Research Spotlight

The Partition of India: Did displacement affect development?

Prashant Bharadwaj of the University of California, San Diego and Rinchan Ali Mirza of the University of Oxford look at the effects of the 1947 Partition of India, which saw one of largest displacements of human population in modern history.


The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947. It led to the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan. Although demographers, historians, film makers and others have tried to document this history, there is a wealth of data to be explored which can provide insights into human behaviour and development in the context of the Partition.

However, despite the availability of this data, Professor Prashant Bharadwaj of the University of California, San Diego, notes that “there is not a whole lot of work that uses data to understand what happened after the Partition”. This is precisely the motivation behind Dr. Bharadwaj’s work with Rinchan Ali Mirza of the University of Oxford on the impact of Partition on India’s post-colonial economic development. Using the proportion of the displaced population in a district as a proxy, the authors explore the impact of Partition on agricultural development across districts. This paper comes after a series of descriptive papers by the authors exploring the demographic changes produced by the Partition.

Professor Bharadwaj gave a seminar on the paper titled “Displacement and Development: Long Term Impacts of the Partition of India” on September 8, 2017 at ISB. It was attended by faculty members and researchers. The authors find that the Partition had a statistically discernable impact on long-term agricultural production. Interestingly, the timing of this impact coincides strongly with the Green Revolution. As Professor Bharadwaj notes, “the Green Revolution happens to be in places where there were more refugees.”

While Professor Bharadwaj acknowledges various mechanisms that could explain this remarkable relationship, the authors’ work strongly suggests one very important mechanism: the refugees coming in from West Punjab in particular were more educated, relative to those who left India. This is shown by the increased literacy rates post-Partition in areas which had seen the largest inflows of displaced persons. Professor Bharadwaj argues that this allowed immigrants to “be able to take advantage of the modern technologies that the Green Revolution offered,” providing a key pathway for higher agricultural output.
 
The abstract of the paper is as below:

Displacement and Development: Long Term Impacts of the Partition of India

Abstract: The partition of British India in 1947 resulted in one of the largest and most rapid migrations in human history. This paper examines how areas affected by the partition fare in the long run. Using migrant presence as a proxy for the intensity of the impact of the partition, and district level data on agricultural output between 1911-2009, we find that areas which received more migrants have higher average yields, are more likely to take up high yielding varieties (HYV) of seeds, and are more likely to use agricultural technologies. These correlations are more pronounced after the Green Revolution in India. Using pre-partition data, we show that migrant placement is uncorrelated with soil conditions, agricultural infrastructure, and agricultural yields prior to 1947; hence, the effects are not solely explained by selective migration into districts with a higher potential for agricultural development. Migrants moving to India were more educated than both the natives who stayed and the migrants who moved out. Given the positive association of education with the adoption of high yielding varieties of seeds we highlight the presence of educated migrants during the timing of the Green Revolution as a potential pathway for the observed effects.
 
Read Professor Bharadwaj’s related work on the Partition of India here.
 
Dibya Mishra, a Research Associate in the Economics and Public Policy Area at the ISB, wrote this report.