The Story of Partition

Margaret Palazzo, Hawker College, 2012

The following essay was written as part of the 'Liberators and Revolutionaries' unit at Hawker College, Semester 2, 2012. It was written in response to the following question: '“... now that Muslims and Hindus were actively making plans for a future in which the British were expected to disappear from the seat of power, all the antagonism between the two religious persuasions flared up.” (Mabbett 1968, p. 185) What were some key factors that led to the creation of the separate independent states of India and Pakistan?'

The Partition of India caused the largest mass migration of people in history, and played an indisputable role in shaping South Asia, as Pakistan became an independent nation on the 14th of August, 1947, one day prior to India (Guardian, n.d.). There were many key factors that led to the partition: fear of lack of representation by the Muslim minority, an absence of cohesive culture and national identity, the prospect of incredible political gain for members of the Muslim League, and encouraged segregation between religions by the British Raj. While the separation was intended to end social and political turmoil between Hindus and Muslims, much conflict and violence continues between the two nations today. The Partition appears to have done little to quell the distrust and disharmony that led to the creation of Pakistan in the first place.

The Indian independence movement began in the 1870’s following the Indian Mutiny, and in 1885 the Indian National Congress was established. The National Congress became India’s political tool against the British, leading the subcontinent gradually into self-rule following World War I. The Muslim League formed in 1906 to help ensure the rights and representation of a Muslim minority on the Indian subcontinent, and while the League encouraged the creation of separate Muslim electorates, the idea of a separate Muslim state was not realistically proposed until the early 1930’s (Keen 1998). This idea gradually gained support amongst many Muslims, and was advocated by League president, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. In 1946, independence was hastily offered to India, as the British government, preoccupied by post war troubles at home, “did not want to have its time taken up and a part of its armed forces engaged in coping with a nationalist movement in India” . Following this promise of independence, many riots broke out across India, most significantly the Calcutta riots of August 17, in demand of Pakistan . The Partition was agreed upon in 1947, and Pakistan became a nation on the 14th of August, followed a day later by India. This event created some 14 million refugees, forced to migrate to new lands they knew nothing of, and approximately one million died on the journey. Those who did not migrate were left as a tragically small religious minority in their new nation. Today, disputes remains between India and Pakistan, as it becomes evident that the partition has done little to solve religious conflict.

Hindus and Muslims had lived together in India for hundreds of years, and yet, like many other Asian countries, there was virtually no national identity during times of British rule and independence (Mabbet 1968: 186). Rather than belonging to a country, the people of India belonged to a caste, a religion and a village. This divide was only strengthened by British Influence, as many Indian Muslims were encouraged to build their own political and cultural identity, under the British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ (Kaul 2011). With the lack of a homogenous society at national level, advocates of partition felt the creation of two nations along religious lines would be the most obvious choice; with scarce sense of communalism and Indian identity, there was little point in trying to force a united country. Politically, the nation had already begun to separate before the partition; there “were at least two nations in India and each must have its own homeland, its territory and its own state.” (Masselos 1972: 160) This separation first manifested itself in the 1909 Act, introduced by Britain, which created separate electorates along religious lines. Gradually, national politics became polarized to religious extremes, with little representation of a middle view (Masselos 1972: 195). This religious separation, socially and politically, became a major factor in the partition of India, as many felt it would be far simpler to create entirely separate countries, than attempt to force together two often times conflicting cultures under the same nation. By the mid 1940’s, “So bitter… was the hostility between Muslims and Hindus, so deep their distrust, that … nothing short of outright partition of the country… would suffice” (Masselos 1972: 206). Britain’s sudden exit from the subcontinent decided the issue; no time was left for the careful construction of one fair nation, so two were simply created.

Related Article: The Partition of India
Amongst the Muslim community, there was a widespread concern that the new India would not fit Islamic ideals. While Muslim rule had previously existed in parts of India for some 300 years under the Mughal Empire, it became clear that, with their great majority, Hindus would hold the main power in government. Indeed, the Congress had begun to try and pass laws that were unfavorable to Muslims, namely by attempting to ban cow slaughter, the main source of meat for Muslims, and by trying to change the official script of India from Urdu, a Muslim language, to Hindi (Keen 1998). This only served to confirm Muslim fears. With the Islamic community consisting of just twenty percent of the population, it was easily conceivable that Muslims would have no true political voice in India (Kaul 2011). Similarly, for many Islam was not simply a church like Christianity, but designed to be a governing state, and without dominating political power, the Muslim culture and religion could not fully develop. In Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s 1930 address to the Muslim League, he argued that “The religious ideal of Islam, therefore, is organically related to the social order which it has created… Therefore the construction of a polity on national lines, if it means a displacement of the Islamic principle of solidarity, is unthinkable to a Muslim.” (Sherwani 1977) And despite assurances that Muslims would be represented, the fear of lack of protected interests became the key motivation to rally for an independent nation.

Led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah as their permanent president, the Muslim League was the main rallying force that caused the partition. While the League had been in place since 1909, it was Jinnah who turned the group into a powerful political tool, calling for direct action in forcing a separation of India (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1966). Jinnah first demanded Pakistan in 1940, and as the inevitable independence drew nearer he called for violent and forceful action amongst Muslims, resulting in riots across India. He argued that there were two nations attempting to exist in one country, an ominous political situation and in a statement made in December, 1945, declared “Muslim India will never accept any method of forming the constitution of India by means of one Constitution-making body for all India, in which the Mussalman will be in a hopeless minority.” (The National Archives, n.d.) At his urging, new branches of the league were created across the nation, and anti-congress propaganda spread, with many Muslims being told that justice could not be expected under congress rule (Masselos 1972: 159). Personally, Jinnah stood to gain much from Pakistan; in a united India he could hope to be no more than second to Jawaharlal Nehru, but in a separate Muslim state he was a guaranteed presidential leader. It is not unreasonable to assume that the prospect of power could have been a key motivating factor for his personal advocacy of partition. Undoubtedly it was the Muslim League that played the greatest role in the formation of Pakistan. Without strong political avocation, the idea of Pakistan could have quickly lost momentum. Jinnah, however, created a powerful organisation united behind the central idea of an independent Muslim state.

Yet, as determined as many were to see India divided, there were also vehement opposition to the idea of partition. Most notable of those against the League was Mahatma Gandhi, who urged leaders of the League and Congress to keep India whole as a nation. Gandhi was, in the eyes of many, the nationalist leader and determined to see a united India (Mabbet 1968: 187). However, at the prospect of civil war between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi agreed to change his stance on the issue, beginning a fast until death unless the religious violence abated. Until late 1946 and early 1947, many members of the British government and the Indian National Congress maintained that India could not be divided. Indeed, a Cabinet Mission sent to India from Britain in February 1946 declared that “Pakistan was not feasible economically, administratively or militarily, and furthermore, that its creation would not solve the communal problem which would continue in a truncated Bengal and Punjab” (Masselos 1972: 179). Evidently though, these voices of opposition were drowned by the violence of Jinnah’s ‘Direct Action Day’, and the desperate desire to create something, anything, of a nation. Barely a year later the transfer of power to Pakistan and India was declared. Haphazardly, the two new countries were drawn in a matter of months, with the Muslim majority areas of Punjab and Bengal forming West and East Pakistan, respectively. If more time had been taken to form Pakistan and India and if the Congress had not decided so suddenly to concede to the League, it is easy to conceive that much of the political turmoil that exists today between Pakistan and India could have been bypassed. While many did attempt to denounce the partition, they were unsuccessful. Ultimately, the need for freedom from India overpowered the need for a united subcontinent.

In August, 1947 the Indian subcontinent was freed from over 300 years of British dominated rule, and divided into two separate nations, India and Pakistan. In this momentous occasion, a socially and culturally divided country split along religious lines, forcing those who migrated into entirely foreign lands, and leaving those who could not, or would not migrate a hopeless minority. This separation as the result of years of intense campaigning by the Muslim League, and violent rallying across India. And while many opposed the partition, such as members of Congress and British representatives, Indian Muslims were granted their own land and government in the regions of Punjab and Bengal. This separation, an attempt to quell religious turmoil and safeguard cultural rights, has done little to prevent conflict between Hindu Indians and Muslim Pakistanis. Many millions have died since the partition, both in the initial migration of refugees to new lands, and in continued violence between nations. Pakistan is an indisputably controversial issue, a nation born from social, political and cultural divides.


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Mabbet, I. W. 1968, A Short History of India, North Melbourne: Cassell Australia

Masselos, J. C. 1972, Nationalism on the Indian Subcontinent, Melbourne: Thomas Nelson

The World Book Encyclopedia, 1966, India, London: The World Book Encyclopedia.


The Guardian 2012, 'Partition: The birth of India and Pakistan: Interactive’, The Guardian, 6 September 2012. Accessed 19 September, 2012 at

Kaul, C. 2011, ‘From Empire to Independence: The British Raj in India 1858-1947’, BBC History. Accessed 15 September, 2012 at

Keen, S. 1998, ‘The Partition of India’. Accessed 21 September, 2012 at

Sherwani, L. A. (ed.) 1977, Speeches, Writings, and Statements of Iqbal (2nd ed.), Lahore: Iqbal Academy. Accessed 28 January, 2013 at

The National Archives (n. d.), 'Speech by Muhammad Jinnah on the partition of Bengal and the Punjab, 4th May 1947'. Accessed 15 September, 2012 at