A Brief Overview of the 1947 Partition

Author: Tanya Sujan

British India acquired independence in 1947 and was bifurcated into two nations- a Hindu dominant India and a Muslim majority Pakistan. The portion earlier known as East Pakistan was further detached from the newly formed nation of Pakistan and led to the formation of Bangladesh in 1971.

The Partition is seen by many scholars through the policy of divide and rule adopted by the colonial government. Before the coming of the British, the sectarian differences were highly blurred and were largely unrealised by the common folk.

The Partition of India led to one of the greatest migrations in human history and is seen as one of the biggest instances of displacement, migration, and massacre. Though it is difficult to quote the exact figures, it is estimated that about 14 million people were forced to migrate to either sides, and the estimated number of killings range between 200,000 and 2 million.

The consequent bloodshed was unimaginable. The violent circumstances of the Partition is seldom compared to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. Nisid Hajari in his work, “Midnight’s Furies”, writes about the “blood trains” that “… crossed the border in funereal silence, blood seeping from under their carriage doors”. Urvashi Butalia in ‘The Other Side of Silence” also focuses on the abduction and rape of women, who became a sign of virility and honour, and were sometimes killed by their own family members in order to preserve these morals.

Apart from the loss of lives, the survivors of Partition faced a loss of identity and culture. They were, overnight, completely uprooted and separated from their homes, land, social circles and culture. This, in many ways, was a permanent loss, as they were forced into a completely different environment. The times of hostility and unrest, of course, did not help this transition to be easier or smoother. Partition continues to be a lived experience for many people across the subcontinent. The political relations between the now nuclear-armed neighbours remain hostile, plagued by the legacy of Partition and the four wars that followed it.

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