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The Indian Subcontinent Achieves Freedom

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A Movement Toward Independence

Many Asians served in the armies of the colonial powers during World War II. The fight against the Nazis deepened Asians’ desire for independence. Japanese victories over European powers early in the war made Asians believe that the colonial rulers could be defeated. In Europe, people began to doubt that it was right for nations to have colonies.

Name two things that increased Asian hopes for independence.
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Freedom Brings Turmoil

In the 1920s, Mohandas Gandhi led a movement for Indian independence. Two groups worked in this effort. The Indian National Congress, also called the Congress Party, said that it represented all of India. Most of its members were Hindu. Muhammad Ali Jinnah formed the Muslim League in 1906. He said that the Congress Party did not care for the rights of Indian Muslims. The British encouraged the division of Hindus and Muslims into two opposing groups. This division helped the British keep control of the country.

After World War II, Britain was ready for India to be independent. But the British did not know which people in India would take power. Riots broke out between the Hindus and Muslims throughout India.

Gandhi tried to end the violence. A Hindu extremist assassinated him for protecting Muslims. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy of India, also tried to stop the violence. He finally accepted the idea that partition, or the division of India into two nations, was necessary.

The British Parliament passed a law granting independence in July 1947. It created the separate Hindu and Muslim nations of India and Pakistan. The law gave people only one month to decide which country they wanted to live in and to move there. As millions of people began to move, more violence broke out.

What divisions existed between Indian political groups and what was the attempted solution?
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Modern India

Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of India. He led the country for 17 years.

India and Pakistan went to war over the state of Kashmir. Kashmir bordered both countries. It had a Hindu ruler and a large Muslim population. Conflict over Kashmir continues today.

Nehru tried to reform Indian society. He hoped to improve the status of the lower castes and of women. Shortly after he died in 1964, his daughter, Indira Gandhi, became prime minister. She took steps to increase food production. In 1984, she ordered an attack on Sikh rebels. A few months later, she was killed by Sikhs. She was followed by her son Rajiv Gandhi. He was later assassinated. Separatist movements continue to disrupt Indian society.

What problems has modern India faced?
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Pakistan Copes with Freedom; Bangladesh and Sri Lanka Struggle

Pakistan has faced a great deal of violence, too. When Pakistan was first formed, it had east and west parts that were separated by India. In a bloody fight in 1971, the eastern part won its independence. The new nation took the name Bangladesh. Power struggles have caused problems in the western part since then. Its leaders have included Ali Bhutto and his daughter, Benazir Bhutto. She was elected prime minister twice.

Ceylon, an island on the southeastern coast of India, won its independence in 1947 as well. In 1972 it was renamed Sri Lanka. Since 1983, a Hindu minority on the island - the Tamils - have led a bloody fight to form a separate nation.

How have new political divisions led to violence?
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