VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > F. South and Southeast Asia, 1945–2000
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Dec. 27)
F. South and Southeast Asia, 1945–2000
1. South Asia, 1945–2000
a. Overview
This period witnessed the independence of South Asia from direct imperial control and the struggle by the resulting nation-states of the subcontinent to create viable civil societies and to find appropriate places in a world becoming increasingly interdependent economically, geopolitically, and culturally. Britain's withdrawal marked not only independence but also partition, as it handed over power in 1947 to the new, separate nation-states of India and Pakistan. (Sri Lanka and Maldives achieved independence later.) This decision to divide the subcontinent conceded the impossibility of devising a federal system sufficiently loose in nature to reassure Muslim activists who felt their voices and interests would be brushed aside by the nationalist Congress Party, which was often incapable of recognizing the extent to which it conflated the terms Hindu and nationalist in its rhetoric and policies. The new states' boundary lines did not bode well for the future, however, as they demarcated a “moth-eaten” Pakistan (as Mohammed Ali Jinnah put it) carved out of two distinct pieces of territory in the east and west, with India in between. (Significantly, the dividing line in the east followed virtually the identical line drawn during the partition of Bengal in 1905 ( (See Southeast Asia, 1753–1914))—a boundary protested at the time as “unnatural.”)  1
Although at first the two nations mainly strove to find appropriate roles in a world sharply bifurcated by the cold war, more recent events have underscored their continuing struggle to resolve a much larger conundrum that has long affected the region: how to create shared understandings on which to build a civil society and how to determine the role of the state within it, in a way that makes room for the diverse groups that make up pluralistic societies. In part, this conundrum resulted from the legacy of imperialism, particularly the British Indian state's predilection to deal with groups rather than individuals. (The tension between the nation's need to deal directly with individuals, a basic foundation stone of national integration, and the state's desire to prove to different groups its ability to protect group interests, is the most pronounced characteristic of contemporary society in South Asia.) The conundrum also reflected a fundamental challenge faced by all modern nation-states: the need to create viable political systems that do not depend on cultural and ethnic homogeneity to succeed. Dealing with this problem has been exacerbated in postcolonial states by the accompanying need to create economic development strategies that minimize dependence on the industrialized world while achieving as much financial self-sufficiency as possible. These issues influenced the debate concerning the formation of an independent, postcolonial society and the role the state should play in directing it.  2
Certainly the implications of demographic growth have complicated these attempts to gain self-sufficiency; from a population base in 1941 of 389 million, numbers had increased by 1961 to 439.2 million in India and an additional 93.8 million in Pakistan. But the population growth rate for the region, after peaking in 1971–81 (at a decade rate of 26.4 percent) seems to be slowly decreasing now; for the decade 1981–91, the rate of growth has been 25.2 percent.  3
The position of women in independent India, if measured by standards such as literacy rates, has improved. The female workforce in the independent sector, for instance, has also been organized to exercise some political clout (through SEWA, the Self-Employed Women's Association). But issues such as the spate of dowry deaths (the murder of young wives for their dowries) in urban areas—especially in Delhi in the late 1980s and early 1990s—serve as symbols for the continuing disadvantages experienced by women in middle-class and extended family contexts.  4
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.