By Rishiraj Das and Dhiren Sharma
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and views expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Beehive or The Beehive’s associated writers.
We have recently just had the independence celebrations of two nations: Pakistan and India. However, with every annual celebration, horrific memories resurface. The circumstances in which these two nations were born was one of the most bloody and tragic events in modern history. The rushed slap-stick partition of British India brought the death of 1 to 2 million people and displaced over 7 times more. The lives of 15 million people were forever scarred in what was the greatest migration in human history.
What Happened in Partition?
Following the end of World War 2, Britain was bankrupt and it was no longer in a position to keep India as part of the Empire. However, the British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent was to result in the formation of a new country, Pakistan, separated from independent India based on the Two Nation Theory; the theory that Muslims and Hindus were two separate peoples who were wholly incompatible. The idea had gained traction in the 1940s when the Muslim League, under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, outlined its goal to achieve a new Muslim homeland. He feared that Muslims in an independent India would be discriminated against.
On August 14th, 1947, the huge country was ripped into two, with communal violence and mass migration ensuing. The line drawn by Cyril Radcliffe ran through Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east, both of which had Muslim majority populations but very large Hindu and Sikh minorities. They were 56% and 57% Muslim respectively. No division is perfect, and the line raised religious tensions and tore whole communities apart. Suddenly people who found themselves on the wrong side of the border faced the prospect of violence and possibly death or the daunting and incredibly difficult challenge of migrating to the other country. In the process, people lost everything, from the land their family had lived on for centuries to their material possessions. In Punjab, there were numerous instances of trains carrying hundreds of people to the other side of the border and getting completely massacred, killing all on board. People from both religious groups would roam around Bengali villages slaughtering anyone from the other they found.
What were the Consequences?
This terrible partition has haunted Indian-Pakistani relations in the following 70 years having had 4 wars between them. Just two months after the two nations were formed, the controversial issue of Kashmir brought the neighbours to war, increasing distrust and hostility between them existing right up to the present and the foreseeable future. Before the British left India, there were two forms of government: the areas under direct British administration, and the semi-independent Princely States. The Princely States had to decide whether to join India or Pakistan. Most of the states were integrated in a logical manner decided by their geographical location and demographics. However the 80,900 square mile state of Jammu and Kashmir was a state with a Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, but with a majority Muslim population. It neighboured both India and Pakistan but wished to remain independent. Kashmir’s refusal to join either state prompted Pakistani backed Pashtun tribesmen to invade. Under threat, the Maharajah requested military help from India which was only granted under the condition that the Maharajah sign the Instrument of Accession which meant that Kashmir would join India. The Indian Army entered and occupied part of Kashmir. The two-year war ended after lengthy negotiations resulting in a ceasefire which divided the state across a Line of Control which remains today. However tensions remained and three wars have since followed, in 1965, 1971 and 1999.
Another violent repercussion of the partition was the pursuit of Khalistan. The partition of India fuelled religious identity, which led to a surge of Sikh nationalism. They too, like the Muslims, wanted their own homeland, the whole of Punjab, that they wanted to name Khalistan, meaning ‘the Land of the Pure’. However, some people on both sides used violence to try and achieve/stop this.
Was Partition Necessary?
These terrible events all could and should have been entirely avoided. Partition was the division of people on religious lines but is religion a basis for nationhood? These were people who were ethnically, linguistically and culturally the same, and had lived together side-by-side in harmony for hundreds of years. The line drawn that split the two countries was incredibly rushed – just two weeks of thought was given to it. It divided people who had so much in common but just one difference – religion, which inherently is just a choice. A nation should be composed of people with linguistic, ethnic and cultural similarities, not exclusively religious. In fact, there wasn’t even unanimous support for a separate Islamic nation-state among Muslims, with most Indian Muslims choosing to remain in India. Islam has been in India from its conception, the first mosque in India, contrary to popular belief, being built in 629 AD in Kerala. India would not be what it is today without Islam. This is evidenced by the huge popularity of Muslim actors in Indian Cinema such as the Khans. Furthermore, India’s most popular president to date is Abdul Kalam, whose death last year brought grief to the entire population, no matter their religion. When one thinks of India, the Taj Mahal comes to mind. This a symbol of the love a man had for his wife and was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. The design of the building is clearly Islamic with the curved dome and spires, and its many crescent and star decorations.These examples show how crucial and integral Islam has been in the history, culture and development of India.
To conclude, Partition was a catastrophic event that not only caused millions of deaths and lasting tensions between two neighbours for 70 years with no foreseeable end but also separated people and destroyed lives, all for no reason. People fled their homes to escape violence when previously they had lived happily and in peace with their neighbours. The partition brought out the hatred in ordinary civilians, which caused these people to be violent towards other ordinary civilians. This all simply came about as a result of the unofficial British policy of divide and conquer, as well as the political ambitions of both Nehru and Jinnah. In fact, many of South Asia’s problems today, are a result of partition. The frequent threats of war from neighbours who have so much in common, threaten the geopolitical stability of the region. The people of Kashmir live in a limbo, in constant fear, deprived of opportunities from both countries as a result of this conflict. Imagine the success of a united India, where resources instead of being used in conflict, could be used for the development and betterment of life for its citizens.