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The British Partition of India

By Zararay134 Nov 16, 2013 1483 Words
August 15, 1947 was a very significant day for Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and many others. It marked the day of the British partition of India into a Muslim-controlled Pakistan and a Hindu-dominated India. India won its freedom from colonial rule, ending nearly 200 years of British rule. Many different events lead to the final decision of the partition. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the British gained full power over India. Bitterness towards the British developed as Hindus and Muslims were denied jobs and high positions in the government and army. The Indian National Congress (INC), lead by Jawaharlal Nehru, was created by the end of the 19th Century. Indians demanded equal opportunity and freedom from colonial rule. The British wanted to make the Muslims their allies in order to counter the perceived threat of the Hindu educated class. The British feared the potential threat from the Muslims, since the Muslims were the former rulers of the subcontinent and ruled India for over 300 years under the Mughal Empire. In order to win them over to their side, the British helped support the All-India Muslim Conference. They instilled the notion that the Muslims were a separate political entity and by the beginning of the 1900s they gave the Muslims separate electorates in local government all over British India. Thus the idea of the separateness of Muslims in India was built into the electoral process of India.

Muslim leaders led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah felt that the Hindus, by dominating the Indian National Congress, were beginning to dictate decision-making in British India. The Muslims felt they should have their own state in order to protect their Islamic heritage. So in 1940, the All-India Muslim League declared its desire for a separate state. Hindus began to feel uncomfortable about being a minority in a majority Muslim State. Relations between the two groups began to deteriorate.

On August 16, 1946, in its demand for a separate Pakistan, the Muslim League called for "Direct Action" day. Direct Action day witnessed thousands of Muslims and Hindus fighting in mixed areas. Calcutta became the scene of the most brutal violence in what became known as the great 'Calcutta killings'. Within 72 hours, more than 5,000 people died, at least 20,000 were seriously injured, and a hundred thousand residents of Calcutta City alone were left homeless. As Jinnah remarked "If not a divided India, then a destroyed India". More violence followed as the rioting spread to the rural areas of Punjab and the Ganges valley.

British and Indian leaders such as Nehru and Valla Bhai Patel decided that the only solution to the conflict was a partition. Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, was given full power by one of the British leaders to negotiate any agreement he could to help come to some sort of conclusion. Mountbatten saw that the only way for the British to withdraw was to transfer power to two governments, not one. With this in mind, he pressured and finally persuaded congress to accept the idea of a divided India. He made the announcement of the partition and declared the boundaries, which would divide India into two. His plan was to create two separate wings in the areas where the Muslims were the most numerous, in northwest India and in eastern Bengal which together would form Jinnah's Pakistan. This meant that both Bengal and Punjab would be divided between India and Pakistan.

Thus, August 14, 1947 saw the birth of the new Islamic Republic of Pakistan- a Muslim nation separate from the predominantly Hindu India. At midnight the next day (on Aug. 15, 1947) India won its freedom from colonial rule. Pakistan was made up of two regions: West Pakistan on the Indus River plain, and East Pakistan, which is now known as Bangladesh.

In a speech to the nation in the night of August 14th, Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India said "A moment comes which comes but rarely in history, when we step from the old to the new, when a age ends, and when the soul of a nation long suppressed, finds utterance."

For Indians, the partition was the logical outcome of Britain's policies of dividing and ruling. For Pakistanis it was their founding moment. It was the outcome of the struggle of Muslims to have their separate identity recognized by both the British and the Indian nationalist movement. For the British, the partition was a necessity because they could no longer afford the cost of maintaining colonial rule. It was unquestionably a very significant event for many.

The partition can also be seen from a different perspective; on a more personal level. "Cracking India", a novel written by Bapsi Sidhwa, is a fascinating account of the violent racial-religious clashes created by the partition of India and Pakistan as seen through the eyes of Lenny, an eight-year-old girl. The experiences, hopes and fears of Lenny provide an intense image of the period. Lenny is growing up rich in pre-partition Lahore (the Punjabi city that saw some of the bloodiest pogroms) in 1947. This story is unique in that it not only comes from the point of view of a child, but also from within an impartial community. Lenny, belonged to the minority sect of 'Parsees', who are new there and emigrated from Persia during the 9th century in order to escape religious persecution following the rise of Islam. The Parsees were not allied with any particular ethnic group during Partition and thus tried to remain neutral among the warring Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. Being neither Hindu nor Muslim, the Parsees were able to keep out of the sectarian divide and stayed on the sidelines; they were not targeted by the mobs nor forced leave.

The story begins with the British preparing to quit their empire in India and the process of splitting British India into Independent India and Pakistan is about to begin. Lenny's family is well off and maintains friendly relations with various religious groups. But later, these relationships begin to turn sour. Everyday jokes and innocent games between friends of different ethnic and religious backgrounds are replaced by bickering and harsh remarks over religion and family bloodlines. The serious killing begins. Lenny and her nanny, Ayah see Sikhs slaughtering Muslims, Hindus butchering Muslims and Muslims burning Hindus alive. Men betray one another. Rising tensions are inflamed with reports of murder, rape, and rioting mobs wrecking homes, shops and temples and mosques. "One day everybody is themselves," Lenny observes, "and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols."

Ayah (a Hindu), is the kind of woman who is desired by every man. She has two main admirers in this story, one a Hindu (Hasan), and the other a Muslim (Ice Candy Man). Ice Candy Man turns into a madman when Ayah falls in love with Hasan. He becomes one of the many roaming the streets of Lahore with vengeance and murder on their minds. Enraged by jealousy, he leads a group of Muslim rioters to Lenny's house to demand the removal of all Hindu servants, including Ayah. The servants attempt to protect Ayah, claiming that she has left the house; but trusting the Ice Candy Man, Lenny admits that Ayah is still in the house. The young nanny is dragged off to her death. Lenny's innocent mistake will haunt her for the rest of her life.

This story vividly portrays how the process of partition claimed many lives in the riots. It shows it in an up close and personal level. All in the name of religion and nationalism, people who had lived together in relative harmony for centuries committed mindless acts of violence against each other. It was a tragic experience because over a million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who were killed. Twelve million people were forced to move-Hindus to India, and Muslims to Pakistan. Both groups moved because they feared being ruled by leaders of the other faith. If a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh was caught on the wrong side of the dividing lines, they were driven out of their homes. The journey was long and torturous. Many people were forced to leave their possessions or trade them for water. Hunger, thirst and exhaustion killed others. An estimated 75,000 women were raped.

The two countries lost many of their most dynamic leaders, such as Gandhi, Jinnah and Allama Iqbal, soon after the partition. Pakistan had to face the separation of Bangladesh in 1971. Even the imposition of an official boundary has not stopped conflict between them. A war between India and Pakistan continues to this day. Boundary issues, left unresolved by the British, have caused two wars and continuing conflict between the two countries. Over the past fifty years, India and Pakistan have been in a state of constant hostility, fighting three wars in 1947-48, 1963 and 1971. In the last decade, they have fought over the possession of Kashmir and the drawing of boundaries in the high Himalayas.

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