August 15, 2017 will mark the 70th anniversary of the Partition of British India that led to the largest mass migration in human history. In August of 1947, after 300 years of occupation, the British left India. Within days of that departure, border decisions were announced partitioning the subcontinent into two independent nation states: India, primarily Hindu, and Pakistan, primarily Muslim. This abrupt division, occurring after two intense years of anticipatory turmoil, spurred a period of rapid migration with millions of Muslims journeying to West and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) and millions of Hindus and Sikhs moving away from Pakistan into the new borders of India, and in the process engendered a humanitarian crisis of unparalleled scale. The 1947 Partition of British India is a vast topic and continues to be the subject of extensive study by scholars in political science, intellectual, political and social history, and literature, media and women’s studies.
For the past several years, individual faculty members from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business Schoool have been investigating different aspects of the Partition from their various disciplinary vantage points. In 2014, research threads were brought together under the aegis of the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI). In crisis settings, data systems are disrupted and others, not usually sought out by traditional demographers, may provide critical substantiating insights. The circumstances and impacts are diverse, ranging from social relationships, political systems and governance structures, economic networks, and impacts on the growth of cities. The effort to quantify and understand this major event of the 20th century requires research across three countries and across several disciplines of demography, history, political science, statistics, urbanism, public health and more.