Partition of India
Genocide obviously never sits well on the national conscience of any country, and so the finer points of definition are usually argued exhaustively. The Partition of India is such a case, and while Hindu/Muslim sectarianism lies at the heart of the debate, there is also the question of whether the British washed their hands of India, and walked away knowing that genocide was inevitable.
India was, as the saying goes, the Jewel in the British Crown. In many ways, it defined the British Empire. WWII, however, reconfigured the imperial landscape, and by then, India was demanding independence, and the British were more than willing to give it to them. The problem lay in a historical predominance of Muslims within the Indian political process. As heirs to the old Mughal Empire, traditional Muslim leaders enjoyed an influence not particularly congruent with their numbers. The departure of the British would naturally bring about democratic rule, and in a society where Hindus vastly outnumbered Muslims, universal suffrage meant Muslim marginalization.
Muslim nationalists then began demanding a ‘two-state’ solution, which neither the British nor nationalists like Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi particularly wanted. Bearing in mind, however, the likely ramifications of a civil war between Hindus and Muslims in India, it seemed, in the end, the only viable solution. A boundary commission, sponsored by the British government, attempted to divide India along Hindu and Muslim lines. The result was imperfect, of course, but it created the map of the Indian sub-continent that we now recognize today. India and Pakistan would be separated, with what is today Bangladesh part of mainland Pakistan.
On Tuesday, August 14, 1947, Pakistan was proclaimed independent from Britain, and a day later, India followed suit. Almost immediately, as British officials handed over, Hindus in India began attacking and killing Muslims, and in Pakistan, vice versa. The result was a mass slaughter as Muslims trapped in India sought to flee to Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs caught in Pakistan tried to make it across the border into India. The result was death and mayhem on truly epic proportions.
In total, about 11.2 million people successfully crossed the India-West Pakistan border in different directions, mostly through the Punjab region. Some 6.5 million of those were Muslims migrating from India to Pakistan, and 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan to India. Over 14 million people were displaced along religious lines, and between 1-2 million people lost their lives.
The debate has never been so much the classification of the event as genocide, although that is, of course, debatable. The question is rather whether Muslim nationalists were to blame for demanding a two-state solution, whether Hindu nationalists were to blame for allowing it, or whether the British were to blame for leaving India knowing that genocide was inevitable.