|Muslim Refugees Fleeing India|
As of writing this week has seen the 70th anniversary of the Partition of the British Raj forming the new states of India and Pakistan. The Partition is the single most important event in the modern history of the Indian subcontinent which still continues to greatly shape the lives of those living there. This divided subcontinent can be clearly seen in the extravagent closing of the border each evening at Wagah:
The Partition was an event of great trauma brought on about the incompetency of British rule and diverging Indian nationalist movements. To understand why the Indian subcontinent was divided into primarily Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India we have to go back to the 1800s.
British Rule and Early Nationalism
|Raja Ram Mohan Roy|
By the late-nineteenth century Britain had established its rule over the Indian subcontinent. Britain was the first state to establish formal or informal rule over the entire continent. In 1900 what parts of the subcontinent that weren't directly administered by the British were ruled by the so-called 'Princely States'. Princely States were ruled by princes but they had to answer to the British. Other European powers did control some of the subcontinent but they were largely confined to singular cities, like Goa for Portugal and Pondicherry for France. India was ruled from London. A secretary of state for India controlled affairs from the British cabinet, a governor-general ruled in India, and Indians were brought into the British army where they were used to govern the empire. There are photos of the British section of Shanghai where Sikh soldiers are patrolling the streets. Britain had also created a trade surplus in India. Through a mixture of Britain's industrial power and the destruction of large Indian industries, such as the Bengali cotton weaving, so Britain could dominate the Indian economy. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 the East Indian Company was dissolved and the British state formally took over. To aid in administration in 1861 they started bringing more Indians into the administration; Indians were increasingly ruling Indians for the British. It was in this context that the seeds of Indian nationalism took root.
To create administrators you needed education but the British looked down on India. As a result they built their own universities and institutions which taught European philosophies and politics, including liberalism. Slowly a European educated elite emerged. One thing to know about the subcontinent is how diverse it is. Today's India contains over 2000 languages not including those in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is divided by caste and religion with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Pagans, and Jains to name the largest religions in the subcontinent. Making matters worse was Britain's 'divide-and-rule' policy. This was done in all their colonies ranging from Cyprus to Palestine to Malaysia. On the surface this was done to prevent minorities from being dominated by larger populations, however it was a policy used to make the colonized view each other as the enemy so they could not form a united front. In India this was done over religious lines. Muslims were a minority and through farcical Social Darwinistic thinking the British viewed India's Muslims as being racially superior to Hindus so readily brought them administration, (although this is an oversimplification. British racial attitudes favored Muslims in some places and times and Hindus/Sikhs in other areas and times). As a result European educated high-caste Hindus formed reform movements which acted as early nationalist movements. One of the most famous was the Brahmo Savaj who was founded as early as 1828 by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, often called 'the Maker of Modern India'. Roy and the Brahmo Savaj wished to 'modernize' Hinduism, which meant making it more European, by abolishing certain practices like child marriage and sati (burning high-caste widows on their husband's funeral pyre). In 1875 the Arya Samaj was founded by Bengali Dayananda Saraswati to continue the work of the Brahmo Savaj but it went further rejecting idols. Muslims too made their own groups like the Deobandi Movement which tried to reject British colonial rule and the Khalifat . These separate movements focused solely on religion and were elitist.
The Inspiration for the Nationalist Movement
|The Swadeshi Movement|
The two main organizations for Indian nationalism and independence were the Indian National Congress, (INC/Congress, formed 1885), and the All-India Muslim League, (formed 1906). These movements grew from elitist movements to mass movements thanks to the new viceroy, Lord Curzon. In the late 1890s and early 1900s Curzon had earned the ire of educated Indians by reducing the numbers of elected Indian officials to reduce radicalism. Then in 1905 for administrative purposes he divided Bengal. Bengal had been going through a 'Renaissance' where a largely nationalist movement based on Hindu revivalism had grown. As his division fell on religious lines Bengalis saw this as an attempt to divide their homeland. This even caused the creation of the Muslim League as they feared that this would lead to Hindu domination. The Swadeshi movement was soon born which was India's largest mass movement since the 1857 Rebellion. Swadeshi means 'of one's own country' which describes the aims of the movement: boycott British goods. It soon spread across India where leading politician in west India, Lokamanya Tilak, said:
We are not armed and there is no necessity for arms either. We have a stronger weapon, a political weapon, in boycott. We have perceived one fact that the whole of this administration...is carried on with our assistance. We are all subordinate servants...Self government is our goal, we want control over our administrative machinery...We shall not give them assistance to collect revenue and keep peace. We shall not assist them in fighting beyond the frontiers or outside India with Indian blood and money. We shall not assist them in carrying on the administration of justice. We shall have our own courts, and when the time comes, we shall not pay taxes. Can you do that by your united efforts? If you can you are free from tomorrow.
We see the rise of violence in the independence movement here as British repression created two very different armed groups: the right-wing, Hindu Anushilan and the smaller but left-wing and secular Jugantar. In Punjab the Arya Samajists took over turning Swadeshi into a Hindu movement alienating Muslims. Tilak himself was arrested for talking about terrorism which provoked riots which the British shot at. Through a mixture of repression, arresting Swadeshi leaders and the outbreak of the First World War the movement petered out but it had inspired many people. British repression during the First World War radicalized many and some even became inspired by Irish nationalists. After the 1916 Easter Dublin Rising a group named themselves the Indian Republican Army (IRA), in solidarity with the Irish. Around 1.2 million Indians fought in the British army during the war inspiring many to fight for Indian autonomy, if not independence. In 1919 the Government of India Act created a Council of State and an Imperial Legislative Assembly electing 1.5 million of the wealthiest Indians despite it having a population of 300 million. It also introduced special seats for Muslims and non-Brahmin categories. Acceptance of this was called the Lucknow Pact and was made by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, later a prominent promoter of Pakistan. This limited reform still left millions disenfranchised but it took the steam out of nationalism. That is until a lawyer who had worked in South Africa and London returned to India: Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi, Popular Movement and Divisions
Gandhi had practiced non-violent protest in South Africa. Focusing on just one issue he had managed to improve rights for Indians in South Africa, although at the expense of discriminating against Africans. While in South Africa the racism he had seen made him come to the conclusion that Indians were subjects and not citizens of the British Empire. In his 1909 publication Hind Swaraj he condemned all things modern and Western in favor of a communalistic 'Golden Age' of a self-reliant, Indian past. He also coined the word satyagraha to describe his non-violent protests which focused on one issue at a time. Styling himself as a Hindu holy man and a peasant Gandhi returned to India where he started agitating with his fellow Gujaratis in Kheda where they boycotted British goods, (he was heavily inspired by the Swadeshi movement), in protest of a revision of raising land taxes to cover wartime, and post-war, expenditure. This and more satyagraha protests started to increase Gandhi's profile but he became widely prominent thanks to his condemnation of Britain's whitewashing of the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre which had left 379 dead. In 1921 Gandhi became head of the INC. Gandhi wished the INC to welcome all Indians regardless of caste, class or religion. He supported the Muslim Khilafat movement where Indian Muslims tried to campaign to preserve the Ottoman Caliph, called for Muslims to give up eating beef and Hindus pork to respect one another, and created an alliance with the Sikh Akali Dal. During the 1920s and 1930s the INC led a mass movement bringing together 70 million peoples to peacefully fight British imperialism.
However, things were never united. Muhammad Ali Jinnah split from the INC shortly after Gandhi advocated supporting Khalifat despite being a Muslim himself. Jinnah opposed Gandhi's emphasis on religion and viewed the Khalifat movement as being religious zealotry, (as well as seeing Gandhi himself as being overly pro-Hindu). Others opposed non-violence. Subhas Chandra Bose believed that violence should have been used much to Gandhi's ire, and that of future INC leader Jawaharlal Nehru. By the Second World War he had become radicalized and formed an alliance with the Axis where he formed the Free India Legion from 3,000 Indian POWs from North Africa, and later Japan got him the 40,000 strong Indian National Army made out of recruited Indian POWs captured when Japan took control of South East Asia. Caste was also an issue. Gandhi supported the emancipation of the 'untouchables' or Dalits but he clashed with INC member B.R. Ambedkar on how to do this. Ambedkar was a Dalit and believed that to emancipate them they had to have certain privileges until they reached equality such as separate electorates and reservations in government positions. Gandhi disagreed believing that this would make higher castes actively discriminate against lower castes. Instead he argued that treating everyone the same and giving Dalits the name harijan, (person of Vishnu). Ambedkar saw this as just papering over the issues and only relented when Gandhi threatened another hunger strike. Finally the main division was religion. Although the INC had many non-Hindu members it was overwhelmingly Hindu, and Gandhi's persona of a Hindu holy man disgruntled many Muslims. Furthermore, Ambedkar saw Hinduism as the religion of Dalit oppression, (he later converted to Buddhism), so this didn't help him much. This religious division set the stage for Partition.
An Idea of Pakistan
In 1928 the INC had become so powerful and organized that Jawaharlal Nehru declared that in a report that the INC could form a government in waiting based on a strong central government with a command economy. Five years later a Cambridge educated Punjabi called Choudhry Rahmat Ali released a pamphlet advocating a new state called 'Pakistan'. This new state was designed to be a separate state from a Hindu dominated India comprising of India's Muslims provinces. Even the name amalgamated the names of the provinces with an 'i' added to ease pronunciation: Punjab, Afghan Province, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan. This was seen by poet and politician Muhammad Iqbal who took it as his personal goal and is sometimes referred to as the 'Spiritual Founder of Pakistan'. Iqbal knew Jinnah and some believe that Jinnah's permanent split with the INC to promote Pakistan was through Iqbal's influence. Until his death in 1938 Iqbal tried to strengthen Jinnah and the Muslim League saying:
There is only one way out. Muslims should strengthen Jinnah's hands. They should join the Muslim League. Indian question, as is now being solved, can be countered by our united front against both the Hindus and the English. Without it, our demands are not going to be accepted. People say our demands smack of communalism. This is sheer propaganda. These demands relate to the defense of our national existence.... The united front can be formed under the leadership of the Muslim League. And the Muslim League can succeed only on account of Jinnah. Now none but Jinnah is capable of leading the Muslims.
Jinnah's devotion to Pakistan is heavily debated. It took the Lahore Resolution of 1940 for Jinnah to vocally call for Muslim provinces to be 'autonomous and sovereign'. Ayesha Jalal has argued that Jinnah only threatened Partition as a bargaining chip with Congress which backfired whereas Faisal Deviji has argued that Partition would only be temporary, Pakistan and India would be formed and then come together again. It is important to note that Pakistan and the Muslim League remained an elite movement compared to Congress which cut across all of society. This is shown with the 1937 elections. In 1935 the Government of India Act gave India more independence than the 1919 act but the British still kept a grip on India. It did allow elections which were held in 1937 where Congress won eight out of eleven provinces, and the League won no provinces. Punjab was even outright hostile to the League! Nehru went ahead with his plans but he was both secular and a socialist which meant no distinctions for religion and a centralized government. In a position of overwhelming power he ignored the League's demands for Muslim electorates. When the Second World War broke out the Congress government resigned in protest of the viceroy declaring war despite not consulting them. In 1942 Gandhi organized the 'Quit India Campaign' where it got particular support in the countryside. When it became violent Gandhi said that the British should either 'leave India to God or leave India to anarchy'. Three groups refused to take part: Communists, (as they feared it would distract from the fight against fascism), the borderline far-right Hindu Mahasabha under V.D. Savarkar and B.S. Munje (as subalterns, women and Congress were organizing it), and the Muslim League. Not being in government and not taking part in Quite India let the League gain prominence and with it Partition.
|Buildings destroyed during Partition|
Partition can be described as a tragedy that no-one wanted but everyone was to blame. British incompetence and shirking of responsibility, Jinnah's gamble backfiring, and Nehru's intransigence can all be argued to have played roles in causing Partition. Following the defeat of European fascism and Japanese ultra-nationalism Indian soldiers returned home politicized by Franklin Roosevelt's Atlantic Charter promising self-determination for all peoples. Although Jinnah remained unpopular with many educated Muslims (in modern North-West Frontier Province, then Afghan Province, around 50% disliked him), many Muslims viewed him positively. An attempt during the war by Labour called the Cripps Mission to work for a post-war, independent united India was sabotaged by Winston Churchill who virulently opposed any notion of independence. Churchill soon lost the post-war election bringing in the reformist Labour party of Clement Attlee. Attlee wanted Indian independence, mostly as it was a drain on the British economy by now, Nehru wanted independence, and Jinnah wanted independence but none wanted Partition. The long standing religious based nationalist movements exacerbated recently by the Great Depression, (which forced communities to look inward), and the actions of recent nationalists created a tense situation. In 1946 when Indian soldiers were ordered to go to Vietnam to restore French rule they mutinied and the Communist Party ordered strikes. When members Bose's Indian National Army, (a Hindu, Sikh and Muslim), were tried for 'waging war against the king' leading Congressmen, including Nehru offered to represent them. Slowly communalistic violence and communist agitation lead to a breakdown of the state with the newly appointed Lord Mountbatten proving to be utterly useless and aloof to the violence. Despite Gandhi threatening a hunger strike it was decided that the only way to stop it was Partition and soon.
Wishing to cut its losses Britain sped up the date for the Partition to August 14 1947 for Pakistan and August 15 for India. Jinnah tried to protest against Britain creating a 'truncated or mutilated moth-eaten Pakistan' where India would inherit all of the British Raj's wealth and resources. The Princely States were informed that they would have to join either one of the two states; primarily Muslim states to Pakistan and primarily Hindu states to India. Britain had allotted Sir Cyril Radcliffe to draw a border between the two new states. However there were three issues with this: he had never been to India, he was given out of date maps and censuses to see which communities were which religion, and he finished drawing the border the day after Indian independence. The general masses went into panic. Primary sources tell a harrowing story of how communities fearing that they would be dominated in the opposite state resorted to massacring their neighbors in a form of ethnic cleansing to ensure that they would end up in the correct state. People have recounted how the people who they regarded as auntie, grandmother or grandfather were suddenly set upon because they were the wrong religion. Muslims massacred Hindus and Sikhs while Hindus and Sikhs massacred Muslims. To avoid murder, and for women rape, millions fled their homes becoming refugees. Only in Bengal was this less of a case, (although many thousands were either murdered or fled). It was particularly bad in the Punjab which was split directly in the middle. It is estimated that 6 million Muslims fled to Pakistan and 4.5 million Hindus and Sikhs fled. As late as 1958 over 800,000 refugees remained in camps in Indian Bengal. Most tragically we do not know how many women were raped during Partition. Post-Partition narratives of this kind have been silenced by the states. Although heavily affected Dalits managed to survive. Particularly in the Punjab after being treated horrifically by communities for years they managed to hide out as communities massacred one another which then allowed them to move in and basically loot what remained.
The only figure who could have stopped the spontaneous violence was Gandhi. After fasting had failed to stop Partition he devoted himself to traveling across India to call for peace. In Delhi and Calcutta he succeeded by fasting until he almost died. He was also planning to go to Pakistan and had accepted to speak at a Muslim shrine in Delhi in hope that it could bring peace. Soon Partition consumed the person who many regard as the 'Father of India'. On January 13 1948 Gandhi was assassinated by a member of the Hindu Mahasabha called Nathuram Godse. Historian Crispin Bates has described the consequence of Gandhi's assassination best: Since it was a Hindu, not a Muslim, who ended his [Gandhi's] life, in the horrified hush that followed the fans of communalism were suddenly stilled.
|Image from the 2002 Gujarat Riots|
Jinnah didn't want a truncated Pakistan but that is what he got. More Muslims lived in the new India than Pakistan and the Muslim areas of northern India which were meant to connect Pakistan to Pakistani Bengal were given to India. The Princely State of Kashmir went to India despite being largely Muslim as the prince not only was a Hindu but a personal friend of Nehru. Almost immediately a small war broke out over Kashmir and there have been two wars since. Another war won Bengal's independence, modern Bangladesh, where the Muslim Bengalis had more in common with their Hindu neighbors than their fellow Muslims. India also inherited most of the Raj's wealth, 90% of the Raj's industry and taxable income went to India, as well as 70% of the defense force. Indian democracy has succeeded, other than a small blip of authoritarian rule under Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma) in the late 1970s, while Pakistan has gone from military rule to even more military rule. This is because Congress was a mass party and the League was an elite party. Wealthy Punjabi land owners fled to Pakistan and dominated politics preventing a democracy from emerging like India. Jinnah could have saved Pakistani democracy but he died in 1948 through tuberculosis. Prior to Partition there was some excitement over Pakistan and India. These two states were imagined to be the two new power states. Pakistan in particular excited the left with it being a state made for a minority. Early Zionism had Israel being a state for Jews and not a Jewish state, and Pakistan was seen similarly; it was to be a state for Muslims and not a Muslim state. There were talks that it could be a pioneer of socialism with the USSR and could emancipate women and lower castes. With a weak democratic footing these dreams were soon shattered.
Partition has left a scar on the subcontinent which has been brushed over until recently. Decades after Partition the two states came together to repatriate women who had been kidnapped and forced to marry their kidnappers. However, the women weren't consulted and quite a few didn't want to be repatriated as it meant abandoning their children. The video at the start of the article is the more pleasant side to the Indo-Pakistan rivalry. Bollywood has produced many films over the most recent conflict with Pakistan. Currently the Bharatriya Janata Party (BJP) ruling India is a descendant from the Hindu Mahasabha which took Gandhi's life. Their ideology, Hindutva, has become particularly large since the 1990s when the destruction of a large mosque called the Babri Masjid happened, and even then it was popularized by the Hindutva groups. At the start of this section I showed a photo from the 2002 Gujarat Riots. These riots were communal causing clashes between Hindus and Muslims. In Muslim areas of Gujarat 'Pakistan' and 'Return to Pakistan' were graffitied on Muslim homes and businesses. Finally, Britain has whitewashed its abandoning and role in Partition. Only recently with newer generations have the British public become aware of their role in scarring the Indian subcontinent and it may be generations more before Britain accepts its responsibility for it. For India and Pakistan millions are still living with the consequences of Partition.
The sources I have used are as follows:
-Subalterns and the Raj: South Asia since 1600 by Crispin Bates
-Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy by Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal
-The Origins of the Partition of India, 1936-1947 by Anita Inder Singh
-Asim Roy, 'The High Politics of India's Partition: The Revisionist Perspective', Modern Asia Studies, 1990, 24:2
-The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories by Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar
-The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmin Khan