Partition of India
Britain's holdings on the Indian subcontinent were granted independence in 1947 and 1948, becoming four new independent states: India, Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Pakistan (including East Pakistan, modern-day Bangladesh). Sikkim, then an independent country, is not shown on this map.
The Partition of India was a partition that led to the creation on 14 August 1947 and 15 August 1947, respectively, of the sovereign states of Dominion of Pakistan (later Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and Union of India (later Republic of India) upon the granting of independence to British India from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In particular, it refers to the partition of the Bengal province of British India into the Pakistani state of East Bengal (later East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) and the Indian state of West Bengal, as well as the similar partition of the Punjab region of British India into the Punjab province of West Pakistan and the Indian state of Punjab.
The secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War is not covered by the term Partition of India, nor are the earlier separations of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Burma (now Myanmar) from the administration of British India. Ceylon, part of the Madras Presidency of British India from 1795 until 1798, became a separate Crown Colony in 1798. Burma, gradually annexed by the British during 1826 – 86 and governed as a part of the British Indian administration until 1937, was directly administered thereafter. Burma was granted independence on January 4, 1948 and Ceylon on February 4, 1948.
The remaining countries of present-day South Asia — Nepal and Bhutan — having signed treaties with the British designating them as independent states, were never a part of British India and therefore their borders were not affected by the partition.
1909 Prevailing Religions, Map of British Indian Empire, 1909,
showing the prevailing majority religions of the population for different districts.
1909 Percentage of Muslims,
Map of British Indian Empire, 1909, showing percentage of Muslims in different districts.
1909 Percentage of Hindus,
Map of British Indian Empire, 1909, showing percentage of Hindus in different districts.
1909 Percentage of Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains.
Map of British Indian Empire, 1909, showing percentages in different districts.
1909 Prevailing Languages (Northern Region), Map of British Indian Empire, 1909,
showing the prevailing (Aryan) languages of the population for different districts.
1901 Population Density, Map of British Indian Empire, 1909,
showing the population density in 1901.
The seeds of partition were sown long before independence. Shirin Keen claims that the British, still fearful of the potential threat from the Muslims who had ruled the subcontinent for over 300 years under the Mughal Empire, followed a divide and rule policy. Organization of citizens into religious communities was also a feature of Mughal rule. When the Indians under British rule started to organize for independence, two main communal factions of the Indian nationalist movement, and especially of the Indian National Congress, struggled for control of the movement and eventual control of the country. Muslims felt threatened by Hindu majorities. The Hindus, in their turn, felt that the nationalist leaders were coddling the minority Muslims and slighting the majority Hindus.
Train to Pakistan steaming out of New Delhi Railway Station, 1947.
The All India Muslim League (AIML) was formed in Dhaka in 1906 by Muslims who were suspicious of the mainstream, secular but Hindu-majority Indian National Congress. A number of different scenarios were proposed at various times. Among the first to make the demand for a separate state was the writer/philosopher Allama Iqbal, who, in his presidential address to the 1930 convention of the Muslim League said that he felt a separate nation for Muslims was essential in an otherwise Hindu-dominated subcontinent. The Sindh Assembly passed a resolution making it a demand in 1935. Iqbal, Jouhar and others then worked hard to draft Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who had till then worked for Hindu-Muslim unity, to lead the movement for this new nation. By 1930, Jinnah had begun to despair of the fate of minority communities in a united India and had begun to argue that mainstream parties such as the Congress (of which he was once a member) were insensitive to Muslim interests. At the 1940 AIML conference in Lahore, Jinnah made clear his commitment to two separate states, a position from which the League never again wavered:
“ The Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religions, philosophies, social customs and literature… To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state. ”
“ India cannot be assumed today to be Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main — the Hindus and the Muslims.”
Rural Sikhs in a long oxcart train headed towards India. 1947. Margaret Bourke-White.
Most of the Congress leaders were secularists and resolutely opposed the division of India on the lines of religion. Mohandas Gandhi was both religious and irenic, believing that Hindus and Muslims could and should live in amity. He opposed the partition, saying,
“ My whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures and doctrines. To assent to such a doctrine is for me a denial of God.”
An old Sikh man carrying his wife. Over 10 million people were uprooted from their homeland
and travelled on foot, bullock carts and trains to their promised new home.
For years, Gandhi and his adherents struggled to keep Muslims in the Congress Party (a major exit of many Muslim activists began in the 1930s), in the process enraging both Hindu Nationalists and Indian Muslim Nationalists. (Gandhi was assassinated soon after Partition by Hindu Nationalist Nathuram Godse, who believed that Gandhi was appeasing Muslims at the cost of Hindus.) Politicians and community leaders on both sides whipped up mutual suspicion and fear, culminating in dreadful events such as the riots during the Muslim League's Direct Action Day of August 1946 in Calcutta, in which more than 5,000 people were killed and many more injured. As public order broke down all across northern India and Bengal, the pressure increased to seek a political partition of territories as a way to avoid a full-scale civil war.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Cover Time Magazine, April 22, 1946.
Viceroy Louis Mountbatten with a countdown calendar to the Transfer of Power in the background
Until 1946, the definition of Pakistan as demanded by the League was so flexible that it could have been interpreted as a sovereign nation Pakistan, or as a member of a confederated India.
Some historians believe Jinnah (whose catch-phrase was that India would be "divided or destroyed") intended to use the threat of partition as a bargaining chip in order to gain more independence for the Muslim dominated provinces in the west from the Hindu dominated center.
Other historians claim that Jinnah's real vision was for a Pakistan that extended into Hindu-majority areas of India, by demanding the inclusion of the East of Punjab and West of Bengal, including Assam, all Hindu-majority country. Jinnah also fought hard for the annexation of Kashmir a Muslim majority state with Hindu ruler; and the accession of Hyderabad and Junagadh Hindu-majority states with Muslim rulers.
The British colonial administration did not directly rule all of "India". There were several different political arrangements in existence: Provinces were ruled directly and the Princely States with varying legal arrangements, like paramountcy.
The British Colonial Administration consisted of Secretary of State for India, the India Office, the Governor-General of India, and the Indian Civil Service. The Indian Political Parties were (alphabetically) All India Muslim League, Communist Party of India, Hindu Mahasabha, Indian National Congress, and the Unionist Muslim League (mainly in the Punjab).
The Mountbatten Plan
The actual division between the two new dominions was done according to what has come to be known as the 3rd June Plan or Mountbatten Plan.
The border between India and Pakistan was determined by a British Government-commissioned report usually referred to as the Radcliffe Line after the London lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who wrote it. Pakistan came into being with two non-contiguous enclaves, East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, separated geographically by India. India was formed out of the majority Hindu regions of the colony, and Pakistan from the majority Muslim areas.
On July 18, 1947, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act that finalized the partition arrangement. The Government of India Act 1935 was adapted to provide a legal framework for the two new dominions. Following partition, Pakistan was added as a new member of the United Nations, while the Republic of India assumed the seat of British India as a successor state.
The 565 Princely States were given a choice of which country to join. Those states whose princes failed to accede to either country or chose a country at odds with their majority religion, such as Junagadh, Hyderabad, and especially Kashmir, became the subject of much dispute. All three were eventually annexed by India.
An aged and abandoned Muslim couple and their grand children sitting by the the roadside on this arduous journey. "The old man is dying of exhaustion. The caravan has gone on," wrote Bourke-White.
The Punjab — the region of the five rivers east of Indus: 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 Indus and Jhelum), the Jech doab (Jhelum/Chenab), the Rechna doab (Chenab/Ravi), the Bari doab (Ravi/Beas), and the Bist doab (Beas/Sutlej) (see map on the right). In early 1947, in the months leading up to the deliberations of the Punjab Boundary Commission, the main disputed areas appeared to be in the Bari and Bist doabs, although some areas in the Rechna doab were claimed by the Congress and Sikhs. In the Bari doab, the districts of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Lahore, and Montgomery were all disputed. All districts (other than Amritsar, which was 46.5% Muslim) had Muslim majorities; albeit, in Gurdaspur, the Muslim majority, at 51.1%, was slender. At a smaller area-scale, only three tehsils (sub-units of a district) in the Bari doab had non-Muslim majorities. These were: Pathankot (in the extreme north of Gurdaspur, which was not in dispute), and Amritsar and Tarn Taran in Amritsar district. In addition, there were four Muslim-majority tehsils east of Beas-Sutlej (with two where Muslims outnumbered Hindus and Sikhs together).
Two Muslim men (in a rural refugee train headed towards Pakistan)
carrying an old woman in a makeshift doli or palanquin. 1947.
A map of the Punjab region from 1947
The claims (Congress/Sikh and Muslim) and the Boundary Commission Award in the Punjab in relation to Muslim percentage by Tehsils. The unshaded regions are the princely states.
Before the Boundary Commission began formal hearings, governments were set up for the East and the West Punjab regions. Their territories were provisionally divided by "notional division" based on simple district majorities. In both the Punjab and Bengal, the Boundary Commission consisted of two Muslim and two non-Muslim judges with Sir Cyril Radcliffe as a common chairman. The mission of the Punjab commission was worded generally as: "To demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of the Punjab, on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims. In doing so, it will take into account other factors." Each side (the Muslims and the Congress/Sikhs) presented its claim through counsel with no liberty to bargain. The judges too had no mandate to compromise and on all major issues they "divided two and two, leaving Sir Cyril Radcliffe the invidious task of making the actual decisions."
Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly-formed nations in the months immediately following Partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority. Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7,226,000 Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. About 11.2 million or 78% of the population transfer took place in the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it; 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India; elsewhere in the west 1.2 million moved in each direction to and from Sind.
"With the tragic legacy of an uncertain future, a young refugee sits on the walls of Purana Qila, transformed into a vast refugee camp in Delhi." Margaret Bourke-White, 1947
A crowd of Muslims at the Old Fort (Purana Qila) in Delhi, which had been converted into a vast camp for Muslim refugees waiting to be transported to Pakistan. Manchester Guardian, 27 September 1947.
The newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimates of the number of deaths range around roughly 500,000, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 1,000,000. On the Pakistani side, numerous Hindus and Sikhs were forcefully evicted out of their lands, especially in the regions of Sindh and Punjab, with fear of death if they did not leave. Mahatma Gandhi, however, used his influence within the Congress to campaign that Muslims could remain within India if they so wished.
Punjab also Panjab is a region straddling the border between India and Pakistan. The "Five Rivers" are the Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab and Jhelum, all tributaries of the Indus. Punjab has a long history and rich cultural heritage. The people of the Punjab are called Punjabis and they speak a language called Punjabi. The main religions in Indian Punjab are Sikhism and Hinduism, while Islam is the majority in Pakistani Punjab.
The area that is now known as the Greater Punjab comprised vast territories of northern India and eastern Pakistan. It was bounded by the Indus in the west and the Yamuna river in the east. It was a centre of the prehistoric Indus Valley civilization and after c. 1500 BCE the site of early Aryan settlements . In ancient times, the area was inhabited by Vahikas or Arattas. Tribes included the Gandharas, Prasthalas, Khasas, Vasatis, Trigartas, Pauravas, Malavas, Yaudheyas, Saindhavas, Sauviras; the Iranian and transfrontier peoples such as the Kambojas, Pahlavas; and the Persianised Ionians (Yavanas) as well as the nomadic Scythians, also called Shakas.
The region, populated by Indo-Aryans, has been ruled by many different empires and ethnic groups, including the ancient Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Afghans, Balochis, Sikhs and British. In 1947, it was partitioned between British India's successor states, India and Pakistan.
The Pakistani Punjab now comprises the majority of the region. The Indian Punjab has been further sub-divided into the modern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. The Pakistani part of the region covers an area of 205,344 square kilometres (79,284 square miles), whereas the Indian State of Punjab is 50,362 square kilometres (19,445 square miles). The populations of the region are similarly divided as 86,084,000 (2005) in West Punjab (Pakistan) and 24,289,296 (2000) in the Present-day State of (East) Punjab(India).Punjabi is spoken by (approx) 90% of population in Pakistani Punjab and 92.2% in Indian Punjab. The capital city of undivided Punjab was Lahore, which now sits close to the partition line as the capital of West Punjab. Indian Punjab has as its capital the city of Chandigarh. With partition, Indian Punjab now uses the Gurmukhi script, while Pakistani Punjab maintains the Shahmukhi script.
The province of Bengal was divided into the two separate entities of West Bengal belonging to India, and East Bengal belonging to Pakistan. East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan, and later became the independent nation of Bangladesh after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.
Hindu Sindhis would have remained in Sindh following the Partition, if it were not for the violence that erupted when massive amounts of Urdu speaking Muslims started pouring into Sindh. They began attacking the Hindu population. Before the announcement of the Partition, there were 1,400,000 Hindu Sindhis in their ancestral land Sindh. However, in a space of less than a year approximately 1,200,000 Hindus Sindhis fled their homes, most of them leaving with little more than the clothes on their bodies.
Historically, there had been some minor clashes from time to time, but, by and large, both Hindu and Muslim Sindhis co-existed without too much tension. While some Muslim Sindhis rejoiced at the departure of their rich Hindu neighbours because they felt they would gain from their departure, many Muslim Sindhis, in fact, helped Hindu Sindhis escape to India and saved them from non-Sindhi Muslim mobs. The fate of Hindu Sindhis was tragic. While most of them had been prosperous in their homeland, now they became stateless and took refuge in others parts of India, living in penury and deprivation.
A great difference in opinion not only as to those in 1947 but as today – in general terms the British in 1947 had neither the will nor the resources to do other than act as the broker to partition. It is fair to say that recent economic history has not been kind to the British Empire. According to one influential school of thought, late 19th-century capital exports to the country’s numerous colonies diverted resources away from the modernization of British industry. Some scholars have questioned whether it was even economically rational for the investors themselves. Patrick O’Brien has argued that after around 1846 Britain could have withdrawn from empire with impunity, and reaped a “decolonization dividend” in the form of a 25% tax cut. The money taxpayers would have saved as a result of a Victorian decolonization could have been spent on electricity, cars, and consumer durables, thus encouraging industrial modernization at home. Such negative assessments of Britain’s relationship to the empire sit somewhat uneasily alongside the large “nationalist” literature on the impact of empire on Britain’s colonies, notably India. In the words of B. R. Tomlinson, “the suggestion remains that British rule did not leave a substantial legacy of wealth, health, or happiness to the majority of the subjects of the Commonwealth.” Numerous authors have insisted that the principal consequence of British rule in the Indian subcontinent was a legacy of “underdevelopment.” Can it really be that the empire was economically bad for both Britain and her colonies?
But the performance of the dominions was not matched in the rest of the Empire and least of all in Asia. Why was Indian economic performance so much worse than that of the dominions? India attracted £286 million of capital raised in London between 1865 and 1914—18% of the total placed in the empire, second only to Canada. Yet Indian per capita GDP grew at a miserably slow rate. Between 1857 and 1947—between the Mutiny and Independence, in other words—Indian per capita GDP grew by just 19%, compared with an increase in Britain of 134% --between 1820 and 1950, it grew at a mere 0.12% per annum—barely at all by the standards of the “white” empire, and slow even by comparison with Africa.
The nationalist explanation for Indian “underdevelopment” under British rule has four essential components. First, the British de-industrialized India by opening it to factory-produced textiles from Lancashire, whose manufacturers were initially protected from Indian competition until they had established a technological lead. Second, they imposed excessive and regressive taxation. Third, they “drained” capital from India, even manipulating the rupee-sterling exchange rate to their own advantage. Finally, they did next to nothing to alleviate the famines that these policies caused. One recent historian has gone so far as to speak of “Late Victorian Holocausts” in the 1870s and 1890s. This negative view of the British role in India—which can be traced back to Dadabhai Naoroji’s Poverty and Un-British Rule in India (1901)—continues to enjoy wide currency.
No doubt it benefited the Indian economy little to maintain one of the world’s largest standing armies as a mercenary force. Yet recent research casts doubt on other aspects of the nationalist critique. Tirthankar Roy has shown that the destruction of jobs in the Indian textile industry was probably inevitable, regardless of who ruled India, and that an equal if not greater number of new jobs were created in new economic sectors built up by the British. Even in the case of textiles, by the 1920s the Government of India was clearly giving preference to Indian manufacturers over Lancashire’s mills. Roy also casts doubt on the idea that taxation under the British was excessive, showing that the land tax burden fell from around 10% of net output in the 1850s to 5% by the 1930s. The supposed “drain” of capital from India to Britain turns out to have been comparatively modest: only “about 0.9-1.3% of Indian national income from 1868 to the 1930s,” according to one estimate of the export surplus (which was what nationalists usually had in mind). In any case, so far as the Home Charges were concerned, “a great deal of government expenditure was in fact incurred for services that India needed but could not supply on her own.” Finally, “the prospect of devastating famines once every few years was inherent in India’s ecology . . . . Famines were primarily environmental in origin” and after 1900 the problem was alleviated by the greater integration of the Indian market for foodstuffs. The Bengal famine of 1943 arose precisely because improvements introduced under British rule collapsed under the strain of the war.
Moreover, British rule had some distinctly positive effects. It greatly increased the importance of trade, from between 1-2% of national income to more than 20% by 1913. The British created an integrated Indian market: they unified weights, measures, and the currency, abolished transit duties and introduced a “legal framework [which] promoted private property rights and contract law more explicitly.” They invested substantially in repairing and enlarging the country’s ancient irrigation system: between 1891 and 1938, the acreage under irrigation more than doubled. As is well known, the British transformed the Indian system of communications, introducing a postal and telegraph system, deploying steamships on internal waterways and building more than 40,000 miles of railway track (roughly five times the amount constructed in China in the same period). The railway network alone employed more than a million people by the last decade of British rule. Finally, there was a significant increase in financial intermediation. As Roy concludes:
‘The railways, the ports, major irrigation systems, the telegraph, sanitation and medical care, the universities, the postal system, the courts of law, were assets India could not believably have acquired in such extent and quality had it not developed close political links with Britain . . . . British rule appears to have done far more than what its predecessor regimes and contemporary Indian regimes were able to do.’
By comparison with the other major Asian empire—China, which remained under Asian political control—India fared well. The Chinese economy shrank, even if some of its troubles can doubtless be attributed to the disruptive influence of informal European imperialism. The explanation for the disappointing impact of these improvements on per capita incomes lies not in British exploitation, but rather in the insufficient scale of British interference in the Indian economy. The British expanded Indian education—but not enough to make a real impact on the quality of human capital. The number of educated Indians may have increased sevenfold between 1881 and 1941, but the proportion of the population with primary or secondary educations was far below European rates (2% in India in 1913, compared with 16% in Britain). The British invested in India—but not enough to pull most Indian farmers up off the base line of subsistence, and certainly not enough to compensate for the pitifully low level of indigenous net capital formation, worsened by the custom of hoarding gold. The British built hospitals and banks—but not enough of them to make significant improvements in public health and credit networks. These were sins of omission more than commission. Unfortunately for Indians, the nationalists who came to power in 1947 drew almost completely the wrong conclusions about what had gone wrong under British rule, embarking instead on a program of sub-Soviet state-led autarky whose achievement was to widen still further the gap between Indian and British incomes, which reached its widest historic extent in 1973.
A refugee train on its way to Punjab, Pakistan
The Partition was a highly controversial arrangement, and remains a cause of much tension on the subcontinent today. British Viceroy Louis Mountbatten has not only been accused of rushing the process through, but also is alleged to have influenced the Radcliffe Awards in India's favor since everyone agreed India would be a more desirable country for most. However, the commission took so long to decide on a final boundary that the two nations were granted their independence even before there was a defined boundary between them. Even then, the members were so distraught at their handiwork (and its results) that they refused compensation for their time on the commission.
Some critics allege that British haste led to the cruelties of the Partition. Because independence was declared prior to the actual Partition, it was up to the new governments of India and Pakistan to keep public order. No large population movements were contemplated; the plan called for safeguards for minorities on both sides of the new state line. It was an impossible task, at which both states failed. There was a complete breakdown of law and order; many died in riots, massacre, or just from the hardships of their flight to safety. What ensued was one of the largest population movement in recorded history. According to Richard Symonds
“ at the lowest estimate, half a million people perished and twelve million became homeless ”
However, some argue that the British were forced to expedite the Partition by events on the ground. Law and order had broken down many times before Partition, with much bloodshed on both sides. A massive civil war was looming by the time Mountbatten became Viceroy. After World War II, Britain had limited resources, perhaps insufficient to the task of keeping order. A hasty exit may have been seen as preferable, and perhaps less bloody than the slow disintegration of the Raj.
History of settlement of partition refugees
Photo of a railway station in Punjab.
Many people abandoned their fixed assets and crossed newly formed borders.
Hindu Sindhis found themselves without a homeland. The responsibility of rehabilitating Hindu Sindhis was borne by all the states in Indian Union, but most Sindhis settled in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Refugee camps were set up for Hindu Sindhis. Many refugees did consider returning to Sindh once the violence settled down, but it was found that this was not possible, as they found their homes, businesses and other property had been seized by looters and the State.
Many Hindu Sindhis overcame the trauma of poverty. The loss of a homeland has had a deeper and lasting effect on Sindhi culture which is in decline. The Sindhi language usage is dropping amongst younger Sindhis as they adopt the language, culture and tradition of their host state. The lack of spoken Sindhi on television and radio programmes has been a contributing factor in decline. The Sindhi language does remain in use in Sindh, but the dialect used by Hindus is different.
In late 2004, the Sindhi diaspora vociferously opposed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India which asked the government of India to delete the word "Sindh" from the Indian National Anthem (written by Rabindranath Tagore prior the partition) on the grounds that it infringed upon the sovereignty of Pakistan.
"India: Liberty and Death" Time Magazine Cover, October 27, 1947.In addition to the enormous historical literature on the Partition, there is also an extensive body of artistic work (novels, short stories, poetry, films, plays, paintings, etc.) that deals imaginatively with the pain and horror of the event.
Truth alone triumphs
The British Empire
Dark side of 'India Rising'
Readers please email comments to: editorial AT martinfrost.ws including full name
Return to martinfrost.ws
|ote: martinfrost.ws contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.|