By: Stephanie Musso
Pakistan and India were not always the two separate nations with complex relations and differences as they are today. Prior to 1947, Pakistan did not exist. The British controlled the area that is now Pakistan for almost two centuries starting with the East India Company in 1757, followed by the British Raj from 1858 up until 1947. When the British gave India back its independence, they also created the new state of Pakistan.
On February 20, 1947, the British announced their plan to grant independence to India and the partition of Pakistan, likely unknowing it would leave an impact on the region for decades to come. This plan called for a separation of the territory into two states, India and Pakistan, “based, first, upon the right of the Muslim majority to decide their method of government according to their wishes.” The separation of states was one the Muslim League had been trying to achieve in years prior due to deep concerns of living under Hindu-majority rule and exacerbating growing tensions between Hindu and Muslim communities.
Drawing a line to separate India and Pakistan was no easy task. A Boundary Commission was formed—chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer—resulting in the creation of the Radcliffe Partition Line, which arbitrarily separated Muslim and Hindu populations. The line was drawn in two areas, one at the Northwest corner which created Pakistan, and one in the Northeast which created East Pakistan (today known as Bangladesh). This separated the new state of Pakistan from the majority Hindi populated India.
There was both opposition and accord for this planned partition. Gandhi and his followers unsuccessfully urged the two sides to work past differences and remain one, unified India. The creation of Pakistan caused one of history’s greatest mass migrations with Muslims retreating to Pakistan, and Hindis leaving those areas for India.
The Muslim League might view the partition as a success but scholars argue that it has deepened the conflict. After the partition, there was an increase of violent attacks amongst the Hindu and Muslim populations, most of whom had once co-existed as neighbors. Approximately twelve million people migrated and one million people died due to the migration and increased violence. Ayesha Jalal, a Pakistani historian, has called the partition, “a defining moment that…continues to influence how the people and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”
Stephanie Musso is currently and intern at EastWest Insitute.