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.

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What Languages Do Pakistanis Speak? (With Pakistan Language Map)

One of the many frustrations I have faced when trying to understand South Asia is the near total lack of recent data on which languages are spoken and where. The lack of interest in South Asian languages is stunning, especially given that South Asia is home to some of the most spoken languages in the world. The language everyone has heard of is Hindi/Urdu (essentially one language with two scripts), which is spoken by over 300 million people, even if the closely related Rajasthani and Bihari languages are excluded. In the West though, awareness of the other South Asian languages is low. Just to give an idea of how large many of these languages are, here are some comparisons: as many people speak Punjabi as Japanese; roughly as many people speak Bengali as German, French, and Italian combined; as many people speak Oriya as Ukrainian; Pashto has as many speakers as Polish; Marathi, Telugu, and Tamil each has more than three times as many native speakers as Dutch. I have searched for up-to-date statistics for language in India, but haven’t been able to find anything more recent than the 1931 Census. I was able however, to track down tehsil-level date for Pakistan from the 1998 Census. In Pakistan, tehsils are the third level of administrative divisions, after provinces and districts. The data set I found isn’t perfect (more on that later), but it has most of what I was looking for. The data can be downloaded here, and the site also has a link to a pretty cool interactive map.

Before I post the map, I’m going to give a quick rundown on language in Pakistan. English and Urdu are the national languages, and are widely understood, at least by the educated. English, obviously, is nobody’s first language in Pakistan, and Urdu is the first language of about 7% of the population, mostly descendents of immigrants from north India who arrived in 1947. The most widely spoken tongue by far is Punjabi, which is the first language of slightly less than half the population. When Saraiki and Hindko, two Punjabi dialects that are sometimes classified as separate languages, are included, well over half of Pakistanis speak Punjabi or a closely related language. As anyone who read my post on the partition of Punjab will know, a large population of Punjabis (about 35 million) live across the border in India. The second most widely spoken language is Pashto, which unlike Punjabi, an Indo-Aryan language related to Hindi, is an Iranian language. This makes it a relative of Farsi and Kurdish, although Pashto’s closest relatives are a cluster of minor languages known as the Pamir languages which are spoken on the mountainous border between eastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan. Pashto, like Punjabi, is split between two countries. It is the dominant language in southern Afghanistan, but the majority of Pashtuns live in Pakistan. About 15% of Pakistanis speak Pashto as a first language. Right behind Pashto at 14% is Sindhi, which is a relative of Punjabi. There are a few million Sindhi speakers in India as well, some right on the opposite side of the border, and some Hindus who fled Sindh after Partition. The other major regional language is Balochi, spoken by by about 4%. Balochi, like Pashto, is an Iranian language, though it is not particularly closely related. It is actually closer to Kurdish, leading to the theory that the Baloch may have migrated to their current location fairly recently from the Middle East. Balochi is also spoken in southern Afghanistan and eastern Iran. There are some other minor languages, which I’ll discuss later, but those are the major languages. Below is the Pakistan language map.

Pakistan Language Map

Note that I colored the Saraiki and Hindko speaking areas shades of blue because it remains undetermined whether they are separate languages or dialects of Punjabi. Since I don’t speak any of these languages, I can’t make a determination for myself, so I split the difference by making them different shades of the same dark blue. I should also mention two other problem areas. One is the central Balochistan area, which is traditionally considered the Brahui zone. Brahui is a fascinating language. It is Dravidian, which means that it is related to the major South Indian languages, such as Tamil and Telugu, but it is spoken far away from the other Dravidian languages. Brahui barely registers in these data. There are several possibilities. One is that Brahui has lost ground to Baloch. Another is that the Brahui learn both Balochi and Brahui and are equally comfortable in both, leading most to identify the dominant Balochi language as their native tongue. According to some sources, the Brahui have a complicated system of code-switching in which people use Brahui in some situations and Balochi in other situations. Apparently, even within families, there are some times Balochi is used (elder son addressing father), and other times Brahui is used (younger son addressing father). The father speaks to the children in the language of the mother, and wives address their husbands in Balochi. This all seems crazy, but if true could explain why many Brahui would feel comfortable calling Balochi their native language. In any case, it seems that almost all Brahui are fluent in Balochi. Just as a side note, Ethnologue (and Wikipedia) say Brahui is spoken by four million people. This is a ludicrous number, implying that Balochistan, which has 7 million people, is majority Brahui-speaking.

The other problem area was the far north, including northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Kashmir. I couldn’t find Census data on Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir (which combined make up Pakistan’s part of Jammu and Kashmir). As a result I had to look around the internet for information on these areas. In Azad Kashmir, I had to distinguish between Hindko and Pothohari, another Punjabi dialect being pushed as a separate language (included with Punjabi in this map). It’s a bit difficult to figure out where one begins and the other ends, but it seems that Hindko is spoken in Muzaffarabad, and south of that it is Pothohari. In Gilgit-Baltistan, I was able to use this survey from the early 1990s, which goes into some detail about the northern languages. The other problem is that the languages of northern K-P (Hindko, Khowar, and Kohistani) are all grouped under “other” in my data set. Luckily the geographic ranges of these languages are fairly well known and distinct, so it was easy to figure out which “other”-speaking areas belonged to which language.

I have already mentioned Hindko, but I’ll quickly go through the other six languages that show up on the map in the north. Three of the languages, the aforementioned Khowar and Kohistani, as well as Shina, are Dardic languages, the most northwestern branch of the Indo-Aryan language family. The Dardic languages form an arc in the far north of South Asia. To the southeast in Indian Kashmir, Kashmiri is the most spoken Dardic language. On the other side, in Afghanistan, Pashayi is spoken by perhaps half a million people south of Nuristan province. The other languages in the north are Burushaski (in brown), a language isolate with no known relatives, Wakhi (light purple) which is related to Pashto, and Balti (orange), which is related to Tibetan, and is spoken in Indian Kashmir, though the dialect there is called Ladakhi. The Baltis are almost exclusively Shia; the Ladakhis are split between Shia and Buddhist.

Hopefully this map underscores how linguistically diverse Pakistan is, and possibly explains why the country is so fragmented. Two other features worth noting are the huge swath of northern Balochistan that is Pashto speaking. The 1998 statistics put Pashto speakers at around 30% of Balochistan’s population, but with high birth rates and a surge of refugees from Afghanistan in the last decade, the Pashtun and Baloch populations in the province may be approaching parity. It is also worth noting the tiny presence of Urdu, the national language. While most educated people in Pakistan can speak Urdu, and almost everyone has at least a rudimentary knowledge of it, very few people speak it as a first language. Only the Sindhi cities of Hyderabad and Karachi are majority Urdu speaking. Hyderabad and Karachi were among the only significant Hindu-majority areas of British India that went with Pakistan, and it is possible that the Urdu speakers leaving India went there simply due to the availability of real estate once the Hindus left. Punjab would have been a more logical destination given Lahore’s traditional position as the most important city in northwest India, but Punjab was already overrun with Muslim refugees from India. Sindh wasn’t partitioned, which means it had to absorb fewer refugees. That might explain why the powerful Urdu-speaking community chose the cities of this arid backwater province as their new home.

This map also highlights two large movements for new provinces. The southern Saraiki-speaking Punjab has long had advocates for severing it from the north and creating a separate province centered on Multan. It is unclear how popular this demand is with the average citizen, but the movement has been active since the 1960s and shows no sign of going away. The other potential province would be in the non-Pashto speaking north of K-P. This province would be called Hazara and would be majority Hindkowan (the ethnic group that speaks Hindko).

The final interesting aspect of Pakistan’s linguistic mix is that the border between the Indo-Aryan languages of north India and the Iranian languages runs right through it. This fact, plus the detailed data set I found, gives us the unusual opportunity to investigate the boundary between two major language families. The Indo-Iranian languages form the largest branch of the Indo-European language family. It is typically split into the Iranian branch (Pashto, Farsi, Kurdish and others) and the Indo-Aryan branch (Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi and many others). The Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages diverged about 4000 years ago. While South Asia and Iran share many cultural similarities, they are markedly different civilizations. Most of the Iranian peoples share a basic history and culture as do most Indo-Aryans. Below is the map of the border between the Iranian languages and the Indo-Aryan ones.

Pakistan Indo-Iranian

To me, there are two notable features of this map. The first is the intrusion of Indo-Aryans into central Balochistan. These people are a mix of Sindhi, Saraiki, and Punjabi, which explains why they didn’t register on the first map, since Balochi speakers remain the plurality. Added up though, several tehsils have an Indo-Aryan majority. That corridor between northern Sindh and Quetta is pretty important, because it connects Quetta, and ultimately  Kandahar, to the Pakistani heartland. It is also a major gas producing area for Pakistan. I wonder if the non-Baloch people there are workers who are employed in the gas fields and related industries. That area is also a hotspot for militancy. Perhaps Baloch militants strike there to get at the “foreign occupiers” who are stealing Balochistan’s resources (a common complaint of Balochistan’s active separatist movement).

The second, more macro, feature is the sharp line between the Indo-Aryan languages and the Iranian ones. There are very few parts of Pakistan with mixed communities. This is not at all what I expected. Given that all of these languages, except Urdu, are poorly standardized, I expected the distinctions between them to be hazy. Instead, we see many instances where a 95% Pashto district borders a 95% Punjabi district. This is fairly similar to Western Europe, where the language boundaries tend to be sharp. One doesn’t find many mixed German and Polish towns, or French and Italian. In Europe, most languages are highly standardized and the national boundaries were made to coincide with language borders often through ethnic cleansing. Neither of these is the case in Pakistan. I expected Pakistan’s language map to look a bit more like Southeast Asia’s.

Pakistanis (and Indians) do have very strong ethnic identities. Sindhi speakers know that they are Sindhi and care about the distinction with Balochis. The same is true of Punjabis and Pashtuns. The lack of ethno-linguistic mixing could explain why Pakistan has had such a hard time constructing a national identity. It also could be one of the reasons Pakistan has been so slow to react to the threat of radical Islamic militancy. The vast majority of terrorist attacks in Pakistan happen in Pashtun dominated areas. Since there are few Punjabis or Sindhis living near Pashtuns, those attacks are out of sight and out of mind for the majority of Pakistanis.