclusions yet, but some trends seem to be emerging. One is that turnout is fairly high, about 5-10% higher than in 2009. This is typically reported to favor the BJP, and Narendra Modi and the BJP seem to be doing very well. Polls have shown the BJP-led NDA getting about 100 more seats than Congress’s coalition the UPA, but the most recent polls have indicated that the BJP’s margin of victory could be even greater than that. There is even some possibility that the BJP won’t need to expand its current coalition at all to form a government.

There also appear to be some big shifts coming at the statewide level. The statewide polls show that Congress, which won 33 out of 42 seats in Andhra Pradesh in 2009, will essentially get wiped out in the state (or states, as Andhra is set to be bifurcated soon). The breakaway YSR Congress and the Telangana-based TRS are set to win 5-10 seats, and the BJP’s partner in the state is polling in the high teens, leaving Congress with around 5 seats in what had been one of its most important states. In Bihar, Congress and its coalition partners could actually gain seats, with the Janata Dal (U) looking like the BJP’s main victim. The JD(U) won half of Bihar’s 40 seats in 2009, but it could win as few as two or three this time. The BJP is also poised to nearly sweep two huge states, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh that it won narrowly in 2009. It also seems possible that Congress will lose all seven of Delhi’s seats, which it swept in 2009. Congress won 20 of Rajasthan’s 25 seats in 2009 and may only hold on to two or three this year.

The biggest shift appears to be coming in the massive northern state of Uttar Pradesh (population about 200 million). In 2009 Congress won 21 of UP’s 80 seats, with the BJP winning 10. The two main regional parties, the Dalit-focused BSP and the Samajwadi Party have typically been very powerful. In 2009, the BSP won 20 seats and the SP won 23. The BJP may be on the verge of establishing itself as the biggest party in the state. Congress is heading towards the low single digits, and the BSP and SP are in the low teens. That means that the BJP could win 40 or even 50 seats in Uttar Pradesh, which would be an incredible achievement in India’s fractured electoral landscape.

Of these results, the worst for Congress, in my opinion, is the wipe out in Andhra Pradesh. Congress has lost the state only twice in its history, and fought hard to create the new state of Telangana as a way to hold on to some support there. Only winning a handful of seats would be very bad. But really, none of the individual states are deadly for Congress, as Indian elections are notoriously swingy, and states often move against the prevailing political winds. The real problem is that all of these debacles are occuring at the same time, with precious few bright spots in other parts of the country. In other words, things look very very bad for Congress and very very good for the BJP.

Update: See my updated posts on Afghanistan’s elections here and India’s elections here.

Update 2: See my post on the preliminary results of the runoff here.

How Did Partition Change the Religious Map in Bengal?

The Punjab gets most of the attention when it comes to Partition, probably because of how disastrously everything went there, but on the other side of India, the British divided another major province along religious lines. Partition in Bengal was more orderly, although not without some violence, and simpler, because of the binary Hindu/Muslim split, as opposed to the Hindu/Muslim/Sikh mess in Punjab. As in my earlier look at Partition in Punjab, I used the 1941 British Census data and this excellent map as my basic template. And just like last time, I’ll do a quick rundown on Bengal on the eve of Partition, as well as neighboring Assam, which was also subject to Partition (although India got all but one district).

In 1941, a total of 70.5 million people lived in Bengal and Assam combined, 62 million in Bengal, the rest in Assam (which encompassed all of northeast India at the time, not only the modern state of Assam). There were a few small princely states, but 96% of the population lived in British India. The religious breakdown in Bengal was 53.4% Muslim, 41.7% Hindu, and 4.8% other, mainly people practicing tribal religions. In Assam, 41.5% were Hindus, 31.8% were Muslim, and 26.7% were tribal. That may sound like a lot of people who were not Hindu or Muslim, perhaps a Sikh equivalent in Bengal, but the followers of tribal religions were not united in the same way the Sikhs were in Punjab, and most of them lived far away from the heavily contested areas.

The 1941 Census summary that I found doesn’t have language data, but it is safe to say that Bengali was the most widely spoken language in the area. Assamese would have been second, followed by all of the Tibeto-Burman (related to Burmese and Tibetan obviously) and Austro-Asiatic languages (related to Vietnamese and Khmer) spoken by the tribal peoples.

Despite a population twice that of Punjab, Bengal and Assam didn’t that many large cities. Calcutta was, of course, British India’s largest city, home to 2.1 million inhabitants. The only other cities with more than 100,000 people though, were Howrah with 379,000, Dacca with 213,000, and Bhatpara with 117,000. Hindus were the largest community in all four cities: 72.7% in Calcutta, 81.8% in Howrah, 60.7% in Dacca, 69.2% in Bhatpara, with Muslims making up almost all of the remaining share of the population. Three of these cities went with India at Partition, the other, Dacca (now Dhaka) eventually became the capital of Bangladesh. Below is the map of religion in Bengal and Assam as it was in 1941, six years before Partition.

Bengal and Assam Religion, 1941

In my post on Partition in Punjab, I divided the province into five clear zones based on religious composition. Unfortunately, Bengal cannot be so neatly divided. Nevertheless, I identified a southeastern, heavily Hindu zone centered on Calcutta, a central Muslim majority zone, and a northeast zone that was a mess of different religions, including Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and tribal religions (the later three are all classified as “other” on this map). Below is the map with my zones drawn in:

Bengal and Assam with zones

I would have given Zones 1 and 3 to India, and 2 to Pakistan (remember Bangladesh was originally part of Pakistan). Interestingly, according to this map, that is exactly the partition proposed by the British Parliament in the Indian Independence Act of 1947, which was passed in June 1947 before the boundary award, and probably represented Parliament’s best guess at what the final division would look like. That isn’t what actually happened though. Below is the final boundary award:

Bengal and Assam Religion final boundary

The final boundary isn’t really pro-India or pro-Pakistan. It’s just very…eccentric. India ended up with large chunks of Muslim-majority territory on the west, and one random Muslim-majority slice of Syhlet in the east (Syhlet was the one district in Assam that went to Pakistan). Pakistan however got the overwhelmingly Buddhist Chittagong Hill Tracts in the far east, and the Hindu-majority district of Khulna, which was contiguous with Indian West Bengal. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for any of this. I used to assume it was because India wanted West Bengal to be contiguous, but it wasn’t immediately after Partition. It was made so later by transferring part of Bihar to West Bengal.

Maybe there was concern about breaking up areas that were economically interdependent. That hypothesis doesn’t pass muster though because Bengal’s economy was famously crippled by Partition. The jute-producing East was cut off from the jute-processing West, and the tea plantations of Assam lost the quickest route to the sea, and a major port in Chittagong. And remember that Calcutta was the largest city in British India? In part due to the economic stagnation brought on by the severing of Calcutta from its supply of jute, Calcutta has fared badly in the last 65 years. It is now the tenth largest city of the former Raj behind Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Chennai in India, Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan, and Dhaka in Bangladesh. The British obviously didn’t give a damn about wreaking economic devastation on Bengal, so their strange partition can’t be explained by some kind of commitment to reducing the fallout.

Interestingly, the British also partitioned Bengal in 1905, publicly for administrative reasons, but it was actually a ploy to reduce Bengali influence. That partition, which was quickly reversed, electrified the independence movement and prompted the British to move the capital of the Raj from Calcutta to Delhi. So clearly there was no love lost between the British and Bengalis. Finally, the arbitrary way in which the British partitioned Bengal also makes me doubt that my theory that the boundaries in Punjab were part of a plan to spare the Sikhs undue suffering. The British just didn’t care enough about India to think up something like that. Or rather, perhaps they cared about India, but they certainly did not care about Indians.

Now, we reach the comparison section of the post. Below is the 1941 Bengal and Assam map again with no lines drawn:

Bengal and Assam Religion, 1941

Below is a map of Bangladesh, West Bengal, and northeast India as it looks today, using 2001 Census results for India and Banglapedia for Bangladesh:

Bengal-and-Assam-Religion-Today

Note that I added Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, which weren’t on the 1941 map. Also, there are some areas on the west of the map that have been added to West Bengal since Partition. Here, we have a tale of two Bengals. The western half (or third really) is basically unchanged since Partition. The Muslims of West Bengal stayed in India. Bangladesh however, is a different story. I really don’t even need to trace it out on the map, because the bright green of Bangladesh stands out from the muddled browns of West Bengal. The Hindus of East Pakistan/Bangladesh didn’t leave during Partition in large numbers, but instead steadily trickled out of the country over time, with a large spike during the 1971 War. There are still many more Hindus in Bangladesh (around 10% of the population) than in West Punjab (about 0.5%), and the province was spared the apocalyptic cleansing faced by the Punjab.

A few other features to note include how much more Hindu the eastern end of Assam has become. I don’t know what caused that. Another major shift in this region, which I didn’t show because I only have three colors to work with is the transition from tribal religions to Christianity in the far eastern states of India. That story isn’t relevant to Partition, but maybe I’ll revisit it at a future date.

Poverty in South Asia by the Numbers

Poverty-fighting measures tend to focus largely on sub-Saharan Africa, and rightly so given the desperate poverty in the region. Unfortunately, there is also a tendency to ignore South Asia. While it is true that the poverty rate in India and the other South Asian countries is lower than in the worst African nations, South Asia has the most poor people in a concentrated area. The Multidimensional Poverty Index, created by the University of Oxford and the United Nations to measure poverty in a more complete way than by income, is a good tool to compare poverty in different regions.

As expected, no country in South Asia ranks especially high by percentage of the population living in poverty. The poorest countries by percentage of the population are the usual suspects, including Niger, Ethiopia, Liberia, and the Central African Republic. By total numbers of people living in poverty though, three of the top five countries are South Asian, with small but impoverished Nepal also in the top fifteen. In total, South Asia has about 800 million people who are considered poor by the MPI standard, only a little less than the entire population of sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately three-quarters of these poor people live in India.

The heart of South Asian poverty is in a belt of high population states that runs from Rajasthan, on the Indian border with Pakistan, through the Hindi-speaking heartland in northern India, all the way east to Assam, plus Nepal and Bangladesh. This swath of territory represents about 1% of the land on Earth, but is home to 12% of the world’s population and 32% of its poor people as defined by MPI. To provide perspective, that is an area slightly larger than Alaska packed with about 850 million people, of whom nearly two thirds, or a little less than twice the United States’ entire population, live in poverty. Two Indian states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, that encompass the Gangetic Plain are the epicenter of this region. They make up 0.2% of the world’s area, 4% of its population, and 12% of its poor. Combined, they are about 75% the size of California, but with a population of 300 million (roughly the same as the U.S.), of whom three quarters live in poverty. The poverty belt is highlighted below in light blue, with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in darker blue:

South Asia Poverty Belt

While Africa continues to be the most impoverished region of the world, with Niger scoring as the worst country per capita by MPI, South Asia has the highest concentration of poor people. For example, the poverty belt in South Asia has a combined area just 40% larger than that of Niger, but a population that is a whopping 5300% higher than Niger’s. Clearly, we should try to eradicate poverty in all areas in the world, but fighting poverty has the greatest chance to succeed in the Indian subcontinent, due both to its extraordinary concentration of poor people in a relatively small area, and to its political stability compared to Africa.

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.