Pick a Region:. . South Asia
Civilization Began (Approx. 2500 BCE)
Then, Islam (see Peoples) was introduced by Arab merchants, who came to trade in India in the 8th century. The new faith was spread at first by peaceful methods of persuasion. At the beginning of the 11th century, Turkish-speaking Muslim tribes invaded the subcontinent from the northwest and frequently declared a Jihad (holy war against nonbelievers on behalf of Islam) to extend their control over the Indo-Gangetic plain and its people. They treated those who resisted with great severity by killing many, by creating harsh laws for the native peoples to follow, and by destroying Hindu and Buddhist temples.
The Mughals Reigned
However, the third emperor, Akbar (r. 1556-1605), dramatically changed the existing policy to one of tolerance toward all faiths and fairer treatment toward all people. The Mughal dynasty established a powerful and efficient government. As a result of the government's efficiency, the economy developed and people prospered. The Mughal leaders had beautiful mosques and tombs built and generously sponsored writers and artists so that culture flourished. Portrait of Emperor Akbar. Photo © 1999 -www.arttoday.com
In contrast, during the reign of Aurangzeb (r. 1659-1707), the sixth emperor, the Mughal dynasty began to decline. He strained his state's resources by getting involved in many wars to expand the empire's territory. He also alienated Hindus by pressuring them to convert to Islam, by destroying their temples, and by issuing government edicts discriminating against them.
The British proved to be the most aggressive and successful of the Europeans in expanding trade and influence in the subcontinent. When the Mughal Empire began to decline, the British gained increased dominance in South Asia by making alliances with native rulers and extending directly controlled territory of the British East India Company. A rebellion by native troops who worked for the Company occurred in 1857-58. After the rebellion, the British government eliminated the Company and took over its assets and position in India. The British government ruled parts of India directly, but left large areas--called princely states--under the administration of some 580 Indian princes. The area of land under British control was called British India.
South Asians Opposed
Many of the nationalists, who pressed the British to leave the subcontinent, had hoped that unity would be maintained. However, their hopes were soon shattered.
Many Islamic leaders of the independence struggle decided that since Muslims made up only 25% of the population of South Asia, Muslims would not be able to prevent the much more numerous Hindu population from dominating the new state. As a result, the Muslims demanded two separate states: one for Muslims and another for non-Muslims. To achieve their goal, the Muslims encouraged fear and anxiety among their followers and directed violence at Hindus. Soon the Hindus responded in like fashion toward the Muslims.
British Decided to Grant
Prior to independence, several events took place. Frequently, these events were motivated by self-interest among the different religious groups: Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.
Muslim League Pushed
To support their position for two independent nations, Muslims named August 16, 1946 Direct Action Day. On this day, Muslims were encouraged to vigorously demonstrate their demands for partition. As a result, serious communal riots broke out in Calcutta, the major port city of eastern India. During the few days of rioting in Calcutta, more than 5,000 people were killed, and 100,000 became homeless. The fighting soon spread throughout British India.
After the riots ended, Hindus and Sikhs--especially in the Punjab--began to support the idea of partition. On March 22, 1947, the Shiromani Akali Dal, the dominant Sikh political movement, passed a resolution. This resolution called for the creation of an independent Sikh state (see Demands for Khalistan).
The British also began to favor the idea of partition. Violence among Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs had occurred leading up to the date set for independence. The principal causes of the violence were concerns over how British India would be partitioned and where each religious group would live. The British government established a boundary commission to partition British India.
The boundary commission was chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. He was chosen for two reasons: he was a British legal expert and he had never been to India. The British government had hoped he would be impartial because of these two factors. He was to be assisted by eight men: four chosen by the Muslim League and the other four by the Indian National Congress. Radcliffe often had to make the hard decisions since the commission frequently split on communal lines.
The formation of borders to create new countries is known as the partition of 1947. As a result of the partition of 1947, the countries of India and Pakistan were established. India contained mostly Hindus and Sikhs, and Pakistan contained mostly Muslims. The partition not only created two countries of unequal size but it also subdivided Pakistan into two sectionsEast Pakistan and West Pakistanon either side of India.
Violence persisted even after the partition of British India. Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh fanatical leaders, who were dissatisfied with the results of the partition, played on communal fears and suspicions. These fears and suspicions encouraged more than 4.5 million Muslims to migrate west from India into Pakistan, while 4 million Hindus and Sikhs fled east from Pakistan into India. Sectarian militias (Muslim Khaksars, Hindu R.S.S, and Sikh Jathas) became the principal instruments of communal violence that led to the deaths of more than one million people during the population migration.