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Independence for India and Pakistan

In 1945, Muslims were about 25 percent of India's population. They were scattered across the sub-continent and were a majority of the population in India's Bengal and Punjab regions. India was a land of peoples of different ethnicity and fourteen official languages, with different dialects. The Muslims also varied in language and ethnicity, and they differed in economic class – from a wealthy few to merchants and urban and rural poor.

Muslims mixed little with Hindus, even if they were neighbors. Muslims were strict monotheists. They saw Hindus as idolators. Muslims had their Koran, and the Hindus had their ancient Bhagavad Gita. They did not study or eat together. They ate different foods, Muslims eating the meat of the cow, and Hindus worshipping cows. Muslims and Hindus did not intermarry. On trains, Muslim passengers drank "Muslim water" and Hindu passengers drank "Hindu water."

Nehru and Gandhi

Nehru and Gandhi

With India on its way to independence from British rule and on its way to establishing a constitution, many Muslims were afraid that Hindus would use their majority status to impose upon them laws that would deny them the freedom to pursue their way of life untainted by Hindu ways.

In the 1930s the leader of India's Congress Party, Jawaharlal Nehru, had wanted Muslims to join his party. The Congress Party won the elections that took place at the end of 1945. Nehru considered his party as representing the interests of Hindus and Muslims. But there was the Muslim League, which considered itself as representing Muslims. The Muslim League won all Muslim constituencies and 30 of the 102 seats in parliament.

The Muslim League leader was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He had secularist leanings. He was a sophisticated man who disliked the kind of Hindu and Muslim small-mindedness that produced interfaith hostilities. Jinnah was an exceptionally shrewd and bright lawyer, a man who pressed hard for his goals, with the kind of skill in maneuver that Woodrow Wilson lacked at Paris.

In 1946, the British tried to facilitate an agreement between the Congress Party and the Muslim League – a basic plan preliminary to the creation of a constitution. There were those who believed that what the world needed was more integration rather than segregation. A greater integration was coming in Europe with a treaty for a European Economic Community, the forerunner of the European Union. And integration rather than segregation was to become a big issue in the United States. But it was segregation that was about to be adopted on the Indian sub-continent. Muslims wanted power divided by geography and by religious affiliation.

How to give sovereignty to Muslims living in communities scattered across the sub-continent was a problem, and in the Punjab, where the Muslims were a majority, there was the problem of Hindu minorities. Muslims, moreover, wanted a place for themselves called pak-i-stan, pak meaning purity, stan meaning place. In rallying Muslim support for his political party, Muhammad Ali Jinnah claimed that Muslims could not progress in their various spheres of life without pakistan. It was impossible, he claimed, "to live under Congress authority on account of acts of injustices." Muslims, he warned, would be "reduced to the status of Shudras [low castes]." He added that he would "never allow Muslims to be slaves of Hindus." Jinnah said that he wanted the Muslims of India to develop to the fullest of  "our spiritual, cultural and economic life in consonance with our own ideals, and according to the genius of our own people." note3

After months of wrangling, a plan for a federated India was agreed to. The plan gave Muslims sovereignty in a few of India's many states, and it included a complex scheme for autonomy for Muslims in various places where they were a minority. Jinnah accepted the plan. Those Indians of the Punjab called Sikhs numbered about six million. Their religion had origins in Hinduism but they were monotheists and rejected caste. They opposed the plan for a federated India, believing it left them in a state that would be controlled by Muslims.

Nehru had reservations about the agreement and felt that it was not yet binding. When he appeared to be backing away from the plan, the Muslims felt betrayed. Jinnah accused the Congress Party of scuttling all possibilities of establishment of a constitution through negotiation and compromise. He and his Muslim Party opted for political pressure through street demonstrations for August 16, 1946, which they called "Direct Action Day."

Rather than move Hindus toward agreement with the Muslims, "Direct Action Day"  produced horror. In Calcutta, Muslims were around 25 percent of the population but were in power, and police in the city had been given a special holiday. Mobs took charge of the streets. As often happened with mobs, passions ruled. Muslims attacked Hindus. Then the Muslims were overwhelmed by a massive Hindu backlash reinforced by Sikh taxi and truck drivers. After three days, the army (under British authority) entered the city and ended looting and murder. More than 5,000 had been killed and at least 20,000 seriously injured. Homes were burned and 100,000 were left homeless. The smell of death was in the air from corpses that were piled high and rotting in the streets, in burned homes and where they had been stuffed into sewers.

The killings spread from Calcutta to major cities such as Dacca, Bihar, Bombay, Ahmadabad, and Lahore. In cities where Hindus were the majority, stacks of Muslim bodies blocked street traffic. The rioting and killings demoralized the British struggling to bring about such agreement between the two sides. British imperialists had been proud of uniting India, and now the British wanted to leave India with a show of rectitude, but they were growing impatient. A proper agreement between Hindus and Muslims might take years while the British kept India together, but the Attlee government was eager to get out. On February 20, 1947, Clement Attlee announced that his government would transfer power to "responsible Indian hands" no later than June 1948.


A new viceroy sent by the Attlee government arrived in India on March 22, 1947. This was Lord Mountbatten, a member of Britain's royal family. note4  Mountbatten disliked the idea of splitting India into two separate countries, as did Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Some Muslims were also opposed to partition, including Muslims who were critical of Jinnah's secularism and were asking why create a separate Muslim state if it were going to be secular rather than Islamic.

With no success in arranging an agreement between the Congress Party and the Muslim League, Mountbatten decided that the partition of India was the only solution. Gandhi suggested making Jinnah the leader of a new administration for all of India, but Mountbatten and members of the Congress Party were no longer taking Gandhi seriously. There was belief that Gandhi – who was seventy-eight – was now mentally impaired.

Violence erupted again, in the Punjab. The Punjab had been administered by a fragile coalition of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims who did not belong to the Muslim League. When the Muslim League was instructed to form an administration to rule in Punjab, Sikhs rioted, accompanied by a cry of  "death to Pakistan." The Sikhs demanded a nation of their own, and they were willing to die for it. Slaughter, arson, looting and burning erupted in Amritsar, Lahore and spread to other major cities and into the countryside. In rural Rawalpindi Muslims murdered more than 2,000 in a community of Sikhs and Hindus. Muslims in Lahore, where they were the majority, singled out Sikh and Hindu police for attack. In Lahore, frightened Muslims and Sikhs were on the roof of their homes, screaming at each other. For years they had lived in peace with each other, but now they could not trust their neighbors, and they failed to come together in agreement that the killings would not happen in their neighborhood.

The violence and bloodshed continued through April, May, June and July. Gandhi was in eastern Bengal, talking to common folk and seeking an end to violence that left thousands dead there. He was hoping to convert people to his philosophy of sabrodaya (meaning the uplift of all) and was hoping to live 125 years in order to see sabrodaya succeed. Then fighting broke out in Bihar. There Hindus were killing Muslim. Gandhi traveled there and tried to cash in on his prestige. He tried to spread respect for Muslims by reading from the Koran at public meetings, and some Hindus called him "Muhammad" Gandhi and a traitor and Jinnah's slave.

Migrations and More Slaughter

Nehru agreed with Mountbatten and gave up the idea of a unified India. On April 20, he said that the Muslim League could have its Pakistan if it wanted it on the condition that Pakistan did not include parts of India that did not wish to join it. Nehru quipped that by "cutting off the head we will get rid of the headache." Gandhi alone refused to accept partition.

On July 15, 1947, Britain's House of Commons proclaimed that on 15 August 1947 "two independent dominions" would be established in India, to be known as India and Pakistan. The problem now was drawing the boundaries between these two entities. A commission was created to draw Pakistan's boundaries, the commission consisting of a British legal expert and eight Indian high court judges, four of the judges selected by the Congress Party and the other four selected by the Muslim League. Where the eight judges could not agree, the British legal expert, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, was to decide.

Before August 14, the lines were drawn. Pakistan included that part of the northwest where Muslims had been a majority, including the province of Baluchistan, which had been 91.8 percent Muslim, Sind, which had been 72.7 percent Muslim, and most of the Punjab, which had been 55.7 percent Muslim. And Pakistan included the eastern portion of Bengal – the whole of Bengal having been 54.4 percent Muslim.

Western and eastern Pakistan (to become Bangladesh 23 years later, in 1971) were separated by ethnicity, by language and by a thousand miles.

The Punjab had been India's breadbasket, and now Pakistan would have a surplus of food and India a food shortage. Pakistan had raw materials that India's manufacturers needed, India had manufacturing that Pakistan needed, and communication and transportation lines were soon to be cut. But first a great migration from Pakistan to India and India to Pakistan was to take place.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah had not expected much migration of non-Muslims from Pakistan, and on August 11 he spoke of the people of Pakistan as belonging "to any religion or caste or creed," and he added that "We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state..." Non-Muslims were expected to be about 20 percent of the population, and, in accordance with this, 20 percent of the Pakistani flag was to be white.

But with the creation of an independent Pakistan on August 14, Hindus and Sikhs began abandoning their homes and land and moving out of Pakistan – away, they believed, from a nation hostile to their faith. And many Muslims began moving from India to Pakistan, taking with them what possessions they could. Ten million people were on the move, and the two sides moving in opposite directions failed to leave each other alone. There were hot heads who started the violence and many who joined in. Trainloads of Sikhs and Hindus moving eastward toward India were slaughtered in Pakistan, and Muslims heading westward toward Pakistan were slaughtered by Sikhs and Hindus. Of the ten million migrants, one million did not reach their destination. It is said that amid the upheaval, 75,000 women were abducted and raped – another instance of upheaval giving opportunity to those with the potential for such atrocity. And it is said that countless children disappeared.note5

Many in India looked upon the thirty or so million Muslims who had chosen to stay as a "fifth column" – in other words an enemy force. They wanted to drive the Muslims out and to have the state devoted to Hinduism, but Nehru would have none of it. He insisted that India be secular with all minorities enjoying full protection of the law. The violence against Muslims continued, with Gandhi no longer wanting to live to be 125.

Gandhi protested against the continuing violence against Muslims. He fasted, and some Hindus chanted "Let Gandhi die." Nehru was outraged over the hostility expressed toward Gandhi. The violence against Muslims in New Delhi died down, and Gandhi ended his fast. Then, on January 30, 1948, just before sundown, while walking to a prayer meeting, he was shot. His assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Brahmin and a member of a Hindu paramilitary group called the National Volunteer Association (Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh), and he was a disciple of Veer Savarkar, a longtime nationalist Hindu who had taken exception to what he saw as Gandhi's appeasement of Muslims.

Conflicts in Boundary Drawing

Splitting Pakistan from India came with conflicts regarding Hyderabad (in south-central India) and the small princely state of Junagadh (northwest of Bombay). Each was ruled by a Muslim prince and had Hindu majorities. The ruler of Hyderabad wanted his territory to be included in Pakistan. India gave the prince a few months to think about it, and then, in September, 1948, sent an army, which, according to the Indian view, liberated the Hindu majority. And Junagadh was similarly liberated.

The mountainous area in the far northwest, Kashmir, remained a more difficult problem. The idea of an independent, Asian Switzerland had been rejected by both the Muslims and Hindus. A part of Kashmir was given to Pakistan, including the area around Rawalpindi, just north of which Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, was to be established in 1960.

A portion of Kashmir, farthest north, was uninhabited high mountains. Another portion of Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu maharaja, Hari Singh, whose dominion included the area around Jammu. Most of his subjects were Muslim, but the maharaja did not want his lands to become a part of Pakistan. Where the maharaja ruled, Muslims rebelled, and some Muslims in Pakistan went to their aid. The maharaja turned to New Delhi for support. On October 26, 1948, the maharaja's lands were acceded to India – to become known as Jammu-Kashmir. Delhi sent troops to its capital, Srinagar. Jinnah failed in his effort to send Pakistani troops, as they were still officered by British, who refused. A plebiscite that India had promised to settle the dispute was never held. A United Nations cease fire came into effect on January 1, 1949, but tensions concerning Kashmir continued.


Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.