What was the reason behind partition of India and Pakistan?

Partition saw the greatest mass migration in history Credit: PA

By ITV News Central Journalist, Zahra Fatima

It's midnight on August 14 1947, British colonial rule has just ended, culminating in the birth of two new nations.

Seventy-five years later, this weekend marks the anniversary of partition - which saw the division of the Indian sub-continent into the two, newly independent nation states of India and Pakistan.

Partition involved the division of India which cut through two major provinces, Bengal and the Punjab based on whether each area had a predominately Muslim majority (thereby forming part of Pakistan) or that of a Sikh and Hindu one (becoming part of India).

The divide led to the split formation of both West Pakistan (later just 'Pakistan') and East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh in 1971).

The two regions were around 1,000 miles apart, with India in the middle.

Yet, despite the celebrations of having at last achieved independence after almost two hundred years of British rule, for many, memories of Independence day are often bitter-sweet.

For many, it is marred with the reminder of horrific events that led to the death of more than one million people and the uprooting of over fifteen million others.

Why did partition happen?

Mahatma Gandhi and his volunteers marching to the sea face at Dandi on the morning of April 6th, 1930, when they broke the Salt laws Credit: PA

The Indian sub-continent, described as the 'jewel in the Empire's crown' was under British colonial rule for almost two hundred years (between 1858-1947).

Millions of Indian Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus volunteered as part of allied war efforts during the First World War.

But thirty years later, the Second World War saw British leaders declare war on behalf of the sub-continent, which remained under imperial control.

This led to widespread protests and calls for independence. A 'Quit India' movement was launched and led by Mahatma Gandhi in exchange for co-operation in the war effort.

It came as many people in India felt that they no longer wanted to be ruled by the British and wanted to govern themselves.

For nearly three decades there had been a nationalist struggle in British India by those who wanted independence from British rule.

There was also tension between Hindus and Muslims in India, which was leading to the idea that the independent region should be divided into two states.

After it was announced that British rule would end, it was decided that the majority of the Hindu population would remain in India, while the newly-created Pakistan would be home to mostly Muslims.

In March 1947, Lord Mountbatten was appointed last Viceroy of India and oversaw its partition. He then served as the first Governor-General of India until June 1948.

Where did the idea of 'Pakistan' come from and why?

The term 'Pakistan', meaning 'the land of the pure' was first coined in 1933 in a pamphlet by Cambridge law student, Choudhry Rahmat Ali. He envisaged a separate homeland for Muslims in South Asia.

He is considered one of the originators of Pakistan Movement, along with philosopher Muhammad Iqbal who suggested the two-nation theory. But it wasn't until the 1940's that these ideas gained traction.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, is widely revered as 'Qaid e-Azam' or 'Father of the Nation'

Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan, and was responsible for spearheading this campaign. He is widely revered by Pakistani's as 'Qaid e-Azam' or 'The Father of the Nation'.

Initially, he sought the political union of Hindus and Muslims which led to him being described as "the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity".

But by the 1940's a disillusioned Jinnah had come to believe that Indian Muslims should have their own state to avoid becoming marginalised in the independent India that would come into fruition once the British had left.

The Radcliffe Line: Why was it so controversial?

Lord Louis Mountbatten gives the declaration of independence to Pandit Nehru on 15 August 1947 Credit: PA

A Lawyer named Cyril Radcliffe was appointed to divide British-ruled India into the new independent nations of India and Pakistan.

He was given just five weeks to divide 175,000 square miles, and 88 million people, despite never having been to India or knowing anything about it.

By his own admission, Radcliffe was heavily unprepared for the momentous task of dividing the sub-continent.

There was an absence of experts and advisors, with some suggesting this was a deliberate attempt to avoid delay, as Britain's Labour government, then deep in wartime debt, simply couldn't afford to hold on to its increasingly unstable empire.

To avoid disputes and delays, the division was done in secret.

Radcliffe justified the division saying that, no matter what he did, people would suffer. He departed before the boundary awards were distributed.

What happened next?

Millions of people scrambled to get on the right side of newly drawn borders

There are countless narrations of a spirit of 'brotherhood' between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, who had peacefully co-existed for hundreds of years.

The hugely controversial demarcation line, termed the 'Radcliffe Line' was not officially unveiled until two days after partition, on August 17, 1947.

Celebrations of independence from British rule were swiftly cut short as people realised they were suddenly on the 'wrong' side of the border.

The Radcliffe line cut through villages, and passed through important regions including the Punjab - cut into two by the new border.

Following the swift exit of the British, law and order broke down as the newly created governments of India and Pakistan struggled to maintain control as they tried to divide assets.

Almost overnight, more than 15 million of people were forced to leave their homes as they scrambled to get to the 'right side' of the border, spurring the largest mass migration in human history.

Historians estimate that up to one million people were killed in the large scale violence and brutality that ensued.

What has the situation been like since?

Indian soldiers in Kashmir, May 2022

The legacy of violence caused by partition has created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between the two countries that impacts their relationship to this day.

Many families were divided across borders and remain unable to visit one another or return to their ancestral homelands. To this day travel restrictions exist between both countries.

The Kashmir issue is perhaps the most well known on-going territorial dispute between the two nations.

Two of the three wars that have taken between India and Pakistan escalated over the disputed territory.

Referred to as one of the oldest running conflicts in the world, separatist fighters in Indian-controlled Kashmir have fought a campaign against the military for years, with accusations of war crimes levelled at both sides.

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