Partition of India
gigatos | April 2, 2022
The partition of India was the partition of the British Indian Empire which resulted in the creation of the sovereign states of the Dominion of Pakistan (later divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh) and the Union of India (later the Republic of India) on August 15, 1947. In this context “partition” refers not only to the division of Bengal province of British India into East Pakistan and West Bengal (India), but also to the partition of Punjab province into West Punjab (West Pakistan) and East Punjab (now Punjab), as well as to the respective divisions of other assets, including the British Indian Army, the Indian Civil Service and other administrative services, such as the railroads, and the central treasury.
In the riots that preceded the partition in the Punjab province, there were between 200,000 and 2,000,000 deaths recorded in the interfaith genocide. UNHCR estimates that 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced during the partition: it was the largest mass migration in human history. This marked the relations between India and Pakistan, which remain tense to this day.
The term partition of India does not cover the subsequent separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, nor the earlier separation of Burma (now known as Myanmar) from British Indian administration, nor the separation of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
The coastal area of Ceylon was part of the Madras Presidency of British India from 1795 until 1798, when it became a crown colony separate from the Empire. Burma was gradually annexed by the British from 1826 to 1886 and was governed as a part of the administration of British India until 1937, after which it was administered directly. Burma achieved independence on January 4, 1948, and Ceylon on February 4, 1948. (See History of Sri Lanka and History of Burma).
Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives, and the other countries that now make up South Asia, were not affected by partition. The first two, Bhutan and Nepal, were previously considered princely states, subsequently signed treaties with the British, which designated them as independent states prior to partition, and therefore their borders were not affected by the partition of India. The Maldives, which became a British crown protectorate in 1887, but achieved independence in 1965, was also unaffected by partition.
In 1905, the viceroy, Lord Curzon, was considered by some to be both brilliant and tireless at the same time, and in his first term built an impressive record of archaeological preservation and administrative efficiency, subsequently in his second term, partitioned the largest administrative subdivision in British India, the Bengal Presidency, into a Muslim majority province of East Bengal, Assam and the Hindu majority province of Bengal (present day Indian states of West Bengal, Bihār, Jharkhand and Odisha). That Curzon would propitiate the partition of Bengal was considered by some administratively good, and had been contemplated by various colonial administrations since the time of Lord William Bentinck, but was never acted upon, the intention being to transform nationalist politics as it had never been done before. The Hindu elite of Bengal, including many of those who owned land in East Bengal that had been leased to Muslim peasants, protested fervently. Bengal”s large Hindu middle class (the bhadralok), upset at the prospect of being outnumbered by Biharis and Bengali Oriyas in the new province of Bengal, felt that Curzon”s act was a punishment for their political assertiveness. Widespread protests against Curzon”s decision took the predominant form of the Swadesh (“buy Indian”) campaign led by two-time Congress president Surendranath Banerjee, and involved boycotting British goods. Sporadically, but flagrantly – the protesters also opted for political violence involving attacks on civilians. However, the violence was ineffective, as most of the planned attacks were anticipated by the British or failed. The rallying cry for both types of protest was the slogan Bande Mataram (Bengali: “Salute to Mother”), the title of a song by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, which invokes a mother goddess, which remained variously for Bengal, India, and the Hindu goddess Kali. Unrest spread from Calcutta to the surrounding regions of Bengal as English students from Calcutta returned to their towns and cities. Religious agitations of the slogan and political outrage over partition combined, for example young men in groups such as Jugantar, who bombed public buildings, armed robberies, and assassinating British officers. Since Calcutta was the imperial capital, both the outrage and the slogan soon became nationally known.
The overwhelming Hindu majority protested against the partition of Bengal, which in turn caused fear of reforms favoring the Hindu majority, so the Muslim elite in India met with the new viceroy, Lord Minto in 1906, to demand separate electorates for Muslims. Collectively, they demanded proportional legislative representation, reflecting both their status as former rulers and their record of cooperation with the British. In December 1906 this led to the founding of the All-India Muslim League in Daca. Although by this time Curzon had resigned his position due to a dispute with his military chief Lord Kitchener, which caused him to return to England, the League was in favor of his partition plan. The position of the Muslim elite, which was reflected in the League”s position, had gradually crystallized over the previous three decades, beginning with the 1871 census of British India, which had first estimated the populations in the Muslim-majority regions. For his part, Curzon”s desire to try the Muslims of East Bengal had aroused British anxiety since the 1871 census – since in light of history Muslims had a history of fighting against them in 1857 Mutiny and in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, in which Indian Muslims revolted against the Crown. In the three decades since the census, Muslim leaders across North India have demonstrated intermittent animosity towards the new Hindu social and political groups. The Arya Samaj, for example, not only provided support to the cow protection societies during the riots, but also – distressed by the number of Muslims involved in the 1871 census – organized “reconversion” events in order to welcome Muslims back into the Hindu fold. In UP, Muslims became anxious when in the late 19th century political representation increased, giving more power to Hindus and Hindus were politically mobilized in the Hindi-Urdu controversy and the anti-cow slaughter riots of 1893. In 1905 when Tilak and the Lajpat Rai attempted to ascend to important positions of power in the Congress, and the Congress itself rallied around the symbolism of Kali, Muslim fears increased. Although it was not so for many Muslims, for example, the battle cry, “Bande Mataram,” first appeared in the novel Anand Math in which Hindus had fought against their Muslim oppressors. Finally, the Muslim elite, including Dhaka Nawab, and Khwaja Salimullah, hosts of the first League meeting at his mansion in Shahba, were aware that a new province with a Muslim majority would directly benefit Muslims aspiring to political power.
World War I would prove to be a turning point in the imperial relationship between Britain and India. 1.4 million Indian and British soldiers from the British Indian Army would take part in the war and their participation would have widespread cultural aftermath: press and radio reports of Indian soldiers fighting and dying alongside British soldiers, as well as soldiers from dominions such as Canada and Australia, traveling to the far corners of the world. An international profile for India was being generated and would continue to rise during the 1920s. It was to lead India under its own name by, among other things, becoming a founding member of the League of Nations in 1920 and participating, under the name “Les Indes Anglaises” (British India), in the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. Back in India, especially among the leaders of the Indian National Congress, it would give rise to calls for greater Indian self-government.
The 1916 Lucknow Congress Session was also the time of an unanticipated mutual effort by the Congress and the Muslim League, provided by the partnership during the German-Turkish war. Since the Turkish Sultan, Khalifa, had sporadically also claimed guardianship of the Islamic holy sites of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, as the British and their allies were now in conflict with Turkey, doubts began to grow among some Indian Muslims about the “religious neutrality” of the British, doubts that had already arisen as a result of the reunification of Bengal in 1911, a decision that was seen as ill-disposed to Muslims. In the Lucknow Pact, the League joined the Congress under the proposal of greater self-reliance in governing, which became a campaign in favor of Tilak and his followers; in return, the Congress accepted separate electorates for Muslims in provincial legislatures as well as in the Imperial Legislative Council. By 1916, the Muslim League had between 500 and 800 members, however, they had not reached their full strength among India”s Muslims of recent years; in the League itself, the pact did not have unanimous support, largely after it had been negotiated by a group of Muslim “party youth” from the United Provinces (UP), most notably, two brothers, Mohammad and Shaukat Ali, who had taken up the Pan-Islamic cause; However, they had support from a young Bombay lawyer, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who later rose to roles of power in both the League and the Indian independence movement. In later years, all the ramifications of the pact unfolded, it was seen as benefiting the Muslim minority elites of provinces like UP and Bihar, rather than the Muslim majorities of Punjab and Bengal, however, at the time, the “Lucknow Pact” was an important milestone in the nationalist agitation and was seen that way by the British.
Montague and Chelmsford presented their report in July 1918 after a long research trip through India the previous winter. After multiple discussions by the Government and Parliament in Britain, and another tour by the Franchise and Functions Committee for the purpose of identifying who among the Indian population could vote in future elections, the Government of India Act of 1919 (also known as the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms) was passed in December 1919. The new act expanded both provincial and imperial legislative councils and repealed the Government of India recourse to the “official majority” in unfavorable votes. Although the departments of defense, foreign affairs, criminal law, communications, and revenue generated from taxes were retained by the Viceroy and the central government in New Delhi. Other departments such as public health, education, land revenue, and local autonomy were transferred to the provinces. From the act onwards the provinces would now be administered under a new dyarchical system, whereby some areas such as education, agriculture, infrastructure development, and local self-government became the exclusive domain of Indian ministers and legislators, and ultimately the electors of India, while others, such as irrigation, land revenue, police, prisons, and control of the media remained within the purview of the British governor and his executive council. The new act also made it easier for Indians to be admitted to the civil service and the army officer corps.
In 1937, at the open session of the Hindu Mahasabha held in Ahmedabad, Savarkar in his presidential address stated: “India cannot be assumed today as a unitary and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two main nations – the Hindu and the Muslim”. He first pronounced the two-nation theory in 1923 in his essay Hindutva and the next in 1937 in his presidential address to the Mahasabha. In 1923 he wrote: “We Hindus are united not only by the love we have for a common motherland and by the blood that runs in our veins … but also by the common bond of homage we pay to our great civilization – our Hindu culture … we are one because we are one nation, one race and owners of a common Sanskriti”.
One of the greatest ironies of South Asian history is that the two pivotal figures in the ideology of religious nationalism in the subcontinent, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, were military non-believers. Savarkar arguably spread the two-nation theory some years before the idea of Pakistan was mooted and then put into action by Jinnah and the Muslim League. In his seminal text ”Hindutva”, published in 1923, Savarkar gave a territorial and racial twist to the word Hindu.
“The Dharma of a Hindu is completely linked with the land of the Hindus, this land of his is not just a Pitribhu, but a Punyabhu, meaning not just a homeland but a sacred land”, famous phrase. The essentials of Hindutva, in Savarkar”s mind, had nothing to do with religion, but were based on a common nation (rashtra), a common race (jati) and a common civilization (sanskriti). This was a chapter in Savarkar”s personal life, in which he was fiercely atheistic. He publicly declared that there was nothing sacred about cows and advised Hindus to abandon vegetarianism. Jinnah”s views on religion had similarities with Savarkar”s. In 1940, Jinnah mentioned in encouraging 100,000 followers of the Muslim League in Lahore: “Muslims are not a minority but a nation. The problem in India is not between communities, but of an international character, and should be treated as such.” Savarkar disagreed, and a few years later proclaimed: “I have nothing against Mr. Jinnah”s two-nation theory. We Hindus are one nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations.”
However, at an earlier stage, Jinnah – was a chain-smoking, smartly dressed, London-educated lawyer with impeccable liberal credentials. Gopal Krishna Gokhale had hailed Jinnah as the “best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. Historian Ayesha Jalal wrote that in the wake of the Khilafat movement in 1920, Jinnah “ridiculed and labeled as false and dangerous the religious frenzy, which had confused Indian politicians, and fanatics, both Hindus and Muslims, and this was hurting the national cause. But that did not stop him from using religion to defend Muslim separatism. Jinnah kept the ulema at arm”s length throughout his life, but he was perfectly willing to use them to advance the cause of an independent homeland for South Asian Muslims. Exactly like Savarkar, who for all his anti-Muslim rhetoric and passion for a united India, not only established coalitions in Sindh and Bengal with the Muslim League, but also fought for Pakistan, and yet was proud of these alliances.
The contradiction between Jinnah”s personal beliefs and the political use of religion became evident in his later years. Thus, in 1946, Jinnah had no qualms about calling on Muslims to launch into “direct action,” which resulted in widespread rioting and bloodshed in the name of religion. Although a year later, in his famous speech in the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 in which he spoke of a secular and inclusive Pakistan, Jinnah tried to put the religious genie in the bottle. However, the damage had already been done.
Savarkar had no such doubts. Although he was receptive to the idea that Muslims should have their own nation, his hostility toward them remained unabated. Even at the age of 82, he wrote during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, “Pakistan”s barbaric acts like abduction and rape of Indian women would not stop unless Pakistan got what it had given.”
Although Choudhry Rahmat Ali had produced a pamphlet in 1933, Now or Never, in which the term “Pakistan”, “the land of the pure”, comprising the Punjab, the North West Frontier Province (Afghanistan), Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan, was coined for the first time, this pamphlet did not attract political attention. A little later, a Muslim delegation to the Parliamentary Commission on Constitutional Reforms in India, gave short shrift to the idea of Pakistan, calling it “chimerical and impracticable”.
Two years later, in 1935 the Government of India Act introduced provincial autonomy, increasing the number of voters in India to 35 million. More significantly, law and order issues were transferred for the first time from British authority to Indian-led provincial governments. This increased Muslim anxiety about eventual Hindu domination. In the 1937 provincial electoral elections, the Muslim League performed best in the Muslim minority provinces as well as the united provinces, where it won 29 of the 64 seats reserved for Muslims. However, in the Muslim-majority regions of Punjab and Bengal of However, regional parties outperformed the league. In Punjab, Sikandar Hayat Khan”s union party won the elections and formed a government with the support of the National Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal, which lasted five years. In Bengal, the League had shared power in a coalition with A. K. Fazlul Huq, the leader of the Krishak Praja party.
On the other hand the congress, won with 716 in all, the 1585 provincial assembly seats, were able to form governments in 7 of the 11 provinces of British India. In its manifesto the Congress argued that religious issues were of lesser importance to the masses than economic and social issues, however, the election revealed that the Congress had made available only 58 out of a total of 482 Muslim seats, and of these only 26 won. In UP, where the Congress won, it offered to share power with the League, on condition that the League ceased to represent only Muslim people, which the League refused. This was a mistake, as it alienated the Congress away from the Muslim masses. In addition the new administration in the united provinces enacted cow protection and the practice of Hindi. The Muslim elite in UP were crazed when they saw the chaotic scenes of the new Congress Raj, where large numbers of people from the rural population sometimes showed up at government buildings, where they were indistinguishable from administrators and security personnel.
The Muslim League conducted its own investigation into the conditions of Muslims in the Congress-ruled provinces. What they found in these investigations increased the fear among the Muslim masses of future Hindu domination. The view that Muslims were going to be treated unfairly in a Congress-dominated independent India was at that time part of the public discourse of Muslims. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, declared war in favor of India without consulting Indian leaders, leading the provincial Congress ministers to surrender in protest. The Muslim League operating under a patron state, in contrast, organized celebrations for “Deliberation Day” (of domination by the Congress) and was supported by Britain even though it was at war. When Linlithgow, met with the nationalist leaders, he gave the same status to Jinnah that he had given to Gandhi, and a month later described the Congress as a “Hindu organization”.
In March 1940, at the League”s annual three-day session in Lahore, Jinnah gave a two-hour speech in English, in which he presented arguments for the two-nation theory, setting forth the words of historians Singh and Talbot, that “Muslims and Hindus…were irreconcilably opposed religious communities, and therefore no arrangement which could satisfy the aspirations of both sides could be imposed.” On the last day of session, the League passed what became known as the Lahore resolution, also known as the “Pakistan Resolution” demanding that the “areas in which Muslims were in majority in number, as well as in the Northeast and East Indian areas, should be grouped together to constitute independent states whose constituent units would be autonomous and sovereign.” Despite being founded more than three decades earlier, the League would seek to rally the support of South Asian Muslims only during World War II.
In March 1942, with the rapid Japanese mobilization in the Malayan Peninsula following the fall of Singapore and with American support for Indian independence, Winston Churchill, Britain”s wartime Prime Minister, sent Sir Stafford Cripps, the leader of the UK House of Commons, with an offer of conditional domination of India in exchange for Congressional support for the war. Not wishing to lose the support the allies had already secured from the Muslim League, the Punjab Unionists, and the Princes, Cripps offered to include a clause stating that no part of the British Indian Empire would be forced to join the post-war dominion. As a result of the proviso, the proposals were rejected by the Congress, which since its founding as a group of educated lawyers in 1885, saw itself as representative of all Indian faiths. After the arrival of Gandhi in 1920, the preeminent strategy of Indian nationalism, the Congress had transformed itself into a mass nationalist movement of millions of adherents. In August 1942, the Indian Congress launched the Quit India resolution calling for drastic constitutional changes, which the British saw as the most serious threat to their rule since the Indian Rebellion of 1857. With their resources and attention already being spread thinly by a world war, the nervous British immediately imprisoned the Congress leaders and kept them in jail until August 1945, while the Muslim League was now free for the next three years to spread its message. Consequently, the Muslim League”s record soared during the war with Jinnah admitting, “The war that no one welcomed turned out to be a blessing in disguise.” Although there were other leading national Muslim politicians, such as Congress leader Ab”ul Kalam Azad, influential regional Muslim politicians, such as AK Fazlul Huq of the left-wing Praja Krishak Party in Bengal, Sikander Hyat Khan lessor of the Punjab Union Party, and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of the pro-Congress Khudai Khidmatgar (popularly, “red shirts”) on the western border of the province, the British began to see the League as the leading representative of Muslim India.
In January 1946, a series of mutinies broke out in the armed forces, beginning with that of RAF servicemen frustrated with their slow repatriation to Britain. The mutinies came to a head with the Royal Indian Navy mutiny in Bombay in February 1946, followed by others in Calcutta, Madras, and Karachi. Although the mutinies were quickly suppressed, they had the effect of spurring the new Labour government in Britain into action, and leading to the cabinet mission to India led by the Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick Lawrence, and Sir Stafford Cripps, who had paid a visit four years earlier. Also in early 1946, new elections were called in India. Earlier, at the end of the war in 1945, the colonial government had announced the public trial of the three senior officers of the defeated Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose, who was charged with treason. As the trials began, Congress leaders, though ambivalent toward the INA, chose to defend the accused officers. The subsequent convictions of the officers, the public outcry against the convictions, and the eventual remission of the sentences, created positive propaganda for the Congress, which only helped in the party”s subsequent electoral victories in eight of the eleven provinces. Negotiations between the Congress and the Muslim League, however, were hampered by the partition issue.
Jinnah proclaimed August 16, 1946, Direct Action Day, with a goal of peacefully highlighting the demand for a Muslim homeland in British India. However, in the morning 16 bands of armed Muslims gathered at the Ochterlony monument in Calcutta to listen to Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Chief Minister of the League of Bengal, who in the words of Historian Yasmin Khan, “if he did not explicitly incite violence, he certainly gave the crowd the impression that they could act with impunity, that neither the police nor the militia would be called, that the ministry would remain blind to any action that was unleashed in the City”. That same afternoon, in Calcutta, Hindus were attacked by Muslims returning in celebration, carrying leaflets distributed earlier showing a clear connection between the violence and the demand for Pakistan, and implicating the Direct Action Day celebration directly with the outbreak of the spiraling violence that would later be called “The Great Calcutta Massacre of August 1946”. The next day, Hindus counter-attacked and the violence continued for three days in which approximately 4,000 people were killed (according to official figures), Hindus and Muslims in equal numbers. Although India had had previous outbreaks of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims, the Calcutta killings were the first to show characteristics of what is modernly known as “ethnic cleansing”. The violence was not limited to the public sphere, it entered homes, destroying them, and women and children were attacked. Although both the Government of India and the Congress were shaken by the course of events, in September, a Congress-led caretaker government was installed, with Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister of a united India.
Communal violence spread to Bihar (where Muslims were attacked by Hindus), to Noakhali in Bengal (where Hindus were attacked by Muslims), to Garhmukteshwar in the United Provinces (where Muslims were attacked by Hindus), and then to Rawalpindi in March 1947, where Hindus were attacked or expelled by Muslims.
Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the first Congress leaders to accept the partition of India as a solution to the uprising of the Muslim separatist movement led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He had been outraged by Jinnah”s direct action campaign, which had provoked communal violence throughout India, and by the viceroy”s vetoes of his department”s plans to stop the violence on constitutional grounds. Patel was severely criticized in the viceroy”s induction of League ministers into the government, and the regime”s grouping scheme by the British without Congress approval was revalidated. Although outraged at the League”s boycott in the assembly and the lack of acceptance of the May 16 plan, despite having come to power, he was also aware that Jinnah enjoyed popular support among the Muslims, and that open conflict between him and the nationalists could degenerate into a civil war between Hindus and Muslims with disastrous consequences. Patel was aware that the continuation of a fragmented and weak central government would lead to the further fragmentation of India by encouraging more than 600 princely states towards independence.
Between the months of December 1946 and January 1947, Patel worked with official V. P. Menon on the latter”s suggestion for a separate dominion of Pakistan created from the Muslim-majority provinces. In January and March 1947, communal violence in Bengal and Punjab further convinced Patel of the soundness of partition. Patel, a fierce critic of Jinnah”s demand that the Hindu-majority areas of Punjab and Bengal should be included in the Muslim state, obtained the partition of those provinces, thus blocking any possibility of their inclusion in Pakistan. Patel”s perseverance in the partition of Punjab and Bengal had won him many followers and admirers among the Indian public, which had grown tired of the League”s tactics, but he was criticized by Gandhi, Nehru, secular Muslims and socialists for his perceived eagerness. When Lord Louis Mountbatten formally proposed the plan on June 3, 1947, Patel gave his approval and pressed Nehru and other Congress leaders to accept the proposal. Knowing Gandhi”s deep anguish over the partition proposals, Patel engaged in a frank discussion in private meetings about the perceived practical unfeasibility of any Congress-League coalition, the escalating violence and the threat of civil war. At the All India Congress Committee meeting called to vote on the proposal, Patel said:
I fully understand the fears of our brethren in Muslim majority areas. No one likes the division of India and my heart is grieved. But the choice is between one division and many divisions. We must face the facts. We cannot give way to emotionality and sentimentality. The Working Committee has ceased to act out of fear. But I fear one thing, that all our effort and hard work over the years could go to waste or prove fruitless. My nine months in office have completely disillusioned me as to the supposed merits of the Cabinet”s mission. With a few honorable exceptions, Muslim officials from top to bottom to chaprasis (peons or servants) are working for the League. The collective veto given to the League in the mission plan would have blocked India”s progress at all stages. Like it or not, in fact, Pakistan already exists in Punjab and Bengal. Under the circumstances I would prefer a legal Pakistan, which can make the League more accountable. Freedom is yet to come. We have 75 to 80 percent of India, which we can strengthen with our own genius. The League can develop in the rest of the country.
After Gandhi”s denial, followed by the Congress”s approval of the plan, Patel represented India in the Partition Council, where he oversaw the division of public assets, and selected the Indian Council of Ministers with Nehru. However, neither he nor any other Indian leader had foreseen the intense violence and population transfer that would take place with partition.
In late 1946, Britain”s Labour government, with its public funds depleted by the recently reached conclusion of World War II, decided to end British rule of India in early 1947 and announced its intention to transfer power no later than June 1948. However, with the British army unprepared for the potential for increased violence, the new viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, brought forward the date for the transfer of power, allowing less than six months for the creation of a mutually agreed plan for independence. In June 1947, nationalist leaders, including Nehru and Patel on behalf of the Congress, Liyaqat Ali and Suhrawardhy representing the Muslim League, and Master Tara Singh as representative of the Sikhs. Tara Singh joined as the fifth member representing Akalis, later a partition of the country along religious lines was agreed upon, in contrasting opposition to Gandhian ideas. Predominantly Hindu and Sikh areas were assigned to the new India and predominantly Muslim areas to the new nation of Pakistan; the plan included a partition of the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal. The communal violence that accompanied the announcement of the Radcliffe Line, or partition line, was even more horrific.
Historians Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh write about the violence that accompanied the partition of India:
There are numerous testimonies of the dismemberment and mutilation of victims. The catalog of horrors includes the disembowelment of pregnant women, the slamming of babies” heads against brick walls, the amputation of limbs, the genitals of victims, and the display of heads and corpses. Although previous communal riots had been deadly, the scale and level of brutality was unprecedented. Some scholars question the use of the term “genocide” with respect to the partition killings, yet much of the violence that was manifested was genocidal in tendencies. For it was caused for the purpose of cleansing an existing generation, as well as preventing its future reproduction.
On August 14, 1947, the new Dominion of Pakistan came into effect, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah being sworn in as the first governor general in Karachi. The next day, August 15, 1947, India, now as a smaller union of India, became an independent country with official ceremonies in New Delhi, and with Jawaharlal Nehru assuming the office of prime minister, and the viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, remaining in as first governor-general; Gandhi, however, remained in Bengal preferring to work among the new refugees from the partitioned subcontinent.
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The actual division of British India between the two new dominions was carried out according to what is known as the June 3 Plan or Mountbatten Plan. It was announced at a press conference by Mountbatten on June 3, 1947, when the date of independence, August 15, 1947, was also announced. The main points of the plan were:
The Indian political leaders accepted the plan of June 2. They would not deal with the question of princely states, but on June 3 Mountbatten advised them to remain independent and urged them to join one of the two new dominions.
Muslim League that a separate state be granted. The Congress position on unity was also taken into account in making Pakistan as small as possible. Mountbatten”s formula was to divide India and at the same time retain as much unity as possible.
On June 3, 1947, the Congress Labor Committee passed a resolution accepting the partition of India. There was communal tension, but no communal riots to speak of in Punjab. Gandhi proclaimed it as ”vrat maun” (day of silence). Apparently, he was isolated by Nehru and Patel and was unhappy. Mountbatten visited him and said that he hoped Gandhi would not oppose partition according to the Mountbatten Plan. Mountbatten also noted that he was surprised that Gandhi observed a day of silence on such a crucial occasion. Gandhi wrote his rejoinder on a piece of paper, “Have I ever opposed you?”, Mountbatten retains that document as historical evidence and it is still among his papers.
Within British India, the boundary between India and Pakistan (the Radcliffe Line) was determined by a report commissioned by the British government and prepared under the direction of a London lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Pakistan was born with two non-contiguous enclaves, East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, separated geographically by India. India was formed from the Hindu-majority regions of British India, and Pakistan from the Muslim-majority areas.
On July 18, 1947, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act which ended the partition regime and abandoned British sovereignty over the princely states, of which there were several hundred, leaving them free to choose whether they wished to belong to one of the new dominions. The Government of India Act of 1935 was adapted to provide a legal framework for the new dominions.
After its creation as a new country in August 1947, Pakistan applied for membership in the United Nations and was accepted by the General Assembly on September 30, 1947. The Dominion of India continued to have its existing seat as India had been a founding member of the United Nations since 1945.
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Punjab – the region of the five rivers east of the Indian River: Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej – consists of interfluvial doabs, or tracts of land lying between two confluent rivers. These are the Sind-Sagar doab (between the Indus and the Jhelum), the Jech doab (Jhelum
Formal hearings began before the Boundary Commission, governments were created for the West and East Punjab regions. Their territories were provisionally divided by “notional division” based on simple majorities in each district. In both Punjab and Bengal, the Boundary Commission consisted of two Muslim and two non-Muslim judges with Sir Cyril Radcliffe as joint chairman.
The mission of the Punjab commission was worded as follows: “To delimit the boundaries of the two parts of Punjab, it shall be done on the basis of determining the contiguous Muslim and non-Muslim majority areas. However, in doing so, other factors shall be taken into account.”
Each side (the Muslims and the Congresses)
Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly formed states in the months immediately following partition. “The population of India before partition in 1947 was approximately 390 million people. After partition, there were 330 million people in India, 30 million in West Pakistan, and 30 million people in East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh).” Once the lines were drawn, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was going to be relatively safer because of the religious majority. The 1951 census in Pakistan identified the number of displaced persons in Pakistan at 7,226,600, presumably all of whom were Muslims who had entered Pakistan from India. Similarly, the 1951 India census enumerated 7 295 870 displaced persons, apparently all Hindus and Sikhs who had moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. The figures add up to 14.5 million. Since the two censuses were conducted about 3.6 years after partition, the enumeration includes net population increase after the mass migration.
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The Indian state of East Punjab was created in 1947, when the partition of India divided the former British province of Punjab between India and Pakistan. The Muslim-majority western part of the province became the Punjab province of Pakistan; the Sikh and Hindu-majority eastern part became the eastern Indian state of Punjab. Many Hindus and Sikhs lived in the west, and many Muslims lived in the east, and the fears of all these minorities were so great that the partition caused many displaced persons and much inter-communal violence.
Lahore and Amritsar were at the center of the problem; the Boundary Commission was not sure where to place them to be part of India or Pakistan. The Commission decided to give Lahore to Pakistan, while Amritsar became part of India. Some areas in Punjab, including Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, and Gujrat, had a large Sikh and Hindu population, and many of the residents were attacked or killed. On the other hand, in eastern Punjab, cities such as Amritsar, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur, and Jalandhar had a majority Muslim population, thousands of whom died or emigrated.
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The province of Bengal was divided into two separate entities, West Bengal belonging to India and East Bengal belonging to Pakistan. East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan in 1955, and later became the independent nation of Bangladesh after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.
While the Muslim-majority districts of Murshidabad and Malda were awarded to India, causing much of the population to flee to East Bengal. In India, the Hindu and Buddhist-majority Khulna district, with its sparsely populated Chittagong Hill Tracts, was given to Pakistan. Thousands of Hindus, located in the districts of Bengal allotted to Pakistan, were attacked and this religious persecution forced hundreds of thousands of them to seek refuge in India.
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Most of Sindh”s middle class at the time of partition was Hindu. At the time of partition there were 1 400 000 Hindu Sindhis, although most were concentrated in cities like Hyderabad, Karachi, Shikarpur and Sukkur. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus residing in Sindh were forced, through communal riots, to abandon their homes and businesses, to wander the barren lands in search of a new home. Most of the anti-Hindu violence in Sindh was precipitated by the influx of Muslim refugees from India. Sindhi Hindus faced low intensity riots unlike the Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab who faced genocide in western Punjab.
On December 6, 1947, communal violence erupted in Ajmer, India, precipitated by an argument between Sindhi Hindu refugees and local Muslims in the Dargah Bazar. Violence in Ajmer erupted again in mid-December with stabbings, looting and arson causing mostly Muslim casualties. Many Muslims fled across the Thar desert to Sind in Pakistan. This triggered more anti-Hindu riots in Hyderabad, Sindh. On January 6 an anti-Hindu riot broke out in Karachi, with an estimated 1100 casualties. 776 000 Hindu Sindis fled to India.
While Punjab and Bengal were given half of their states, the Sindhi community had to face the permanent scar of separation from their entire homeland. This suffering, deprivation, alienation, distress, painful situation of Sindhis who were deprived of their historical, geographical and sociological cultural identity became the main theme of Sindhi poetry.
Despite migration, a significant Sindhi Hindu population still resides in Pakistan”s Sindh province, where they number about 2.28 million according to Pakistan”s 1998 census; Sindhi Hindus in India stood at 2.57 million according to India”s 2001 census. Some bordering districts in Sindh were majority Hindu like Tharparkar district, Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Badin, but their population is declining and they are considered a declining minority. In fact, only Umerkot still has a majority of Hindus in the district.
However, thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees from the Punjab spread into the city. This created an atmosphere of upheaval as pogroms against Muslims shook the historical stronghold of Indo-Islamic culture and politics. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru estimated 1000 casualties in the city. However, other sources claimed that the numbers had been 20 times higher. Gyanendra Pandey”s most recent account of the violence in Delhi puts the number of Muslim victims in Delhi at between 20,000-25,000.
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Alwar and Bharatpur
Alwar and Bharatpur were two princely states of Rajputana (present-day Rajasthan), which were a scene of bloody confrontation between the dominant community, the Hindu Jats holding land and the Meos Muslim farming community, from May 1947 onwards. In the months preceding the partition of India in August 1947, communal riots broke out between the Meos Muslims and the Hindus.
As a result of unprecedented violent attacks on them in 1947, 100,000 Meo Muslims in Alwar and Bharatpur were forced to flee their homes and an estimated 30,000 Meos were massacred. As a result of this outbreak of violence in these two princely states of Rajputana, tens of thousands of Meo Muslims fled across the new international border into Pakistan.
Refugees were housed in various historical and military sites, such as the Purana Qila, the Red Fort, and the military barracks at Kingsway Camp (around present-day Delhi University). The latter became the site of one of the largest refugee camps in northern India, at one point housing over 35,000 refugees, in addition to the Kurukshetra camp near Panipat. The camps were later converted into permanent housing through extensive construction projects carried out by the Government of India from 1948 onwards. A considerable number of housing colonies in Delhi came up around this period such as Lajpat Nagar, Rajinder Nagar, Nizamuddin East, Punyabi Bagh, Rehgar Pura, Jangpura and Kingsway Camp. They sought to provide a number of schemes such as the provision of education, employment opportunities, and easy loans to start businesses, with the aim of helping refugees all over India.
Many Sikhs and Hindus fled West Punjab and settled in East Punjab (this also included Haryana and Himachal Pradesh) and Delhi. Hindus fleeing East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) settled throughout India and northeast India, many also ending up in neighboring Indian states such as West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura. Some migrants were sent to the Andaman Islands where today Bengalis form the largest linguistic group.
Hindu Sindis settled mainly in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. However, some settled further afield in Madhya Pradesh. A new township was established for Sindhi Hindu refugees in Maharashtra. The Governor General of India, Sir Rajagopalachari laid the foundation of this township and called it Ulhasnagar (so called, city of joy). Many Sindhi refugees overcame poverty, although the loss of a homeland had a profound and lasting effect on their Sindhi culture.
In late 2004, the Sindhi diaspora fervently opposed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India, asking the Indian government to delete the word “Sindh” from the Indian National Anthem (written by Rabindranath Tagore before partition) on the grounds that it violated Pakistan”s sovereignty.
Data on the number of Muslim refugees in West Punjab from the districts of East Punjab and Neighboring Regions.
Data on the number of Muslim refugees from West Punjab of the princely states in East Punjab and Rajputana
A study of the inflows and outflows of the total population of the districts of Punjab, using data provided by the 1931 and 1951 Census has resulted in an estimate of 1.26 million missing Muslims who left western India but did not reach Pakistan. The corresponding number of Hindu and Sikh disappearances along the western border is estimated at approximately 0.84 million. This puts the total number of people missing due to partition-related migration along the Punjab border close to 2.2 million.
Both sides promised each other that they would try to return the women abducted during the riots. The government of India claimed that 33,000 Hindu and Sikh women were abducted, and the government of Pakistan claimed that 50,000 Muslim women were abducted during the riots. In 1949, there were government claims that 12,000 women had been recovered in India and 6,000 in Pakistan. By 1954 there were 20,728 Muslim women recovered and 9032 Hindu and Sikh women recovered from Pakistan. Most Hindu and Sikh women refused to return to India for fear that they would never be accepted by their family, a fear also reflected by Muslim women.
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Even after the 1951 census many Muslim families from India continued to migrate to Pakistan throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s.
Research has found that there are three predominant phases of Muslim migration from India to West Pakistan. The first stage lasted from August to November 1947. In this stage the migration of Musim immigrants originated from East Punjab, Delhi, the four adjacent districts of U.P. and the princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur which are now part of the present state of Rajasthan. The violence that affected these areas during partition precipitated an exodus of Muslims from these areas to Pakistan.
The second stage of migration was from (December 1947- December 1971) in what is U.P., Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The third stage, which lasted from 1973 and 1990 was when migration levels of Muslims from India to Pakistan fell to their lowest level since 1947.
In 1959, the International Labor Organization (ILO) published a report indicating that between the period 1951 to 1956, a number of 650,000 Muslims from India moved to West Pakistan. However, Visaria (1969) raised doubts about the authenticity of the claims about the migration of Muslims from India to Pakistan, since the 1961 census, Pakistan did not corroborate these figures. However, in the 1961 census Pakistan did incorporate a statement suggesting that there had been a migration of 800,000 people from India to Pakistan over the previous decade. Of those who had gone to Pakistan, most never returned. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru conveyed his distress at the continued migration of Muslims from India to West Pakistan.
There has been… since 1950, movement of some Muslims from India to West Pakistan through Jodhpur-Sind via Khokhropar. Normally, the traffic between India and West Pakistan was controlled by the permit system. But these Muslims going through Khokhropar left without permits to West Pakistan. From January 1952 to the end of September, 53 209 Muslim emigrants went through Khokhropa…. Most of these probably came from the united provinces. From the beginning of October 1952, up to the 14th, 6808 fled through this route. After Pakistan became much stricter in allowing entry with the introduction of the passport system. From the 15th of October until the end of October, 1247 people left by this route. And as of November 1, 1,203 passed through Khokhropar.
Muslim migration from India to West Pakistan continued, despite the cessation of the permit system between the two countries and the introduction of the passport system between the two countries. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once again expressed his concern over the continued migration of Muslims from India to West Pakistan in a communiqué to one of his chief ministers (on December 1, 1953):
A good number of Muslims have daily crossed into Pakistan from India, through Rajasthan and Sindh. Why are these Muslims crossing into Pakistan at the rate of three to four thousand people a month? This is worthy of investigation, because it is not to our credit that this remains so. Most of them come from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan or Delhi. It is obvious that they would not go there unless there is some fear or pressure on them. Some may go in the hope of finding employment there. But most of them seem to feel that there is no future for them in India. I have already called attention to the difficulties in Government service. Another reason, I think, is the fear of the property evacuation laws . I have always felt that these laws in both India and Pakistan, are unjust for the most part. By trying to punish a few guilty people, we punish or hurt a large number of perfectly innocent people … the pressure of the Property Evacuation Laws applies to almost all Muslims in certain areas of India. They cannot easily dispose of their property or carry on trade or commerce for fear that the long arm of this law may clamp its claws on them. It is this continuous fear that comes in the form of normal functioning and normal business, but it exerts a strong pressure on a large number of Muslims in India, especially in the north and west.
In 1952, the passport system was introduced for travel purposes between the two countries. This made it possible for Muslims from India to move legally to Pakistan. Pakistan still required educated and skilled workers to join its economy over time, due to the relatively low levels of education in the regions that became part of Pakistan. As late as December 1971, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi was authorized to issue entry documents to educationally qualified Indians to migrate to Pakistan.
The legal route was taken by unemployed but educated Indian Muslims in search of a better fortune, however, India”s poorest Muslims continued to go illegally across the Rajasthan-Sindan border until the 1965 India-Pakistan war closed that route. After the conclusion of the war in 1965, most Muslims who wanted to go to Pakistan had to go there via the India-East Pakistan border. Once arriving in Dhaka, most of them headed for their final destination in Karachi. However, not all made it to West Pakistan from East Pakistan.
The 1951 census in Pakistan recorded 671,000 refugees in East Pakistan, mostly from West Bengal, the rest from Bihar. The rest came from Bihar. In 1961 the numbers reached 850,000. In the wake of the Ranchi and Jamshedpur riots, Biharis continued to migrate to East Pakistan well into the 1960s and the numbers rose to one million. The crudest estimates suggested that about 1.5 million Muslims migrated from West Bengal and Bihar to East Bengal in the two decades after partition.
On the border between India and West Pakistan, in the aftermath of the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war, 3500 Muslim families migrated from the Indian part of the Thar desert to the Pakistani section of the Thar desert. 400 families settled in Nagar after the 1965 war and an additional 3000 settled in the Chachro taluka in Sind, a province of West Pakistan. The government of Pakistan provided each family with 12 acres of land. According to government records this land distribution amounted to 42,000 acres.
Muslim migration from India to Pakistan declined dramatically in the 1970s, a trend noted by Pakistani authorities. In June 1995, Pakistan”s Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar informed the National Assembly that between the period 1973 to 1994, as many as 800,000 visitors came from India with valid travel documents. Of these, only 3393 stayed.
In a related trend, marriages between Muslims in India and Pakistan have declined dramatically. According to a November 1995 statement by Riaz Khokha, the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi, the number of cross-border marriages has dropped from 40,000 a year in the 1950s and 1960s to barely 300 a year.
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The migration of Hindus from Pakistan to India continued unabated. The 1951 census of India recorded that 2.523 million refugees came from East Pakistan, of whom 2.061 million migrated to West Bengal, while the rest migrated to Assam, Tripura and other states. These refugees came in waves and did not come solely because of partition. In 1973 the numbers reached over 6 million people. The following data shows the large waves of refugees from East Pakistan and the incidents that precipitated the migrations.
Due to religious persecution in Pakistan, Hindus continued to flee to India. Most of them tended to settle in the state of Rajasthan in India. According to data from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, around 1000 Hindu families fled to India in 2013. In May 2014, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, revealed in the National Assembly of Pakistan that around 5000 Hindus were migrating from Pakistan to India every year.
Partition was a highly controversial agreement, and today it remains a cause of much tension in the Indian subcontinent. The British viceroy, Lord Mountbatten has not only been accused of rushing the process, but is also alleged to have influenced the Radcliffe Line in India”s favor. It took the commission longer to decide on a final boundary than the time it took for the partition itself. Thus, the two nations were granted their independence even before there was a definite boundary between them.
Some critics allege that haste on the part of the British led to increased cruelty and violence during Partition. Because independence was declared before the actual partition, it was up to the new governments of India and Pakistan to maintain law and order. Large population movements were not contemplated; the plan required guarantees for minorities on both sides of the new border. It was a task in which both states failed. There was a complete breakdown of law and order; many died in the riots, killings, or simply in the hardships of their journey to safety. What followed was one of the largest population movements in recorded history. According to Richard Symonds: At the lowest estimate, half a million people died and twelve million were made homeless.
However, many argue that the British were forced to hasten partition by events on the ground. Once in office, Mountbatten quickly realized that a civil war seemed increasingly likely and if Britain wanted to avoid it, there was no alternative but to participate and a hasty exit from India. Law and order had broken down many times before partition, with much bloodshed on both sides. A massive civil war was looming at the time Mountbatten became viceroy. After World War II, Britain had limited resources, perhaps insufficient to undertake the task of maintaining order. Another view is that while Mountbatten may have been too hasty, he had no choice but to flee and hope for the best under the difficult circumstances. Historian Lawrence James agreed that in 1947 Mountbatten had no choice but to cut and run. The alternative seemed to be involvement in a potentially bloody civil war, from which escape would be difficult.
Conservative elements in England, make consider the partition of India as the moment when the British Empire ceased to be a world power, following Curzon”s maxim: “the loss of India would mean that Great Britain would immediately fall to a third power”.
A cross-border student initiative, The History Project, was launched in 2014 to explore differences in perceptions of events during the British era leading up to partition. The project resulted in a book explaining the two interpretations of shared history in Pakistan and India.
The partition of India and the associated bloody riots inspired many in India and Pakistan to create literary and cinematic depictions of this event. While some creations depicted the killings during the refugee migration, others focused on the root of the partition in terms of the hardships faced by refugees on both sides of the border. Even now, more than 60 years after the partition, works of fiction and films are being made in connection with the events of the partition. Early members of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group speak of “The Partition” of India and Pakistan as a key reason for its founding in December 1947. They include FN Souza, MF Husain, SH Raza, SK Bakre, HA Gade and KH Ara who became some of the most important and influential Indian artists of the 20th century.
Literature was produced that depicted the human cost of independence and partition, e.g. Forgotten Atrocities by Bal K. Gupta (2012), Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh (1956), several short stories such as Toba Tek Singh (1955) by Saadat Hasan Manto, Urdu poems such as Subh-e-Azadi (Dawn of Freedom, 1947) by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Tamas by Bhisham Sahni (1974), by Manohar Malgonkar, A Bend in the Ganges (1965), and Bapsi Sidhwa”s Frozen Candy Man (1988), among others.
In 1950, the writer Amrita Pritam published the novel Pinjar the Skeleton and Other Stories focusing on the suffering of Hindu and Muslim women during the trial. It cites the abductions and exchange of prisoners between the two populations. The play was made into a film in 2003 by Chandraprakash Dwivedi. It was first translated into Spanish in 2018 under the title Pinjar, El esqueleto y otras historias.
Salman Rushdie”s novel Children of Midnight (1980), winner of the Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers, wove its narrative based on children born with magical abilities at midnight on August 14, 1947.
Freedom at Midnight (1975) is a realist play by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre that describes the events surrounding the first Independence Day celebrations in 1947.
There is a dearth of films related to independence and partition. Early films related to the circumstances of independence, partition and the aftermath include Nemai Ghosh”s Chinnamul (Bengali) (1950), Lahore (1948), Chhalia (1956), Nastik (1953). Ritwik Ghatak”s Meghe Dhaka Tara (Bengali) (1960), George Cukor”s Bhowani Junction (1956), Komal Gandhar (Bengali) (1961), Subarnarekha (Bengali) (1962); later films include Garm Hava (1973) and Tamas (1987). Since the late 1990s, more films were made on this subject, including several more mainstream films, such as Earth (1998), Train to Pakistan (1998) (based on the award-winning book), Hey Ram (2000), Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), Khamosh Pani (2003), Pinjar (2003), Partition (2007) and Madrasapattinam (2010). The biographical films Gandhi (1982), Jinnah (1998) and Sardar (1993) also treat the theme of independence and partition as significant events in their screenplay. The Pakistani drama Daastan, based on the novel Bano, highlighted the plight of Muslim girls who were abducted and raped during partition.
Manjit Sachdeva”s novel Lost Generations (2013) describes the March 1947 massacre in rural Rawalpindi by the Muslim League, followed by the killings on both sides of the new border in August 1947 as seen from the eyes of a Sikh family trying to escape, and achieving settlement and partial rehabilitation in Delhi, ending in ruin (including death), for the second time in 1984, at the hands of mobs after a Sikh assassinated the prime minister.
In 2013 Google India announced the Reunion trailer (about the partition of India), which had a strong impact in India and Pakistan, raising hopes for the removal of travel restrictions between the two countries. and was viewed more than 1.6 million times before officially debuting on television on November 15, 2013.
In 2018, the Demons of the Punjab episode of the Doctor Who science fiction series was contextualized in the partition.
Visaria, Pravin M. 1969. “Migration Between India and Pakistan, 1951-61” Demography, 6(3):323-334.