Historical Background

  • Fatimah Asghar
Map of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir territory. Shows arrows where Muslims were forced to leave India and Hindus and Sikhs were forced to leave the other territories.

Map outlining the Partition divides after India gained independence. East Pakistan and the territory surrounding it is today known as Bangladesh. This is a map outlining the beginning of Partition, and some areas have been renamed more recently.

The 19th Century

1818 — British begin colonial rule over all of India.
1857 First Indian War of Independence, also known as Indian Mutiny or the Sepoy Rebellion.
1858 India comes under direct British rule after losing the rebellion.
1885 Burma becomes part of Indian province.
1885 Indian National Congress formed.

The 20th Century

1905 — The British government divides Bengal into separate Hindu and Muslim states.
1919 Amritsar Massacre occurs on April 13. British soldiers fired into crowd of Punjabis as they gathered in Jallianwalla Bagh.
1920 Mahatma Gandhi begins Indian Independence Movement through civil disobedience and his power in the Indian National Congress. He was assassinated in 1948.
1935 A new constitution is drafted for India. Five years later, the idea for a different country for Muslims, named Pakistan, is brought into political play.
1946 British government agree to a free India. Muslims hold national demonstrations for the creation of Pakistan.
1947 India is officially independent and Partition occurs.
1948 First India/Pakistan war over disputed Kashmir territory.
1965 Second India/Pakistan war over Kashmir.
1990-92 Violent Muslim separatists groups rise in Pakistan and Hindu extremists react by demolishing a mosque, heightening Hindu/Muslim religious tensions.

The 21st Century

2000 — Indian population increases to over 1 billion people and war in the mountains of Kashmir territory reaches a conclusion.
2002 — Tensions begin increasing again between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir territory.
2005 The first bus services begin operations through Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
2009 — Hindu/Muslim religious violence increases rapidly, thousands are killed. Pakistan and India pledge to fight against terror together and improve border ties.
2019 — Security forces face clashes against Pakistan jihadist group in Indian-administered Kashmir territory.

Sources found here, here, and here.

Cultural Context


"At least 14 million people were forced into migration as they fled the ethnic cleansings and retributive genocides that consumed South Asia during the India/Pakistan Partition, which lead to India's and East and West Pakistan's independence from colonial Britain. An estimated 1 to 2 million people died during the months encompassing Partition. An estimated 75,000 to 100,000 women were abducted and raped. Partition remains one of the largest forced migrations in human history; its effects and divisions echo to this day." 

-Fatimah Asghar

  • Partition began in 1947, when Great Britain agreed to allow India to become an independent power. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were forced to migrate into the newly created Pakistan, while the same amount of Hindus and Sikhs were forced to come into India. A mutual genocide occurred, and was expected. 
  • Massacres, arsons, forced conversions, mass abductions, and extreme sexual violence occurred. Many women were raped, dismembered, and/or disfigured. 
  • Fifteen million people were uprooted, with the death toll possibly as high as two million. The forced migration has been branded into the culture and society of South Asian people, and is considered to be one of the most central historical events. 

More information on Partition: 

Midnight's Furies

Ayesha Jalal – expert


"you're kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back."

-Fatimah Asghar, "Partition" pg. 9

  • When Partition occurred, 650 independent states remained who could, in theory, choose which country they wanted to belong to. However, cultural and social divides created a struggle, and many decided that they wanted to remain independent. 
  • In 1947, the Prince of Kashmir had both Muslim and Hindu subjects, while he himself was Hindu. Because of the religious divide, he chose to remain neutral. This decision has lead to years of political turmoil. 
  • Two wars have been fought between Pakistan and India over control of the Kashmir territory, but the cultural significance of the area extends over centuries, leading to each side fighting for the right to intellectual property and religious creativity. 
  • Another pertinent quote from If They Come for Us: "'Nobody in India will love me' -Cyril Radcliffe, who made the borders of Partition in less than 40 days without ever previously visiting South Asia". -pg. 66 from "They Asked for a Map" 

More information on Kashmir: 

The Cultural Diversity

Unfolding History

Back to If They Come for Us Homepage

Grace McKenna ’19

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