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Separatist movements in India

This map is part of a series of 5 animated maps showing the history of History of India since Independence in 1947.

Territorial reorganization begun in the 1950s did not put an end to the hopes of many states for greater autonomy. Kashmir, and Punjab saw the rise of separatist movements, while in the frontier regions of the North-East, ethno-nationalist movements gained ground.

The proximity of Pakistan, China, Myanmar and East Pakistan – which had won its independence in 1971 and became the new nation of Bangladesh - as well as the long and porous frontiers make it difficult to control these regions.

Kashmir presented a particularly thorny problem right from independence. In 1947 its prince Hari Singh chose to enter the Indian Union, a decision many Kashmiris, 60% of whom were Muslims, were not willing to accept.

Straddling India and Pakistan, Kashmir became the theatre for three wars between the two countries in 1947, 1965 and1999. Nonetheless, these wars have not settled the question of its status. They have merely heightened tensions between Hindus and Muslims, created strong suspicions of the central government and led a good number of Kashmiri Hindus to flee their ancestral lands.

In the Punjab, Sikh demands for sovereignty go back to 1947. Their sentiment of having received an unfair deal in the new nation increased with the separation of Haryana in 1966 and then Himachal Pradesh.

The 1970s saw a strengthening of movements to unify all the areas inhabited by Sikhs into the Punjab with Chandigarh as its capital. In 1984, demands for an independent Khalistan “the land of the pure” culminated in a violent confrontation with the Indian army in the very heart of the sacred temple of the Sikhs in Amritsar.

The North-East is linked to the rest of the country by a 37 km long stretch of land, known as the Siliguri Corridor or the “chicken’s neck”. The region is the scene of insurrections since independence.

As early as1950, Nagaland made strong demands for independence, claiming parts of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The progressive break-up of the region into eight states with important population transfers gave birth to great discontent. The signing of more than twenty accords between 1949 and 2005 did not resolve the complex problem of the relationship between these states and India.

Successive Indian governments have attempted to quell these separatist movements through a range of different measures. These have included military interventions, negotiations, introduction of democratic structures with the organisation of elections or a more sustained policy of economic development.