India vs. Pakistan: 3 questions to understand the division of the two countries 75 years ago and the consequences to date

India vs. Pakistan: 3 questions to understand the division of the two countries 75 years ago and the consequences to date

15 Aug 2022, 06:51 03

Indian and Pakistani troops jointly lower their flags on the Wagah border

Credit, Getty Images


Every night since 1959, Indian and Pakistani troops jointly lower their flags on the Wagah border.

In August 1947, Great Britain granted India independence.

The former British colony was then divided into India and the new state of Pakistan (with East Pakistan later becoming Bangladesh).

This led to an outbreak of violence that displaced some 15 million people and lost around a million their lives.

Since then, India and Pakistan have remained rivals.

Why did the separation happen?

In 1946 Britain announced that it would grant India independence. He could no longer afford to rule the country and wanted out as soon as possible.

The last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, set the date as August 15, 1947.

At that time, about 25% of India’s population was Muslim. The rest were mostly Hindus. But there were also Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and members of other minority religions.

Credit, Getty Images


Leading proindependence activists Jawaharlal Nehru (left) and Mahatma Gandhi (right) wanted an inclusive India.

“The British used religion to categorize people in India,” says Professor Navtej Purewal, an Indian member of the UK government’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

“For example, they made separate lists of Muslim and Hindu voters for local elections. There were seats for Muslim politicians and seats for Hindus. Religion became a factor in politics.”

“When it seemed likely that India would become independent,” says Gareth Price of Britain’s Chatham House Institute for Foreign Affairs, “many Indian Muslims worried about living in a country ruled by a Hindu majority.”

“They thought they were being oppressed,” he says.

“And they began to support political leaders who advocated a separate Muslim homeland.”

Congressional proindependence leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have said they want a united India embracing all religions.

Credit, Getty Images


Muhammad Ali Jinnah strongly disagreed with Gandhi on independence

However, Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah called for the split as part of the independence accord.

“It would have taken a long time to agree on how a united India would work,” says Price.

“Split seemed like a quick and easy fix.”

Credit, Huw Evans Picture Agency


An estimated 2,000 people died in the Calcutta killings in 1946, when Hindus and Muslims fought in the streets.

How much suffering has division caused?

The new borders between India and Pakistan were drawn in 1947 by a British official, Cyril Radcliffe.

He roughly divided the Indian subcontinent into a central and southern part, where Hindus formed the majority, and two parts in the northwest and northeast, where Muslims formed the majority.

However, there were Hindu and Muslim communities scattered throughout British India. That meant that after partition, about 15 million people would move often hundreds of miles to cross the newly created borders.

In many cases, people have been displaced from their homes by community violence. The first example of this was the socalled Calcutta killings of 1946, which killed about 2,000 people.

“The Muslim League has formed both militias and rightwing Hindu groups,” says Eleanor Newbigin, a professor of South Asian history at SOAS University in London.

“Terrorist groups have driven people out of their villages to gain more control from their own side.”

Credit, Getty Images


Sikh refugees in a relief camp in Amritsar, 1947/1948 an estimated 12 to 20 million displaced by the Division

It is estimated that between 200,000 and a million people were murdered or died of disease in refugee camps.

Tens of thousands of women, both Hindu and Muslim, were raped, abducted or disfigured.

What were the consequences of the separation?

Since the split, India and Pakistan have been at odds over control of Kashmir province.

They fought two wars over it (19471948 and 1965) and also clashed in the 1999 Kargil crisis in Kashmir.

Both countries claim the province as their own and currently administer different parts of it.

India also fought with Pakistan in 1971 when it intervened to support East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in its war of independence from Pakistan.

Less than 2% of Pakistan’s population today are Hindus.

“Pakistan has become increasingly Islamic,” says Price, “partly because so much of its population is now Muslim and there are very few Hindus there.”

“And India is now more under the influence of Hindu nationalism.”

Credit, Getty Images


Parts of Amritsar were reduced to rubble during the 1947 riots Muslims wanted the city to become part of Pakistan and Hindus wanted it to remain in India.

“The legacy of partition is worrying,” says Newbigin.

“It has created powerful religious majorities in both countries. Minorities have become smaller and more vulnerable than before.”

According to Professor Navtej Purewal, the split could have been avoided.

“It might have been possible in 1947 to create a united India. It could have been a federation of states, including states where Muslims were in the majority,” she says.

“But Gandhi and Nehru insisted on having a unitary state controlled from the center. They didn’t really think about how a Muslim minority could live in such a country.”

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