75 years after Partition: These maps show how the British split India

The hastily drawn border, known as the Radcliffe Line, attempted to carve out two nations along religious lines—but sparked violence instead.

With the end of British colonial rule in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was divided into two nations, majority-Hindu India and majority-Muslim Pakistan.

But simmering secular tensions and a hastily planned transition—overseen by a team without any expertise in mapmaking or Indian culture—led to one of the largest refugee crises in history. It also prompted a wave of brutalities that would leave lasting scars for the people living in the two new sovereign nations. 

(Why the Partition of India and Pakistan still casts a long shadow over the region.)

Confusion over the new border—and rising tensions among those who suddenly found their minority and majority statuses switched—was like a spark to a flame. Violence broke out across the subcontinent, particularly in Punjab and Bengal.

Although the violence faded by 1950, the Radcliffe Line has still had lasting implications for the region. In 1971, the people of East Pakistan declared independence for the new nation of Bangladesh. And the southern border of Jammu and Kashmir, a princely state that chose to remain independent after Partition, is still contested today. 

This page was updated on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, to add clarification of National Geographic's mapping policy.

(See maps of India and Pakistan’s conflict over mountains and glaciers)

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