The Partition of India
took place on the midnight of 14th-15th August, 1947
when undivided India which had gained independence from the British, was partitioned into two nations- Pakistan
As India's national movement gained ascendancy, it became clear that the chief party the Congress was dominated by Hindus. Many Muslims felt that they would be marginalised under majority Hindu rule. The Muslim League had been founded in Dhaka in 1906. Under its leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the party put forth its 'two nation theory' that Hindus and Muslims were really two nations and that the Muslim majority areas of India should be partitioned to form a separate state called Pakistan.
The immediate events leading to Partition remain mired in confusion and controversy. What remains clear is that as the British were departing, they did not really consider the horrific consequences of the act they were about to perpetuate on the sub-continent. Moreover, the Congress too was unwilling to share power with Jinnah and agreed to the partition of the country. Referendums were held in the North West Frontier Province and in Sylhet, (then in the state of Assam) both of which opted to join Pakistan. As a result of these measures, India was partitioned on two fronts- in the East, Bengal was divided to form East Pakistan, while the Muslim majority areas in the north and north west formed West Pakistan, with the state of Punjab being divided into two. Many today blame the British, especially Lord Mountbatten for the Partition of the country. This should however not detract from the divisive role played by many leaders from both communities.
The human and economic fall out of this largely political decision was catastrophic. Millions of people were uprooted and one of the largest migrations in human history took place, especially in the Punjab. There were communal riots and trainloads of refugees were often slaughtered, with both communities equally guilty of atrocities. Thousands of women were raped, murdered or abducted and hundreds of children were separated from their families. A similar but smaller exodus took place in the east preceded by the worst riots this region has ever seen- The Great Calcutta Killings of 1946 that even the apostle of peace, Mahatma Gandhi was unable to stop. The events of Partition have left scars on the psyche of people on both sides of the border, that are yet to heal today.
Many today wonder the role of Gandhi in the partition of the country. However, by this time, Gandhi had been reduced to a largely symbolic figure even within the Congress party with the reigns of power firmly in the hands of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Gandhi was appalled by the communal riots, undertook long fasts to bring some semblance of sanity and saw Pakistan as a betrayal of the idea that independent India would be united and secular.
In 1971, the Bengalis in East Pakistan who felt that they were being discriminated by the West, gained independence under their leader Sheikh Mujibur Rehman with military help from India, to form Bangaldesh. The brief Indo-Pak war of 1974 saw the Indian side 'victorious' and the creation of a new nation with its capital at Dhaka.
The Partition of India has left bitter memories on both sides, and the wounds are yet to heal. Many people who left homes, property and family behind, have been unable to return as India and Pakistan have remained hostile to each other for over 50 years. The chief cause of this hostility has been the dispute over Kashmir and it has prevented any meaningful dialogue on many outstanding issues from the days of Partition. However, what this political conflict has often obscured is the remarkable cultural affinity of both nations, which perhaps offers the naive hope that someday citizen-to-citizen contact will bring about peace between these two nuclear neighbours.