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The Partition of India

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Indian Partition, an event that split British India and created the two countries of India and Pakistan. At the time, relations between Muslims and Hindus were incredibly tense and the two communities felt that there was no common ground they could meet on, and so upon leaving the British Empire drew the Radcliffe Line (the border that splits India with Pakistan) with East Pakistan later becoming Bangladesh. The Indian Partition was a bloody and savage saga in India’s history, and is likened to the Holocaust in terms of cultural significance in Indian/Pakistani society.

In 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War, Great Britain could no longer afford to keep control of its largest asset, British India. Prime Minister Clement Atlee was in favour of Indian Independence and sent Britain’s final Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to arrange a handover. Upon arrival Mountbatten could see the simmering tensions that had boiled over more than once in the last decade, and rushed to declare independence a mere 3 months after his arrival, fearing the British would end up refereeing a civil war. India’s independence was announced on the 15th of June, 1947; the borders were announced two days after. What followed was a total breakdown of law and order. As the British empire relinquished all responsibility to two brand-new, ill-equipped and completely overwhelmed governments, and their first task was to oversee one of the greatest mass migrations ever recorded in history - in which they completely failed. As 14.5 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced and criss-crossed the new borderlines to their respective religious strongholds; terrible, terrible atrocities were committed by both sides, and historians estimate up to 2 million Indians lost their lives in the chaos.

So, what does the Partition mean to India and Pakistan now? The situation remains very complex, and the relationship is still defined by the Partition; the two countries have fought 3 major wars, an undeclared war and many armed skirmishes and military standoffs, particularly in the disputed area of Kashmir. In recent times the relations have calmed down, perhaps due to the length of time it has been since the Partition – the current Prime Minister of India is the first to be born after the Partition, indeed now most of the population were born after 1947. It suggests that time really does heal all wounds, but with nationalist rhetoric and propaganda from both sides and a nuclear standoff as recently as 2001, one feels it may take more than just time to fix this damaged relationship.

 



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