The Partition of India
In the 1940s, following the end of the Second World War, the Empire which Winston Churchill had fought so hard to preserve began to crumble. England no longer had the resources to control its Empire and nowhere was this more evident than in India, which rapidly descended into horrific religious and ethnic violence. Realizing that it was rapidly becoming impossible to maintain any semblance of order in what had once been considered the Jewel of the Imperial Crown, the British decided to grant independence to India by first partitioning it into a pair of dominions, Pakistan and India.
The British tried to make their action appear as a noble and well-planned exit strategy. In fact, it was a rushed departure with their proverbial tail between their legs. Hindu and Muslim sectarian violence was out of control. When Lord Mountbatten arrived to finalize the negotiations which created what became known as the Partition of India one of his first announcements was one which accelerated the British departure by ten months. Mountbatten’s announcement gave the British official charged with developing the new border between the two nations, Cyril Radcliffe, forty days to complete his task.
As they worked, violence in Lahore, a city in the Punjab province which would become part of Pakistan, led to the deaths of thousands of fleeing Hindus. British officials leaving Lahore saw dead Hindus on the railway platforms, killed as they were waiting for a train to escape to what would become the Dominion of India. Officially the British Raj was still the governing body of the region but it did little to stop the violence. Instead, it destroyed documents that recorded many of the British activities in India under the Raj Government and fled. Similar unrest occurred in Delhi, as Muslims fled to what would become Pakistan.
In 1941 Karachi had held a Hindu population which exceeded 47% of the city’s total. By 1950 the percentage of Karachi’s population which were Hindu was negligible. Karachi was the first capital of Pakistan following partition. Delhi saw the opposite. More than 200,000 Muslims were forced to leave Delhi as refugees, fleeing to Pakistan by whatever means they could. Across the Indian subcontinent, refugees streamed in opposite directions. What had been Hindu villages in Punjab were burned, forcing their inhabitants to seek shelter while under the attack of extremists. The British accelerated the pace of their withdrawal.
The hastily drawn border between Pakistan and India left the region of Kashmir in dispute between the two nations, and wars have been fought between the two nations created out of the British Empire’s largesse. Wars over the secession of Bangladesh in 1971 and over the Kashmir region of Kargil in 1999 were also a result of the British Empire’s hasty departure. India and Pakistan were officially created at the stroke of midnight on the night of August 14, 1947. The official borders for the two countries weren’t announced until two days later, an indication of the speed with which Britain wished to divest itself of the problem which nearly 300 years of British presence in India had created.
Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources: