PARTITION OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN

PARTITION OF INDIA

The end of World War II and the British Labor Party's victory at the polls in 1945 led to renewed negotiations on independence between Britain and the Hindu and Muslim leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatama Gandi and the India National Congress leaders pushed for for a single, secular nation in which the rights of all — namely Hindus and Muslims — would be guarded by constitutional guarantees and democratic practice. But Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League refused to back down for their demand of an independent Pakistan. In August 1947, with Hindu- Muslim tensions rising, British India was partitioned into the two self-governing dominions of India and Pakistan. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Partition refers to the historical division of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. The partition of India and Pakistan into the world's second and sixth most populous nations occurred at midnight on August 15, 1947 the same time both nations became independent of Great Britain. To distinguish itself from India, Pakistan set its clock back 30 minutes. The countries have operated on time zones 30 minutes apart ever since.

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) became the Prime Minister of India and Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1875-1948) Jinnah was named the first Governor General and Qaid-e-Azamm ("the Great Leader") of Pakistan, the world's largest Muslim nation in 1947. Neither India nor Pakistan celebrated the 50th anniversary in 1997 with much fanfare. The Pakistani government placed a large "50" on the nose of its planes and held a few parades.

India and Pakistan (then East and West Pakistan, with East Pakistan later becoming Bangladesh) became independent nations when the population of the India subcontinent was around 400 million people (about 320 million in India and 80 million in east and west Pakistan). This is about a forth of the number of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh today. The religious make up of subcontinent was 66 percent Hindu and 24 percent Muslim.

When British India was partitioned and the independent dominions of India and Pakistan were created in 1947, the region of Bengal was divided along religious lines. The predominantly Muslim eastern half was designated East Pakistan—and made part of the newly independent Pakistan—while the predominantly Hindu western part became the Indian state of West Bengal.

East and West Pakistan to some degree were regarded as the fringes and frontiers of India. At the time of partition even Karachi was only an isolated settlement on the Arabian Sea. Most of the entrepreneurs were Hindus and they left. Many of the Muslims that left India for Pakistan after partition were relatively well off. They had enough money to pay for the journey. Many of those that remained in India were so poor they couldn't afford to leave.

Good Website: 1947 Partition Archive 1947partitionarchive.org;

Creation of Pakistan

The sweep of Jinnah and Muslim League—who campaigned for partition—in predominately Muslim constituencies in the 1946 election, ensured the creation of Pakistan. After the massive riots in 1946-47, Indian and British leaders decided to divide India after independence in spite of Gandhi's objections. Jinnah wanted all of Bengal but accepted a “moth-eaten Pakistan” with East Bengal. Partition was announced on June 3 but the boundaries were not announced until after independence had been declared.

Indians had to vote on whether to stay in India or join Pakistan and the leaders of 600 princely had to do the same. Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier provinces and the small kingdoms of the north voted to be in Pakistan, but the Hindu ruler of Kashmir hesitated which created problems there. In India, after partition, Muslims supported founding a secular state because the didn’t want to live in a Hindu one.

Pakistan was initially made up of two parts: East Pakistan and West Pakistan. The countries shared a common faith but they spoke different languages and were over 1,600 kilometers apart. East Pakistan consisted of the eastern half of Bengal and a few districts from Assam. West Pakistan was made up of the Sind, the North-West Frontier Province and the western half of Punjab. Several far-western princely and tribal states elected to join Pakistan as well.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, and Dividing India and Pakistan

The man selected to draw the lines on the map that divided India and Pakistan was Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a lawyer by training and former director general at the British Ministry of Information. Radcliffe had no training in cartography or demographics, and one of the main reason he was selected for the job was that he knew very little about India and was therefore judged to be relatively unbiased.

Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker: “Radcliffe, a London barrister, was flown to Delhi and given forty days to define precisely the strange political geography of an India flanked by an eastern and a western wing called Pakistan. He did not visit the villages, communities, rivers, or forests divided by the lines he drew on paper. Ill-informed about the relation between agricultural hinterlands and industrial centers, he made a mistake of enormous economic consequence when, dividing Bengal on religious lines, he deprived the Muslim majority in the eastern region of its major city, Calcutta, condemning East Pakistan—and, later, Bangladesh—to decades of rural backwardness. [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007]

Radcliffe arrived in India without even knowing what his task was. On his first day in the country he was handed a pile of charts, maps and four-year-old census reports and told he had 36 days to divide India and Pakistan. "Radcliffe had never been east of Gibraltar in his life," his private secretary Christopher Beaumont told TIME, "and he was bit flummoxed by the whole thing. It was a rather impossible assignment, really. To partition the subcontinent in six weeks was absurd."

Radcliffe had no time to travel in India and the four Muslim judges and four Hindu judges that were assigned to help him were useless because they had the vested interests of their people at heart and some of them were probably spies for Indian National Congress, the Muslim League or the British. Radcliffe left Delhi on August 15, the day independence was declared, and was one of the first Englishman to leave after independence. "He was very thankful it was all over," Beaumont told TIME. He was so worried about assassination "a rigorous search of the airplane" was made before he took off.

On August 14, Radcliffe wrote his stepson, "Nobody in India will love me for the award about Punjab and Bengal, and there will be roughly 80 million people with a grievance who will begin looking for me. I don't want them to find me." Radcliffe returned the 2,000 pounds he'd been given for the project and remained close-lipped about his deed until his death. Sunil Khilnani, a historian and author The Idea of India wrote, Radcliffe "was without a doubt the Raj's most sphinxian figure, the guardian of the secret of its final and most decisive deed."

East and West Pakistan

In 1947 at the time of partition Pakistan consisted of two "wings," one to the west of India, and the other to the east. In the east, when India and Pakistan were partitioned, West Bengal became part of India and East Bengal became the eastern wing of Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). The only thing that East Pakistan and West Pakistan really had in common was religion. Although both were Muslims, the people of West and east Pakistan were very different. The West Pakistanis were taller, more fair-skinned, more British and harsher. They were a diverse group of people made up of different ethnic groups that spoke different languages and had different traditions. The Bengalis of East Pakistan were considered more emotional, gentle and poetic and proud of their identity. .

The eastern section of Pakistan was constituted from the eastern portion of Bengal and the former Sylhet district of Assam and was known until 1955 as East Bengal and then as East Pakistan. West Pakistan, with a population of 34 million, consisted mainly of the western Indian former provinces of Baluchistan, Sindh, the Northwest Frontier, and (partially) Punjab (which, like Bengal, was also partitioned). East Pakistan, its 42 million people including nearly 9 million Hindus, encompassed the eastern half of Bengal province as shaped in 1912, plus the Sylhet District of Assam. West Pakistan was more than seven times larger in area but East Pakistan had 55 percent of the population and was more economically important than the west wing.

Pakistan's two provinces were separated from each other by more than 1,600 kilometers of secular but predominantly Hindu India. In language, culture, ethnic background, population density, political experience, and economic potential, East and West Pakistan were very different. Pakistan's early years as a nation were marked by unsuccessful attempts — punctuated by bouts of authoritarian rule — to create a national polity that would somehow bridge these differences. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press; Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

According to the English Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: “It is an irony of history that Pakistan was a state demanded neither by its founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876–1948), nor by the peoples of the territories that came to comprise the new country in 1947. The creation of Pakistan came at the cost of the partition of British India, approximately a million deaths, and the uprooting of some seventeen million people. Its two most populous provinces of Punjab and Bengal—both divided—sustained the largest share of these losses. Not only were regional solidarities violently rent, but Punjab was divested of its rich eastern districts and eastern Bengal of its industrial heart of Calcutta. For the remaining provinces of Pakistan—Baluchistan, the North Western Frontier Province, and Sind—the new territorial dispensation meant the corset-strings of a Punjabi-dominated center constraining their provincial autonomy. The Muslims from provinces in undivided India where they formed minorities might be supposed to have been its greatest beneficiaries. However, of the ninety-five million Muslims of pre-1947 India, almost a third remained in the Hindu-majority state either by choice or force of circumstance. Of those who moved to Pakistan, many have remained unassimilated, dubbed Muhajirs (migrants), within the homeland ostensibly created for them. [Source: English Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Refugees and the Migration of Millions During Partition Migration

Partition was the largest migration of people in recorded history: Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs who found themselves on the "wrong" side of new international boundaries traveled to the other side to be with their own kind. After partition, between 12 and 15 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims migrated from their homelands to live with people of the same religion. The biggest migrations occurred in the Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east—both of which had been divided roughly equally between India and Pakistan.

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker: “In August, 1947, when, after three hundred years in India, the British finally left, the subcontinent was partitioned into two independent nation states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Immediately, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan (the latter now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Many hundreds of thousands never made it. [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

By one reckoning 7.5 million Muslim refugees fled to both parts of Pakistan from India, and 10 million Hindus left Pakistan for India. Maybe one million people were killed as violence erupted along the borders. Gandhi, who opposed the partition and worked hard to overcome Hindu- Muslim animosity, himself became a casualty of the divide: he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist five months after Partition. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The greatest upheaval occurred in the Punjab, where the border was drawn between the region’s two largest cities: Lahore and Amritsar. Millions of Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistani Punjab migrated to India and millions of Muslims migrated to Pakistan. In the east in Bengal Muslims migrated to East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and Hindus migrated into India. Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, Jews are people of other religions largely stayed where they were and were spared the mass dislocation and violence that affected the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.

Partition produced 24 million refugees and left 200,000 to 1 million people dead. Prior to partition Lahore, a city with 1.2 million people contained 500,000 Hindus and 100,000 Sikhs. Only a handful remained after partition. The division of the Punjab, where much of the violence took place, was not announced until two days after independence in part so the British could escape and not be held responsible for the violence that was destined to follow. No preparations had been made so once the violence got going there was little to stop it.

Migrating After Partition

During the mass migration between India and Pakistan people crowded onto the roofs and positioned themselves in the frames windows of trains with all the possessions they could carry because there was no room inside. Others walked in hot, humid and rainy monsoon summer weather. One group of migrants numbered a half million individuals and stretched for 80 kilometers.

Recalling a 400-kilometer journey through Muslim lands from a village in Pakistan to India after the partition, a Sikh villager told Critchfield, "There was danger every step of the way. Our caravan must have been four or five miles long. Five, six hundred bullock carts moving in a single file." The Sikhs fought off an attack by Baluchi tribesmen with a homemade canon that killed twelve of the bandits, and traveled through scorched fields littered with corpses and severed heads. [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]

A Muslim man heading to Pakistan told TIME his train avoided Amritsar, where Hindus and Sikhs armed with long daggers and spears waited to attack westward-heading trains. He said his train carried only seven Indian army soldiers for protection and he refused to drink water at the railway stations because of rumors that "Hindus had poisoned the water to kill us all." He said his train was briefly attacked by horse-mounted Sikhs who backed off after being shouted at by the Indian soldiers.

A Hindu from Lahore told Newsweek. "I finally left on August 13, a day before Pakistan was born. Mobs roamed Lahore’s streets with naked swords. In the countryside you could see smoke rising from houses on fire. I drove to the border, accompanied by a Muslim neighbor in case of trouble. There was a very long convoy of vehicles of all kinds—tractors, bullock carts, jeeps, buses, cars all field with scared people. In no man's land near the border I saw a similarly long column of vehicles and a huge queue of people, fleeing India., walking in from the opposite direction. All of us knew where we coming from, but few of us had any idea where we were going."

People Who Stayed Where They Were

Tens of millions of Muslims remained in India but few Hindus stayed in Pakistan. The author Salmon Rushdie, who was born into a Muslim Bombay family, said his parents decided to stay in India while two of his uncles and their families moved to Pakistan.

Hindu architect Satish Gujral wrote in Newsweek, "I had gone to a refugee camp in Lahore. The inner city had been burning for months, but the killing and looting had not spread to my neighborhood. Then, the whole town was engulfed. Thousands poured into the camp by the hour; yet, despite the tales of horrors and brutalities brought by each wave, few of us believed that the uprooting from our homes would be final. We hoped and expected the "Boundary Commission" to award Lahore to India."

"Overnight, on August 13, posters appeared on every wall, pleading DO NOT BURN. THIS IS NOW PAKISTAN'S PROPERTY," Gujral wrote. "On the morning of August 14, Pakistan became a reality. We were shocked to our foundations. Rejected by the land of our birth that had now fallen under a hostile regime."

The Parsi novelist Bapsi Sidwa said she watched the parade of people pass by after partition from the veranda of her home in Lahore. When a Muslim group passed she said she and her brother shouted, "Long Live Pakistan! Death to Hindustan!" When a group of Hindus or Sikhs marched by they yelled, "Long Live Hindustan! Death to Pakistan!" She said that some people who left stored some of their belonging in their home, but none of them ever returned to fetch them.

Refugees Arrive in Their New Homes

Some of the migrants ended up in homes of people that had migrated in the other direction. Others ended up in the cities—Muslims in Karachi and Hindu's in Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay. It is estimated that the population if Delhi doubled to one million as refugees from the Punjab occupied homes and shops formally owned by Muslims and set up tent communities in the countryside outside the city. In one fell swoop Delhi became a Punjabi city.

When Sikhs from Pakistan arrived in India, Gurkha soldiers told them "No Muslim will attack you here," but they didn't say anything about cholera which, because of a lack of medicine, was unsuccessfully treated with onions and moonshine, resulting in dozens of deaths. When the Sikhs finally arrived in the village they were assigned to houses that had been leveled by anti-Muslim mobs, and the stench from the thousands of corpses of dead Muslims, many stuffed into wells sealed with concrete, was almost unbearable. [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]

The Parsi novelist Bapsi Sidwa said that Muslim refugees from India built up a tent city around Lahore and milled about begging for jobs. Describing a bungalow in her neighborhood abandoned by a Sikh family she wrote in TIME: "Around New Year's I begin to notice signs of occupation: a window boarded up with cardboard, a diffused gleam from another screened with jute sacking. The takeover has been so subtle that it dawns on me only gradually: I have new neighbors. I know they are refugees, nervous of drawing attention to their furtive presence."

Refugees scrapped together money any way they could. Three brothers in Delhi made a living boarding trains without tickets and then "selling" the seats to legitimate travelers for five rupees. One of the men hawked fountain pens in Connought Places and tried to learn aircraft maintenance before was worn out by the daily 20 mile walk the training center.

Changes Brought About By Partition

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker: “Within a few months, the landscape of South Asia had changed irrevocably. In 1941, Karachi, designated the first capital of Pakistan, was 47.6 per cent Hindu. Delhi, the capital of independent India, was one-third Muslim. By the end of the decade, almost all the Hindus of Karachi had fled, while two hundred thousand Muslims had been forced out of Delhi. The changes made in a matter of months remain indelible seventy years later. [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“More than twenty years ago, I visited the novelist Ahmed Ali. Ali was the author of “Twilight in Delhi,” which was published, in 1940, with the support of Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, and is probably still the finest novel written about the Indian capital. Ali had grown up in the mixed world of old Delhi, but by the time I visited him he was living in exile in Karachi. “The civilization of Delhi came into being through the mingling of two different cultures, Hindu and Muslim,” he told me. Now “Delhi is dead. . . . All that made Delhi special has been uprooted and dispersed.” He lamented especially the fact that the refinement of Delhi Urdu had been destroyed: “Now the language has shrunk. So many words are lost.”

“Like Ali, the Bombay-based writer Saadat Hasan Manto saw the creation of Pakistan as both a personal and a communal disaster. The tragedy of Partition, he wrote, was not that there were now two countries instead of one but the realization that “human beings in both countries were slaves, slaves of bigotry . . . slaves of religious passions, slaves of animal instincts and barbarity.” The madness he witnessed and the trauma he experienced in the process of leaving Bombay and emigrating to Lahore marked him for the rest of his life. Yet it also transformed him into the supreme master of the Urdu short story. Before Partition, Manto was an essayist, screenwriter, and journalist of varying artistic attainment. Afterward, during several years of frenzied creativity, he became an author worthy of comparison with Chekhov, Zola, and Maupassant—all of whom he translated and adopted as models. Although his work is still little known outside South Asia, a number of fine new translations—by Aatish Taseer, Matt Reeck, and Aftab Ahmad—promise to bring him a wider audience.

Muslim and Hindu Princely States After Partition

When the British relinquished their claims to paramountcy, the 562 independent princely states were given the option to join either of the two nations. A few princely states readily joined Pakistan, but the rest--except Hyderabad (the largest of the princely states with 132,000 square kilometers and a population of more than 14 million), Jammu and Kashmir (with 3 million inhabitants), and Junagadh (with a population of 545,000)--merged with India. [Source: Library of Congress]

Three princely states created a major problem at partition: Junagadh and Hyderabad were predominately Hindu states ruled by Muslim who wished to associate with Pakistan. Kashmir was a predominately Muslim state with a Hindu ruler who wished to join India. India successfully annexed Hyderabad and Junagadh after "police actions" and promises of privileges to the rulers. Though the Nawab of Junagadh chose to join Pakistan upon independence, riots by Hindus—who made up 80 percent of the population—drove him out of power. Indian troops occupied the state and staged a plebiscite which confirmed Indian rule. [Source: People's Almanac ==]

Hyderabad proved to be more problematic. Ruled by a Muslim Nizan, Hyderabad had 2 million Muslims and 13 million Hindus. The city of Hyderabad was India's forth largest city and a center of India's Muslim cultural heritage. It covered a huge area in the middle of the Indian peninsula. The Nizam refused to join India, and he even sought the assistance of the U.N., but Hindu rebels and an Indian economic blockade undermined his rule, and eventually the Indian Army seized the province, killing thousands of Muslims. ==

The Hindu maharajah of predominantly Muslim Jammu and Kashmir remained uncommitted until armed tribesmen and regular troops from Pakistan infiltrated his domain, inducing him to sign the Instrument of Accession to India on October 27, 1947. Pakistan refused to accept the legality of the accession, and, as a result, war broke out. Kashmir remains a source of friction between the neighbors. [Source: Library of Congress]

Relations Between India and Pakistan After Partition

One Muslim immigrant to Pakistan told TIME, "We believed that the frontiers would remain open, that Pakistan would be a liberal Muslim state, harmonious and free of religious bickering."

Even though Indians and Pakistanis eat many of the same foods and watch the same movies, there is virtually no trade between the two countries and only a handful of visitors. Direct flights between Delhi and the Pakistani capital of Islamabad are prohibited and former residents of India and Pakistan have difficulty obtaining visas to return to their homelands.

India and Pakistan fought the first of three wars over Kashmir in 1947-49. The second occurred in 1965, when India made a thrust towards Lahore, and the third in 1971. There have also been countless border shootouts. An Asian scholar told Time, "I should imagine you would have a very powerful South Asia if they had managed to live together."

Yasmin Khan wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “At the time of Indian and Pakistani independence in 1947, many hoped for an open border and good communications between the two countries. But the reality is that in the aftermath of contested, unhappy partitions, nationalism turns ugly and fossilizes. As it turned out, reciprocal tensions, wars and the acquisition of nuclear weapons have created a protracted cold war between India and Pakistan. It is very difficult for Indians or Pakistanis today to acquire the visas needed to cross their contested borders and to meet each other face to face. So what was presented as a solution to one generation in fact marked the beginning of a new set of hostilities for their children.” [Source: Yasmin Khan, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2007]

Legacy of Partition

According to Time magazine: “There are many who believe that if India had held out a little longer for independence from Britain without partition, it would have had its way and today there would be one country on the subcontinent, not two. But as Nehru confessed much later, "The truth is that we were tired men, and we were getting on in years too. We expected that partition would be temporary, that Pakistan was bound to come back to us. None of us guessed how much the killings and the crisis in Kashmir would embitter relations." But partition came, and what had been Hindu-Moslem hostility was soon converted into Indian-Pakistani hatred. The very next year, the two new countries were at war with each other in the Vale of Kashmir.” [Source: Time, December 6, 1971]

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker: “Ever since 1947, India and Pakistan have nourished a deep-rooted mutual antipathy. They have fought two inconclusive wars over the disputed region of Kashmir—the only Muslim-majority area to remain within India. In 1971, they fought over the secession of East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh. In 1999, after Pakistani troops crossed into an area of Kashmir called Kargil, the two countries came alarmingly close to a nuclear exchange. Despite periodic gestures toward peace negotiations and moments of rapprochement, the Indo-Pak conflict remains the dominant geopolitical reality of the region. In Kashmir, a prolonged insurgency against Indian rule has left thousands dead and still gives rise to intermittent violence. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, where half the female population remains illiterate, defense eats up a fifth of the budget, dwarfing the money available for health, education, infrastructure, and development. [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“It is easy to understand why Pakistan might feel insecure: India’s population, its defense budget, and its economy are seven times as large as Pakistan’s. But the route that Pakistan has taken to defend itself against Indian demographic and military superiority has been disastrous for both countries. For more than thirty years, Pakistan’s Army and its secret service, the I.S.I., have relied on jihadi proxies to carry out their aims. These groups have been creating as much—if not more—trouble for Pakistan as they have for the neighbors the I.S.I. hopes to undermine: Afghanistan and India.

“Today, both India and Pakistan remain crippled by the narratives built around memories of the crimes of Partition, as politicians (particularly in India) and the military (particularly in Pakistan) continue to stoke the hatreds of 1947 for their own ends. Nisid Hajari ends his book by pointing out that the rivalry between India and Pakistan “is getting more, rather than less, dangerous: the two countries’ nuclear arsenals are growing, militant groups are becoming more capable, and rabid media outlets on both sides are shrinking the scope for moderate voices.” Moreover, Pakistan, nuclear-armed and deeply unstable, is not a threat only to India; it is now the world’s problem, the epicenter of many of today’s most alarming security risks. It was out of madrassas in Pakistan that the Taliban emerged. That regime, which was then the most retrograde in modern Islamic history, provided sanctuary to Al Qaeda’s leadership even after 9/11.

“It is difficult to disagree with Hajari’s conclusion: “It is well past time that the heirs to Nehru and Jinnah finally put 1947’s furies to rest.” But the current picture is not encouraging. In Delhi, a hard-line right-wing government rejects dialogue with Islamabad. Both countries find themselves more vulnerable than ever to religious extremism. In a sense, 1947 has yet to come to an end.”

Why Was Partition So Difficult and Disruptive

Yasmin Khan wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “One problem was the disjunction between the colonial power and its former subjects. To put it simply, the two had different priorities and were working to different goals. For the British in 1947, there was terrible impatience to return home. Both soldiers and civilians were tired and frustrated by nationalist protest and the daily grind of governance and riot control. [Source: Yasmin Khan, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2007, Khan is author of "The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan"]

“The daily life of ordinary Indians was far from the mind of policymakers in London in 1947, who were more concerned about the frosty Cold War climate, the health of British financial balance sheets, the safety of British civilians in India, Britain's international reputation in the global press and the risk of British involvement in civil strife in Palestine and Greece. The last thing that the penurious British government needed -- with a home population racked by rationing and austerity measures at the end of World War II -- was an overstretched army staying on in the subcontinent.

“London's priority was to cut British losses, by leaving a united India if possible, a divided India if not, and this was far detached from the intricate community politics of the subcontinent. This meant that safeguards were not put in place and the consequences were ill thought through.

“Another problem was that, as in most parts of the world, the people of South Asia did not live in hermetically sealed bubbles among their own kith and kin. In colonial India, people lived in towns, villages and regions that were a hodgepodge of ethnic and religious groups. So when partition came, it was simply impossible that all the minorities from one state could be fished out and exchanged with the minorities of the other. Somehow nobody had considered this, so that minorities on both sides of the partitioned line were left uncertain about their security and citizenship rights and scared to remain in a state that, they were told by some leaders, was no longer their own.

“To compound the problem, partition in South Asia was imposed at a breakneck speed and completed in just over two months from the moment of decision to the moment of execution. The lack of clarity and reassurance provided to those living along the borderlines proved fatal."

Who’s to Blame for Partition

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker: “After the Second World War, Britain simply no longer had the resources with which to control its greatest imperial asset, and its exit from India was messy, hasty, and clumsily improvised. From the vantage point of the retreating colonizers, however, it was in one way fairly successful. Whereas British rule in India had long been marked by violent revolts and brutal suppressions, the British Army was able to march out of the country with barely a shot fired and only seven casualties. Equally unexpected was the ferocity of the ensuing bloodbath. [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“The question of how India’s deeply intermixed and profoundly syncretic culture unravelled so quickly has spawned a vast literature. The polarization of Hindus and Muslims occurred during just a couple of decades of the twentieth century, but by the middle of the century it was so complete that many on both sides believed that it was impossible for adherents of the two religions to live together peacefully. Recently, a spate of new work has challenged seventy years of nationalist mythmaking. There has also been a widespread attempt to record oral memories of Partition before the dwindling generation that experienced it takes its memories to the grave.

“Many writers persuasively blame the British for the gradual erosion of these shared traditions. As Alex von Tunzelmann observes in her history “Indian Summer,” when “the British started to define ‘communities’ based on religious identity and attach political representation to them, many Indians stopped accepting the diversity of their own thoughts and began to ask themselves in which of the boxes they belonged.” Indeed, the British scholar Yasmin Khan, in her acclaimed history “The Great Partition,” judges that Partition “stands testament to the follies of empire, which ruptures community evolution, distorts historical trajectories and forces violent state formation from societies that would otherwise have taken different—and unknowable—paths.”

“Other assessments, however, emphasize that Partition, far from emerging inevitably out of a policy of divide-and-rule, was largely a contingent development. As late as 1940, it might still have been avoided. Some earlier work, such as that of the British historian Patrick French, in “Liberty or Death,” shows how much came down to a clash of personalities among the politicians of the period, particularly between Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, and Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two most prominent leaders of the Hindu-dominated Congress Party. All three men were Anglicized lawyers who had received at least part of their education in England. Jinnah and Gandhi were both Gujarati. Potentially, they could have been close allies. But by the early nineteen-forties their relationship had grown so poisonous that they could barely be persuaded to sit in the same room.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last September 2020


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