Eastern South Asia's archaeological heritage includes Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha; the ancient universities and monasteries of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Somapura Mahavihara, Jaggadala, and Mainamati; the Ashokan pillars and the Mauryan Empire-era cities of Pataliputra and Mahasthangarh; and the ruined fort cities of Wari-Bateshwar, Bhitagarh, and Chandraketugarh. The region has an important Buddhist Tourist Circuit. Eastern South Asia hosts a large number of medieval and early modern mosques, including Adina Mosque, the subcontinent's largest medieval mosque, and the Sixty Dome Mosque, and large caravansaries such as Bara Katra and Katra Masjid. It is home to several outstanding examples of medieval and early modern Hindu temple architecture, particularly the Newa architecture of Nepal and the architecture of Bengal.
A map showing the Chicken's Neck corridor between India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan
Eastern South Asia is a cradle of South Asian civilization. Historical states in the region include those recorded in Indian epics such as the Mahabharata, including ancient Nepal, Vanga, and Pundra; the Greek and Roman recorded kingdom of Gangaridai; major Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms including Kalinga, Kamarupa, Samatata, the Mauryan, Gupta, Pala, and Sena Empires, the Khadga, Candra, Deva, and Tripura kingdoms, and Cooch Behar State. Major Islamic empires in the region included the Delhi and Bengal Sultanates, and the Suri and Mughal Empires (including the important province of Mughal Bengal). A confederation of Muslim and Hindu aristocrats called the Baro-Bhuyan existed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
The Bengal Presidency was established in the 18th century by the British Empire, with its headquarters in Fort William, in coastal southwestern Bengal. The British made Bengal the center of their Indian empire, during which Bengal became synonymous with India. Until the mid-19th century, the Bengal Presidency's jurisdiction covered British-controlled territories in north India, northeast India, and Southeast Asia. The Governor of Bengal was concurrently the Governor General of India for many years. Fort William's surroundings grew into the port city of Calcutta, which was the capital of India until 1911. After the British Indian Empire was established in 1858 following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Bengal Renaissance flourished in Calcutta and other Bengali urban centers. The Indian independence movement, including parts of the movement which created Pakistan, had its origins in the Bengal Presidency. The Parliament of Bengal, including the Bengal Legislative Council and the Bengal Legislative Assembly, was the oldest and largest in British India.
The Bengal Presidency had the highest gross domestic product in British India.
Partition of Bengal
Citing administrative improvement and affirmative action for Bengali Muslims and non-Bengali communities in colonial Assam, the British government enacted the first partition of Bengal in 1905. The new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, with its own Legislative Council, saw more investments in education and infrastructure. The province was a center of the petroleum, tea, and jute industries. Its capital was Dacca, with a summer capital at Shillong. The summer capital enjoyed the highest per capita income in British India. The All India Muslim League was formed in Dacca to safeguard the interests of British Indian Muslims. But the first partition sparked strong protests from elites in Calcutta and sections of the landed gentry, particularly Bengali Hindus. The protests caused a pan-Indian political crisis. In 1912, East Bengal was reunited with West Bengal as Bengal Province while Assam was separated as Assam Province.
The first partition left a strong legacy. Decades later in the 1940s, when Hindu–Muslim relations deteriorated, the British government again partitioned Bengal into East Bengal and West Bengal as part of the Partition of British India. East Bengal was made part of the Muslim-majority Dominion of Pakistan and West Bengal a part of the Hindu-majority Dominion of India. East Bengal was later renamed East Pakistan in 1955. In 1971, East Pakistan seceded in the Bangladesh Liberation War, which established the People's Republic of Bangladesh. The constitution of Bangladesh established a multiparty parliamentary democracy in 1972. The country endured several military coups in the late 1970s and 1980s. Islam is the state religion of Bangladesh. In the Indian state of West Bengal, the Communist Party of India governed for three decades.
The Eastern Himalayas has been home to three independent kingdoms since the 17th century, including the Kingdom of Bhutan, the Kingdom of Sikkim, and the Kingdom of Nepal. The Himalayan kingdoms served as buffer states between Imperial China and India. In the 19th century, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan became protectorates of British India. The Anglo-Nepal Treaty of 1923 recognized Nepal's sovereignty. The treaty was recorded in the League of Nations. Bhutan's relations with British India were managed under the Treaty of Punakha of 1910. Sikkim's relations with British India were managed under the Treaty of Titalia of 1817 and the Treaty of Tumlong of 1861.
After India became independent, it signed a treaty with Bhutan in 1949, and, in 1950, a treaty with Nepal and a treaty with Sikkim. The Incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China, particularly after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, caused an exodus of Tibetan refugees into Northern and Eastern South Asia, including into Nepal and Bhutan. Refugees included the spiritual Tibetan head of state, the Dalai Lama, who established the Tibetan government in exile in India. The CIA Tibetan program in Nepal trained Tibetan refugees for guerrilla war against the PRC. Following the Tibetan crisis, India and the PRC engaged in a brief border war in 1962 over the disputed McMahon Line and Aksai Chin areas. In 1975, the Indian annexation of Sikkim was strongly opposed by China.
Nepal's first period of parliamentary democracy lasted from 1950 to 1960. The King of Nepal imposed the panchayat system in the 1960s and 1970s. A mass uprising pressured the King of Nepal to restore democracy in 1990. The Nepalese Civil War began in 1992.
Bhutan joined the United Nations in 1971. Bhutan was the first country to recognize the independence of Bangladesh.
Colonial Assam was reorganized by the Indian government into the Seven Sister States of northeast India, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. Insurgency in Northeast India has been a security challenge for the Indian government. Since 1958, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been imposed in the region. The law has been described as perpetuating indirect military rule. There have been many allegations of human rights abuses in northeast India.
In 2003, China acknowledged Sikkim as a part of India while India recognized Tibet as part of China. The Dalai Lama has often asserted that Tibet should be given meaningful autonomy within China, not independence. In 2005, the King of Nepal imposed direct rule, which led to the monarchy's overthrow, the end of the civil war, and the creation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in 2008. Bhutan held its first general election in 2008.
In 2011, India granted duty-free access to most Bangladeshi products. In 2012, India affirmed in principle to allow Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal to transit its territory for trade movement. In 2014, Bangladesh and India resolved their maritime boundary dispute at a UN tribunal. In 2015, India and Bangladesh signed a land boundary agreement to resolve border disputes. In 2014 Bangladesh and Bhutan signed a trade agreement in which Bhutan gained duty-free access for 90 products in the Bangladeshi market. Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Bhutan signed a regional motor vehicle agreement in 2015.
The four countries have agreed to develop hydropower in the Himalayas. Bhutan and India have developed two hydropower projects, as of 2017.
Nepal has been a key participant in the Chinese One Belt, One Road initiative, which seeks to revive the historical Silk Road between South Asia and Tibet.
The rapid development of the Chinese economy has caused increased trade and economic activity between China and Eastern South Asia. China is the largest trading partner of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal while Hong Kong is one of Bhutan's chief trading partners. The Indian economy has emerged as one of the world's fastest-growing economies although its eastern and northeastern states have had lower economic growth than northern, western, or southern India. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Bangladeshi economy was the world's second-fastest-growing major economy in 2016, but the country faces challenges of political instability and infrastructure shortages.
The 2017 China India border standoff developed on the Doklam plateau, located on the tri-nation border between Bhutan, Indian Sikkim, and Chinese Tibet.