Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Partition of 1947

Warning: lots of history facts follow in this post !!

No single event in the history of India (or Pakistan for that matter) has so affected the country with such lasting consequences as the Partition of 1947.

This blog post no way meant to be a definitive account on the subject - there are plenty of books and documentaries on the subject. It’s just meant to be a bit of an introduction.


At the turn of the 20th Century, the British Raj Empire extended to the following: present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Burma, with the exceptions of Goa (administered by Portugal until annexed by India in 1961) and Pondicherry (administered by the French until 1964).

By the end of the 19th Century, the Independence movements began with a look to break away from the British Empire and form and independent India.

This resulted in the formation of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Muslim League – two organisations that were to feature prominently in Partition.

The Indian National Congress (INC) was fighting for an independent India and the Muslim League fought for the rights of Muslims as part of the independence movement.

Both organisations wanted Britain the leave India and worked towards that goal. The British tried their best to play both organisations against each other.

With the arrival of the First World War, India sent large numbers of troops (up to a million) to fight for Britain. Both organisations supported the sending of Indian troops overseas with the expectation the British would offer political concessions including independence.

That didn’t happen.

Fast forward to 1919 to the Punjab city of Amritsar. A large crowd has gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh to protest recent British anti-protest laws. A group of British and tribal soldiers enter the park and block the exit. They open fire without warning and up to 1,500 people are dead.

If the Independence movement needed some form of recruiting, the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh provided the perfect motivation.

As the 20’s and 30’s progressed and the world moved towards another world war, the call for independence grew louder. By the 30’s, Gandhi had become a leading figure for the INC. He advocated a unified Hindu and Muslim India, with equal rights for all. That didn’t sit well with other members of the INC.

The Muslim League, led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, meanwhile began to make plans for a separate Muslim state.

This was brought about for a number of reasons.

The British saw the country as divided along religious lines: their census’ separated people based on religion and treated them as separate; the British set up separate electorates based on religion.

Then you have the inherent ideological divide between the Muslims and the Hindus –brought about by lingering memories of Mughal rule over India and promoted by the radicals on both sides.

As the world headed to war, the chance of a united India (both Muslim and Hindu), grew slimmer and slimmer.

World War Two

Come the Second World War, India was again asked to contribute troops to the conflict. By this stage, however, relations between the British, the INC and the Muslim League were strained.

The INC and India in general, stung by the British betrayal at the end of the First World War, saw no benefit for India in supplying troops to fight overseas. They then banned support to the British.

The Muslim League, on the other hand, supported Britain's call for troops, in an effort to gain their favour in support of a Muslim nation in post-independence northern India.

In August 1942, a civil disobedience program called “Quit India” began. Protests erupted around the country demanding that Britain leave India.

This was the height of some of the most crucial battles against the Axis Alliance and Britain couldn’t afford an uprising of sorts in India. It had to maintain its supply lines of vital raw materials for the war effort.

The British reacted swiftly and arrested many of the INC leaders. The disobedience program collapse and India continued to supply Britain its war materials.

Post World War Two

At the end of World War Two, Britain was war weary and basically broke. It couldn’t afford to support or defend the Indian empire. Winston Churchill’s government was voted out of office and a pro-independence Labour party was voted in.

It was time to think seriously about independence. The Muslim League's leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, began a public campaign in favour of a separate Muslim state, while Jawaharlal Nehru of the INC called for a unified India.

The British tried to get together the INC and Muslim League to sort out, once and for all, a unified Muslim and Hindu India but their efforts failed.

Countdown to Partition

As independence drew closer, India began to descend towards a sectarian civil war.

Gandhi implored the Indian people to unite in peaceful opposition to British rule, while the Muslim League sponsored a "Direct Action Day" on August 16, 1946. The result was the deaths of more than 4,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Calcutta (Kolkata).

This then touched off the "Week of the Long Knives," an orgy of sectarian violence that resulted in hundreds of deaths on both sides in various cities across the country.

In February of 1947, the British government announced that India would be granted independence by June 1948. The Viceroy for India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, pleaded with the Hindu and Muslim leadership to agree to form a united country, but neither side could agree to that - only Gandhi supported Mountbatten's position.

With the country descending further into chaos, Mountbatten reluctantly agreed to the formation of two separate states, and moved the independence date forward to August 15, 1947.

Drawing the boundaries

With the decision of partition made, the parties then had to face the impossible task of fixing a border between the new states.

The Muslims occupied two main regions in the north on opposite sides of the country, separated by a majority-Hindu section. In addition, throughout most of northern India Muslims and Hindus were mixed together - not to mention populations of Sikhs, Christians and other minority faiths.

In the Punjab, a wealthy and fertile region to the north-east, of the problem was even worse with a nearly-even mixture of Hindus and Muslims.

Neither Muslim nor Hindu wanted to relinquish this valuable land and sectarian hatred ran high.

The actual drawing of the borders can down to a lawyer called Cyril Radcliffe. The task he faced was to draw a border that would leave as many Hindus and Sikhs in India and as many Muslims in Pakistan as possible.

Some say that he had little knowledge of Indian conditions and used of out-of-date maps and census materials.

Whatever material he used, Radcliffe submitted his partition map on August 9th, 1947. The new boundaries were formally announced on August 14, 1947--the day before India and Pakistan became independent.

The border was drawn right down the middle of the Punjab between Lahore and Amritsar and down the middle of Bengal province,


On August 14, 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (comprising East and West Pakistan) was founded. The following day, the Republic of India was established.

The Chaos that Followed – the Largest Mass migration ever

Despite Radcliffe's best efforts, some 14 million people--roughly seven million from each side--fled across the border when they discovered the new boundaries left them in the "wrong" country.

On both sides, people scrambled to get onto the "right" side of the border, or were driven from their homes by their neighbours.

Trains and columns of refugees were set upon by militants from both sides. Villages, where all religions had co-existed for hundreds of years, erupted in sectarian violence.

Estimates of the death toll from the orgy of bloodletting range from 500,000 to 1.5 million.

What about Kashmir ??

At the time of Partition, the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, wanted the state to remain an independent, neutral nation, much like Switzerland and wanted the new Pakistan and India to recognise it as such.

The state actually had a Muslim majority but it was ruled by a Hindu Raja.

In October of 1947, Kashmir decided it would come under Indian rule.

Pakistan was not particularly happy with this and within a few months, invaded the state.

At the end of about seven months of fighting and with a UN-sponsored ceasefire, the Indians had managed to push the Pakistanis out of most of Kashmir – but they now only ruled over 3/5 of the state. Pakistan retained the rest.

The region has been in constant conflict since that time, with incursions by Pakistani military and intelligence-sponsored rebels.

Both countries nearly went war in 1999 over an incursion by LET rebels in the Kargil region.

China has also tried to take its share of Kashmir when it invaded the eastern part of the state in 1961. The Indians were badly beaten (something they haven’t forgotten) and were never able to regain the lost territories – you may have heard of the Saichen Glacier – that’s where this is still occasional fighting.

East and West Pakistan ??

East Pakistan existed until 1971, when it separated from West Pakistan (with a little help from India) to become Bangladesh.

Thus ends the brief lesson on Partition.

No comments:

Post a Comment