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The Radcliffe Award

This award, given to India in the form of “Radcliffe Line”, was the most bloody and painful gift ever. The Prime Minister Clement Attlee of the United Kingdom stood in London Parliament on 20th February 1947 and announced:

  1. British Government would grant full self-government to British India by June 1948 at the latest,
  2. The future of Princely States would be decided after the date of final transfer is decided.

On June 3rd 1947, Lord Mountbatten, then Viceroy of British India proposed the following plan:

  1. Principle of Partition of India was accepted by the British Government
  2. Successor governments would be given dominion status
  3. Implicit right to secede from the British Commonwealth

This plan got Royal Assent from King Geroge VI of England on 18th July 1947 as the “Indian Independence Act 1947”. It was “An Act to make provision for the setting up in India of two independent Dominions, to substitute other provisions for certain provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935, which apply outside those Dominions, and to provide for other matters consequential on or connected with the setting up of those Dominions.

The Act’s stated that:

  • division of British India into the two new and fully sovereign dominions of India and Pakistan, with effect from 15 August 1947;
  • partition of the provinces of Bengal and Punjab between the two new countries;
  • establishment of the office of Governor-General in each of the two new countries, as representatives of the Crown;
  • conferral of complete legislative authority upon the respective Constituent Assemblies of the two new countries;
  • termination of British suzerainty over the princely states, with effect from 15 August 1947, and recognized the right of states to accede to either dominion
  • abolition of the use of the title “Emperor of India” by the British monarch (this was subsequently executed by King George VI by royal proclamation on 22 June 1948).

The Act also made provision for the division of joint property, etc. between the two new countries, including in particular the division of the armed force.

Following this act, Cyril John Radcliffe, 1st Viscount Radcliffe, a British Law Lord was sent to India on 8th July 1947. He was given just 5 weeks cut India into two parts, based on religion. Two separate boundary commissions were setup, one for Punjab and one for Bengal. Both were chaired by Radcliffe. The Punjab Boundary Commission consisted of Justices Mehr Chand Mahajan, Teja Singh, Din Mohammed and Muhammad Munir. The Bengal Boundary Commission consisted of Justices C. C. Biswas, B. K. Mukherjee, Abu Saleh Mohamed Akram and S. A. Rahman.

He started drawing the bloody line, which is popularly known as the Radcliffe Line. It divided India between the modern day India and the Pakistan (which later split into East and West Pakistan).

RadcliffeLine-2

Problems & Loopholes in procedure

  1. Radcliffe never visited India before this date
  2. He couldn’t travel the length and breadth of India during his 5 week stay
  3. He kept distance from Lord Mountbatten and other Indian Politicians, who knew India well, in order to stay unbiased (which in-turn proved fatal)
  4. There was no outside participant (such as United Nations)
  5. There was lack of sufficient survey data and regional demographics
  6. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were kept in the border commissions, but their internal fight made the decision tougher. Worse, the family (wife & 2 children) of Sikh Judge was killed a few weeks earlier.
  7. Britain was in ‘war debt’ and could not afford arranging for adequate resources.
  8. Punjab Border Commission was to draw a line right through homeland of Sikhs and Bengal Border Commission was to draw line through Chittagong, home to Buddhists in order to divide India between Hindus and Muslims.
  9. Buddhist tribes in Chittagong Hill Tracts had no official representation and were left without any information to prepare for their situation during partition.
  10. Line could be drawn only through the British controlled areas, leaving as many as 562 princely states to the hands of their rulers to decide, which side to join. States like Kashmir and Junagadh had ruler from different religion than their majority population, which ended up in major conflicts.
  11. Major states like Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Rewa, Gwalior, Jaisalmer, Bahawalpur comprised most of the Indian land and were forced to choose one side.
  12. Hindu majority areas like Khulna and Buddhist majority Chittagong Hills were given to Pakistan while Muslim majority Murshidabad and Malda fell in India. Similarly, major Sikh settlements of Lahore, Rawalpindi & Multan went to Pakistan while Muslims rich Gurdaspur, Jalandhar and Ludhiana were given to India.
  13. Sindh, from where the name “Hind”, “Hindi” and “Hindustan” is derived, was given to Pakistan leaving as many as 1.4 million Hindus in a stiff. Half of them fled to India.
  14. Several important factors were ignored by Radcliffe, which was complained by every party in India.
  15. A rough line was drawn on paper, leaving several regions in dilemma. We still have few homes in Bengal, where one room is in India and other in Bangladesh
  16. Entire process of division was kept secret and only core committee knew of the draft
  17. Partition was declared on 17th August 1947, two days after Independence. Many villages hoisted flag of different countries for 2 days, until the confusion was cleared on 17th. For example, Malda was taken by East Pakistan Administration and Pakistani flag was hoisted, until Indian Administration reached after 4 days with correct documents and replaced the flag.
  18. Since Partition was declared after the British handed over control, the responsibility of Law & Order during Migration was left to the hands of newly formed governments, who were still taking account of their security strengths and weaknesses. It took them several months to get law enforcement agencies in place, during which, the mass massacre happened.
  19. Only 50,000 security personnel were deployed in Punjab, to protect 14 million migrating individuals. There was less than 1 soldier per square mile.

Eleven days before returning independence to India, Lord Mountbatten works with his advisors to divide India peaceably. New Delhi, India, August 4th, 1947. (David Douglas Duncan)

Aftermaths

  1. India had population of 390 Million during partition, out of which 30 million were to fall in East Pakistan and 30 million in West Pakistan.
  2. 14 million people were displaced, making it largest mass migration in history
  3. As per one estimate, 500,000 were killed
  4. 7.2 million Muslims, who reached Pakistan in hope of their ‘own’ country were branded as “Muhajir” (Migrant)
  5. Approximately 80,000 women were abducted during movement. Less than 30,000 were recovered by 1954. Much more were raped and killed.
  6. Several minor battles were fought to annex the princely states and the regions under control of Portugal. Operations of Hyderabad, Goa, Dadar & Nagar Haveli and Sikkim are prominent.
  7. The Hindu ruler of the state of Jammy and Kashmir decided to not to choose any side. However, soon after the partition, the tribal forces from Pakistan invaded Kashmir. Maharaja of Kashmir requested India of protection, at which Lord Mountbatten asked him to sign the Instrument of Accession before any help can be provided. Half heartedly, Raja Hari Singh signed the instrument and Jammu-Kashmir officially became part of India. Soon Indian Forces reached Kashmir to help Kashmiris from invading tribal forces. However, a major portion was already taken and instead of massive bloodshed, Nehru chose UN’s intervention for the peaceful resolution. The matter is still a major reason for conflict between the two countries and is considered as the ground for various wars and cross border terrorism.
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2 thoughts on “The Radcliffe Award

  1. Informative article

  2. Stuart on said:

    Excellent article. I am researching this topic having travelled in the sub-continent in the 80s.

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