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Partition of the Indian Subcontinent 75 Years

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Authored by Nishah Malik
Published on 15th August, 2022 3 min read

Partition of the Indian Subcontinent 75 Years

Pakistan Rangers (wearing black uniforms) perform during a parade on the Pakistan's Independence Day at the Pakistan-India joint check post at Wagah border, near Lahore

2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the partition of the Indian subcontinent. After more than 300 years of British rule, on 15th August 1947 the Indian subcontinent gained its independence and was partitioned into two independent nation states: India and Pakistan (in turn, divided into West Pakistan and East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh). The subcontinent was split along religious lines; Pakistan was created as the country with a Muslim majority, while India was for the Hindu majority. 

While nationalist talks had been going on for years, the actual road to the 15th August 1947 was an extremely short one. At the end of the Second World War Britain realised that it could not afford to run India much longer and wanted to withdraw. After the August 1946 nationalist riots in India, the British wanted to speed up their departure from India to avoid a civil war and announced that India would gain its independence by July 1948. However, in a bid to leave India as quickly as possible this timeline was changed. In June 1947, the British viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, announced that India would gain independence by August 1947, a year earlier than originally intended, and that it would be partitioned into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. Nevertheless, at this point, he did not explain where the boundaries would be. 

In July 1947 the British choose lawyer Cyril Radcliffe to make an impartial decision on how to divide the subcontinent along religious lines. Radcliffe had never traveled to India nor did he have any prior experience of drawing boarders, in fact he barely knew where Bengal and Punjab were, the two prominent areas which had an equal number of Hindus and Muslims. Radcliffe was given a mere 5 weeks to draw the boundaries that would affect the lives of millions of people for generations. In an interview with Kuldeep Nayyar, Radcliffe showed how rushed and imprudent the decision was mentioning how he had almost given Lahore to India. He further asserted that:

“The time at my disposal was so short that I could not do a better job. However, if I had two to three years, I might have improved on what I did”. 

On 17th August 1947 the boundaries were published, a whole two days after Pakistan and India had declared their independence. Radcliffe split the subcontinent into three parts India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, in turn splitting the culturally connected areas of Punjab and Bengal. The British Army left India after 300 years of rule and subsequently left two new countries in turmoil. What came after was one of the largest and bloodiest mass migrations in history. More than ten million people fled their home and travelled between India and Pakistan. Due to large scale religious violence more than a million people lost their lives, while more than 70,000 women were raped or abducted. Not only did the whole demographic of South Asia change, but people fled the villages where they had lived for generations and thousands of families were separated. 

August marks 75 years since the British hastily left the Indian subcontinent and created two separate nations. Pakistan celebrates its independence day on 14th August, while India celebrates independence on the 15th August. These two days are not only important to celebrate the progress the countries have made since 1947, but also to remember the lives and families that were lost and disrupted due to the partition of the Indian subcontinent. 

Authored by Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik is Collections Editor at British Online Archives. Nishah gained a Masters in History from the University of Derby in 2020. Her research interests centre around South Asian culture and heritage, as well as the history and experiences of the South Asian diaspora. She also has a keen interest in women's history.

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