The Story of Indian Partition -Fahmida Mehreen
The story of the partition of India is an epic saga itself which is scarred with ambition, religious violence, intolerance, hatred, starvation and haste.
Before the partition phase, the British had ruled India for more than 200 years. Before the British arrived, India being a multicultural nation with many religions and languages, had quite a harmonious coexistence of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Parsi’s and Jews. They were all populated into various princely states with their own language, caste and leadership. In order to effectively establish their rule over the land, the British devised a system that would establish separate religious identities in the administration that would ultimately turn people against each other, spurring a strong rigidity towards religious identity. In the 19th century, the British used this gross simplified segregation of communities in India based on religious identities. The Hindus were classified as ‘Majority’ while the other communities were distinct minorities, with Muslims being the largest minority. These were also reflected in the electorate system and the formation of a separate electorate for Muslims. In elections, people were only allowed to vote for candidates of their religious identifications. Religious identity became stronger than ethnicity or language, and people started to mistrust one another. Through this ‘Divide-and-rule’ mechanism, the British maintained control while the inter-ethnic harmony began to fade away fast.
Soon, in the early 20th century, anti-colonial movements began to become more prevalent, demanding freedom from the British. This was largely due to increasing oppression as well as the introduction of the ‘Defense Act of India’, which was used to curtail freedom of speech and prevent any revolutionary activities at the end of the First World War. The ‘Massacre of Jalianwala Bagh’ – where 300 plus unarmed Sikh men, women and children were killed in a peaceful gathering in Amritsar by the British soldiers – marked the beginning of the end of colonial governance.
By the end of World War II, financial constraints and various troubles had drained Britain out completely. Their failure to manage the imperial empire culminated in an exit so hasty and confusing, it almost poses a great irony to the British Raj. The key figures for independence include Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who were the two most dominant leaders of the Indian National Congress with a mandate for one unitary state. However, despite Congress objectives being secular in nature, the mistrust grew within the minority groups, especially Muslims, of a Hindu dominated state that would undermine minority interest. Muslims, being 25% of the population, had grown accustomed to certain legislative and electoral rights under imperial rule. The prospect of losing those rights in a Hindu-dominated independent state unsettled the Muslim community and inevitably led them to demand a separate state for Muslims, claiming the wounds created by the British Raj were too deep to be healed.
Spearheading this movement was Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League, who is ultimately responsible for the creation of Pakistan. Although secular by nature, Jinnah ultimately felt overwhelmed by the rise of Gandhi and Nehru. The mutual dislike between Jinnah and the Congress party leaders intensified during the nineteen-twenties and thirties. Inevitably, by 1940, Jinnah had convinced the Muslim league into demanding a separate state for the Muslim minority.
In the quest for freedom from colonial governance, a series of riots took place between 1946 and 1947, originating from the mutual hatred of Hindus and Muslims, resulting in bloodshed and violence in the streets and across cities. H. S. Suhrawardy, who was the Muslim League Chief Minister of Bengal, started spurring rioters against his own Hindu pupils justifying violence in the name of a noble cause. This led to the first major riot in Calcutta in 1946, creating atrocities and bloodshed of the most diabolical nature. Thousands of people were brutally murdered across the territory, and this forced the British to expedite their exit.
They started to plan for Indian independence behind closed doors. In March 1947, Lord Mountbatten flew into Delhi as Britain’s final Viceroy with his mission to hand over power and get out of India as quickly as possible. After a series of unfruitful meetings between the Nehru-Gandhi, Jinnah and the relevant parties, it was ultimately decided that the land would be partitioned into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.
On August 15, 1947, Mountbatten announced the independence of India and Pakistan and the transfer of power ten months earlier than the expected date. This rush only created more chaos as the border committee had barely five weeks to remake the map of South-Asia, based on outdated statistical data and minimum knowledge of the land. The provinces of Punjab and Bengal became the geographically separated East and West Pakistan while the rest became India with Hindu-majority. For the next two years, massive immigration took place between the lands. People started to leave their ancestral homes to move to places where they felt safe. Many families were permanently displaced, and ties got broken.
In this period, radical militias and local groups massacred the migrants in the struggle for power which involved loot, murder and rape. In 1971, East Pakistan was liberated from Pakistan and became Bangladesh at the cost of approximately 3 million lives. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan are fighting to this day over the control of Kashmir, an ethnically diverse Himalayan region covering around 86,000 sq miles and famed for the beauty of its lakes, meadows and snow-capped mountains.