In August 1947, the end of the former British colonial empire of the Indies and its immediate partition into two independent states – the predominantly Muslim dominion of Pakistan, and the one Of India, mostly Hindu – is reflected in one of the largest population movements in history. The countless murders and massacres that have accompanied it continue to affect the relations between India and Pakistan.
When the Muslim League was established in Dhaka in 1906, the objective was not to create a separate state, reserved for the Muslim population of the British Indies. The first is to defend the rights of the Muslim Indians who, for the founders of this League from the elite of the British Raj, are threatened by a Hindu majority in full swing since the 1860s and the arrival of the British Especially in areas where Muslim Indians are a minority.
This feeling of fear is mingled with a nostalgia for the Mughal Muslim Empire, which preceded a British colonization whose League believes that Muslims are the big losers. For her, it is a matter of hurting the party of the Indian National Congress, a Hindu majority. However, the League, made up of landowners and traders, has little influence: it does not yet have popular support among the Muslim Indians.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
The League wins the first victory in 1909, obtaining the British electoral colleges separated for the Muslims: the religious minority becomes a political minority. Lawyer Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was initially opposed to the idea of separate electorates, joined the League in 1913 and took the presidency three years later. It is he who will lead the Indies towards the Partition.
In the 1930s the word “Pakstan”, an acronym of several provinces (Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan), became “Pakistan” – the “Land of the Pure” in Urdu and Persian. The invention of this word is attributed to the nationalist Choudhary Rahmat.
The League only demanded a separate state in 1940. Muhammad Ali Jinnah finally rallied to his cause the “majority Muslims”, these Muslims living in areas of the Raj where they are more numerous than the Hindus. In his book The Pakistani Syndrome, the specialist Christophe Jaffrelot explains that these Muslims were ” less sensitive to the notion of ” Muslim ” promoted by the League than to their ethnolinguistic identities and/or socioeconomic interests which Sometimes brought together Hindu agrarian elites “.
But in 1935 the British authorized the creation of a central Parliament in New Delhi, and two years later the Congress Party won the elections with eagerness. Frightened by this formation that Jinnah insistently presents as Hindu, the “majority Muslims” end up joining the League in its project of separate states. Especially since Jinnah asserts that his Pakistan will be federalist, with “autonomous” and “sovereign” provinces; Which will not be the case.
The British on their way to the score
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Party of Congress, under the impetus of Mahatma Gandhi, has become the main force of the Indian independence movement with its 15 million members. In 1946, exhausted by the Second World War and when the Raj faced mass unemployment and shortages for several years, Great Britain launched decolonization.
London proposes that future independent India be a very loose federal union, where the majority Muslim provinces (Bengal and Punjab) could form autonomous entities. The League and Congress begin by accepting, but Jawahal Nehru, president of the Congress, finally announces that his party does not consider itself bound by any commitment. The Muslim League then withdrew from the process and organized a ” Day of Direct Action ” in August 1946, which degenerated in Calcutta: the riots killed thousands, mostly Hindus. Inter-communal violence is spreading to Bengal and Punjab in the north and east of the country.
This led Lord Mountbatten, appointed in early 1947 by the British government as the Vic Viceroy India, with the task of preparing for independence as soon as possible, to choose the path of partition. Mahatma Gandhi initially opposed but eventually agreed to avoid a civil war.
London advances the independence originally planned for June 1948 to August 1947. Perhaps to withdraw even faster from a region that seems to slip into chaos. Who sinks there all the more quickly because of this precipitation leaves, at the moment of partition, many problems without solution. The borders between the two states are not announced until August 17, two days after the proclamation of Independence, when the immense population movements and their train of violence have already begun.
At midnight, on the night of 14 to 15 August 1947, independence and therefore partition were proclaimed. With Pakistan divided into two entities separated by 1,700 kilometers: western India western Pakistan, at the other end of India, eastern Bengal. Oriental because the partition plan cuts this state in two, one part for India, the other for Pakistan.
The same applies to the province of Punjab in the west. It is in this mostly Muslim province, where the Hindu and Sikh minorities remain very important, that the worst violence of 1947 is recorded. ” There are many more territorial disputes on the Punjab side, There is an effort to scare away minorities in order to claim their territories, “explains Christophe Jaffrelot, who speaks of” the first massive experience of ethnic cleansing “.
All over the former empire of the Raj, millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are thrown on the roads to rejoin their new homeland. The massacres are innumerable. Whole villages are wiped off the map. Temples and mosques are set on fire. When the columns of refugees, Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus intersect, fighting is systematic. Refugees who obviously should never have crossed themselves, further proof of the unpreparedness of this score.
Each community accuses the other of having to abandon its lands, its possessions, its village, and avenge itself in a flood of violence hardly conceivable. A survivor remembers the ” stacks of corpses piled on the platforms of stations “. Tens of thousands of women are abducted. To escape the rapes, some swallow opium before throwing themselves into wells. Others are murdered by their own families.
The chaos of the partition is also an opportunity for criminals to loot the homes of minority populations in a climate of political violence exacerbated by the Congress and the League, while on both sides the nationalist militias multiply the violence. The exactions of the Hindus of the RSS, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have particularly remained in the memories. The exodus takes place in full monsoon, which promotes the spread of cholera.
The violence lasted for months and still weighs on the bad relations that India and Pakistan have today. The wars which have opposed the two countries are also born of the sequels of the partition. New Delhi and Islamabad fought in 1947 and 1965 for the territory of Kashmir, whose status had remained unclear at the time of partition. A region that is still, today, a zone of strong tensions between the two countries. And in 1971, the eastern part of Pakistan, East Bengal, received support from India in its fight against Islamabad for independence. It will take the name Bangladesh.
Islamabad and New Delhi do not share a common date for their respective national holidays: Independence having been proclaimed on the night of 14 to 15, Pakistan has set its own on 14 August, India at 15.