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Identify when India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Central Asian republics first became independent countries and explain how independence was achieved. Explain the relationship of the Central Asian republics to the former Soviet Union.

external image Partition_of_India.PNG

Focus Question: How did the countries of Central Asia achieve independence colonial rule?

Map to the right shows Britain's holdings on the Indian subcontinent that were granted independence in 1947 and 1948, becoming four new independent states: India, Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Pakistan (including East Pakistan, modern-day Bangladesh

Topics on the Page

  • The Breakup of Empires

    • 1947 Partition of India


  • For historical information on India in the 19th and 20th centuries, link to World History II.12.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngTimeline: A Brief History of India's Caste System

The Caste System: Effects of Poverty on India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Jasmine Rao, Global Majority e-Journal, 2010.

The Breakup of Empires

Both South Asia and Central Asia have the political geography they have today because of the break up of an empire.

South Asia was once part of the British Empire, about which it was once said “the sun never sets on the British Empire” because it covered so much of the globe. After World
Flag of India
War II, Britain was weakened to the point of not being able to maintain as much of its territory as it was able to before the war.

Jawaharlal Nehru, circa 1927
Jawaharlal Nehru, circa 1927

That increased weakness, combined with a 20+ year freedom effort by activists in India—including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru—led to the independence of India in 1947.

As so often happens with the end of colonial rule or the independence or partition of nations (see the former Yugoslavia as an example, or the nations of South America after independence from Spain, or modern-day Zimbabwe), India saw internal conflict after independence.

Members of the dominant religious groups—Muslims and Hindus—were at odds over how to form the new government and run the new country. Muslims wanted their own state. Gandhi was against this.
Flag of Pakistan

Flag of Bangladesh

In the end, the country was split in two, with the formation of Pakistan to the north.

In 1971 Bangladesh split off from Pakistan, the result of a war between India and its northern neighbor. (More on the India-Pakistan split below).
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on Bangladesh

Sri Lanka, independent since 1948 (as Ceylon; changing to Sri Lanka in 1972), remains in turmoil, with the group called the “Tamil Tigers” waging an on-again off-again civil war in the island nation.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on Sri Lanka

Bhutan was only partially ruled by the British, which ran the small nation’s international affairs but left Bhutan to govern itself internally through a treaty signed in 1910. Bhutan had earlier ceded some land to British India. India took over the international affairs of Bhutan after Indian independence. Currently a monarchy, Bhutan is transitioning to democratic rule.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on Bhutan

Nepal has been independent for thousands of years. The monarchy added a cabinet set up to advise the monarch in 1951, and parliamentary elections were started in 1991. Ten years later, the ruling family’s oldest son, the crown prince, massacred many members of the royal family and then killed himself. The next year, in 2002, the new king dismissed the prime minister and parliament for incompetence, but reinstated the parliament in 2006 after internal unrest. Maoist insurgents have led much of that unrest.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on Nepal.

The Central Asian nations that were once part of the Soviet Union all gained independence in the early 1990s with the breakup of the USSR. In United States classrooms up to that point, these places called “Uzbekistan” and “Kyrgyzstan” were hardly known or discussed at all. “The Soviet Union” evoked images of pale white people in snowstorms wearing fur hats. Either that, or looming and somber pictures of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the evening news, cast as Ronald Reagan’s arch nemesis. The truth of the Soviet Union was something much more, and the emergence of the central Asian nations from behind the iron curtain revealed a diverse, lively, and distinct group of people with their own cultures and traditions—looking far more like Chinese people than the pale, uniform stereotype put forth until that time. While most governments in this region are far from what we would call democracies, they are now self-governed by their own people, not from leaders in Moscow who were, literally, governing from an entirely different continent.

[Written by Erica Winter, December 2008; mostly no specific direct source beyond general knowledge. Information on Bhutan and Nepal, and dates of independence, checked or found on www.aneki.com]

More Info on Central Asian Nations

Kyrgyzstan: Became part of Russian Empire in 1876. Soviet power was established in the area in 1918, after the Russian Revolution in 1917. In December of 1936 was established as full Union Republic of the USSR. In December of 1990, after the Democratic movement gained power in Parliament and Askar Akayev introduced reforms, the Supreme Soviet voted to make it the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. In 1991, Akayev resigned from the Communist Party. Gained full independence from USSR on August 31, 1991. Became part of the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of Kyrgyzstan

Georgia: Part of the Russian Empire in 19th century. Was briefly independent from 1918 to 1921, following the Russian Revolution. Was "forcibly incorporated" into the USSR after an invasion by the Red Army in 1921. Independence gained after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, when Georgians voted for independence.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of Georgia

Tajikistan: Came under Russia rule during the 1860's and 1870's. Russia's hold was weakened during the 1917 Revolution that put the Bolsheviks in power. Bolshevik control was gained in Tajikistan in 1925. Became independent following the break up of the USSR in 1991. Civil war followed from 1992-1997.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of Tajikistan

Turkmenistan: Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885. Became a Soviet Republic in 1924. Declared sovereignty in 1990. Achieved full independence upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States in December of 1991.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on Turkmenistan

Uzbekistan: Taken over by Russia in the late 19th century. Showed some resistance to the Red Army during WWI, but this was suppressed and a Socialist Republic was established in 1924. Overuse of agrochemicals left the land poisoned. The Aral Sea and rivers were left partially dry due to water depletion. In 1990 declared own laws and sovereignty. Independence was gained in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR. In December of 1991, joined the Commonwealth of Independent States.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on Uzebekistan

Afghanistan: History of fighting against Persians and the British. From 1839 to 1842 Britain installed a puppet king. Afghanistan served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires. Gained independence from British control in 1914. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to back the Afghan Communist regime. Did not withdraw until 1989. The Taliban gained control in 1994 and remained in power until the United States intervened after the events of September 11, 2001. First democratic Presidential held in 2004, Hamid Karzai won the presidency.
timeline2_rus.svg.png Click here for a timeline on Afghanistan

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For more on modern-day American involvement, link to United States History II.33

Link here for a packet on independence on Southeastern Asia

Emergency trains crowded with refugees
Emergency trains crowded with refugees

India and Pakistan Partition of 1947


The Great Divide: The Violent Legacy of Indian Partition. The New Yorker (June 29, 2015)

Select Research Bibliography on the Partition of India (Primary Documents)

The Road to Partition 1939-1947 from The National Archives (UK)

India's Partition: In Pictures from BBC

Indian soldiers, Into-Pakistan War of 1947
Indian soldiers, Into-Pakistan War of 1947


Partition in the Classroom: Differentiated Strategies for Teaching India's Partition

  • Link here for a lesson plan from PBS on the India Pakistan Partition. Designed for 9-12 grades but can be adapted for lower grades

  • Link here for a lesson plan on India and England's control of the country

Pakistan: A Political History. Asia Society, Columbia University

For more background, link to 1900 - 1950: A Half Century of Crisis and Achievement, from Asia for Educators

BBC Documentary

More Sources