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CBSE Notes | Class 12 | History | Chapter 14 - Understanding The Partition

The chapter introduces students to the era of partition and allows them to understand the partition. The chapter talks about the history and the causes of the partition. The chapter also talks about the provincial elections of 1937 & the congress ministries.

Partition Or Holocaust?

The joy of independence from colonial rule was shattered by the agony of British India's partition into two states, India and Pakistan, in 1947. (Pakistan's Eastern and Western Alliance).

There was unprecedented genocidal bloodshed and migration across the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and hundreds of thousands of women were raped and kidnapped. Millions of people were uprooted and forced to flee their homes, resulting in them becoming refugees in foreign countries.

Based on educated and scholarly estimates, the number of people killed ranges from 200,000 to 500,000. Because the exact boundaries of the migration were unknown, it took place on a massive scale.

People became homeless, and valuables and immovable property were suddenly lost. Many people were also separated from their families and friends, and as a result, many died.

Survivors have used terms like “maashal-la” (martial law), “mara-mari” (killings), and “raula,” or “hullar” to describe 1947. (disruption, commotion, uproar)

Several contemporary observers and experts referred to the killings, rape, burning, and looting as a "holocaust." In a way that the bland term "partition" does not, the term "holocaust" expresses the tragedy of what happened in the Indian subcontinent in 1947.

It also helps to focus on why Partition, like the Holocaust in Germany, is brought up so frequently in our current issues.

How did preconceptions come to be so powerful?

Prejudices have developed between residents of both countries as a result of the split. Many people in India believe that Muslims are Pakistani patriots.

According to the stereotype of extraterritorial, pan-Islamic allegiance, Muslims are the descendants of harsh, biassed, unclean invaders, whereas Hindus are the descendants of nice, liberal, pure invaders.

There are stereotypes of the same kind in Pakistan. These convictions were bolstered significantly after 1947.

Communal Groups

Communal groups have played an important role in widening the gap between the two communities by instilling a sense of suspicion and distrust, consolidating the power of communal stereotypes, and promoting the deeply problematic notion that Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims are distinct communities with sharply defined boundaries and fundamentally opposing interests.

The legacy of Partition has had a significant impact on the relationship between Pakistan and India.

Why and How Did Partition Happen?

Following Jinnah's notion of Muslim expansionism and demand for an independent nation, colonial governments established a "special electorate for Muslims" in 1909, which was expanded in 1919. This was the primary cause of the partition. The nature of communal politics was significantly altered as a result of this action.

The events of 1947 are thought to be inextricably linked to a long history of Hindu-Muslim conflict throughout history, both mediaeval and modern.

Because of the segregated electorate, Muslims can now elect their own MP is defined constituencies. As a result, politicians in this system were tempted to use sectarian slogans in order to gain support by favouring their own religious groups.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, tensions rose over a variety of issues. The Arya Samaj's efforts to reintegrate people who had recently converted to Islam into the Hindu fold, as well as "music-before-mosque," the cow protection movement, and the Arya Samaj's efforts to reintegrate people who had recently converted to Islam, enraged Muslims (shuddhi).

Hindus were enraged by the rapid growth of tabligh (propaganda) and Tanzim (organisation) after 1923.

Riots erupted in several parts of the country as middle-class publicists and communal activists attempted to strengthen community solidarity by mobilising people against the opposing community.

Every communal riot heightened tensions between groups, leaving lingering images of violence.

What is Communalism?

Communalism is a term used to denote attempts to reconstruct religious or ethnic identity, incite strife between people identified as different communities & stimulate communal violence between those groups.

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The Provincial Elections of 1937 & The Congress Ministries

The first provincial legislative elections were held in 1937. Only 10–12% of the population had voting rights.

A majority in five of eleven provinces was achieved by Congress. So the performance was poor in Muslim-majority areas.

The Muslim League received only 4.4% of the Muslim vote in this election. The League won only two out of 84 reserved constituencies in Punjab and three out of 33 in Sind.

In the United Province, Congress won a landslide As a result of the league's support for landlordism, which Congress wanted to abolish, their proposal was rejected.

Many scholars argue that the League was convinced that if India remained united, Muslims would struggle to gain political power due to their minority status. A Muslim party alone could represent Muslim interests, and Congress was a Hindu party.

Md. Ali Jinnah insisted the league be the only Muslim spokesman who could persuade few at the time.

However, the League had little support in three of the provinces from which Pakistan would be formed ten years later: Bengal, the NWFP, and Punjab.

Ultimately, the Congress' secular and radical rhetoric only alarmed conservative Muslims and the Muslim landed elite, not the Muslim masses.

The Ideas of Secularism

In the late 1930s, the congress focused more on the idea of secularism, but in 1937 Maulana Azadan important congress leader pointed out that the congresspeople were not allowed to join the league.

The Congressmen were active in the Hindu Mahasabha– at least in the Central Provinces (present-day Madhya Pradesh).

Only in December 1938 did the Congress Working Committee declare that Congress members could not be members of the Mahasabha. Incidentally, this was also the period when the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were gaining strength.

The latter spread from its Nagpur base to the United Provinces, Punjab, and other parts of the country in the 1930s.

By 1940, the RSS had over 100,000 trained and highly disciplined cadres pledged to an ideology of Hindu nationalism, convinced that India was a land of the Hindus.

The “Pakistan” Resolution

On 23 March 1940, the League moved a resolution demanding a measure of autonomy for the Muslim majority areas of the subcontinent.

This ambiguous resolution never mentioned the partition of Pakistan.

In fact, Sikandar Hayat Khan, Punjab Premier and leader of the Unionist Party, who had drafted the resolution, declared in a Punjab assembly speech on 1 March 1941 that he was opposed to a Pakistan that would mean

Muslim Raj here and Hindu Raj elsewhere ... If Pakistan means unalloyed Muslim Raj in Punjab then I will have nothing to do with it.”

He reiterated his plea for a loose (united), confederation with considerable autonomy for the confederating units.

The origins of the Pakistan demand have also been traced back to the Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal, the writer of “Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara”.

In his presidential address to the Muslim League in 1930, the poet spoke of a need for a “NorthWest Indian Muslim state”.

Iqbal was not visualising the emergence of a new country in that speech but a reorganisation of Muslim-majority areas in north-western India into an autonomous unit within a single, loosely structured Indian federation.

The Suddenness of Partition

In 1940, the League itself was evasive about its demand.

Between the first formal articulation of the demand for a measure of autonomy for the Muslim-majority areas of the subcontinent and Partition, only seven years passed. No one knew what Pakistan's creation meant or how it would affect people's lives in the future.

People who fled their homelands in 1947 were expected to return as soon as peace reigned once more.

The demand for Pakistan as a sovereign state was not taken seriously by Muslim leaders.

Initially, Jinnah may have viewed Pakistan as a bargaining chip, a way of preventing possible British concessions to the Congress and gaining additional benefits for Muslims.

The British were stymied in their quest for independence for a long time due to the pressures of WWII.

The massive Quit India Movement, which began in 1942 and continued despite repression, brought the British Raj to its knees and forced British officials to open a dialogue with Indian parties about a possible power transfer.

Post-war Developments

As a first step toward full independence, the British agreed in 1945 to establish an entirely Indian central Executive Council, with the exception of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Discussions about the transfer of power stalled due to Jinnah's adamant demand that the League have complete control over the selection of all Muslim members of the Executive Council.

In the Council, there should be a communal veto, with decisions opposed by Muslims requiring a two-thirds majority.

The League wanted a large number of nationalist Muslims to support the Congress (its delegation for these talks was led by Maulana Azad), and the Unionist Party in West Punjab was largely made up of Muslims.

The British had no desire to annoy the Unionists who still controlled the Punjab government and had been staunch British supporters.

In 1946, provincial elections were held once more, and the congress maintained its dominance. The Congress won 91.3 per cent of the non-Muslim vote, sweeping the general election.

The League's victory in seats reserved for Muslims was equally spectacular: it received 86.6 per cent of the Muslim vote in all 30 reserved constituencies in the Centre and 442 out of 509 seats in the provinces.

The Muslim League established itself as the most popular party among Muslim voters, attempting to prove its claim to be India's "sole spokesman."

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A possible Alternative to Partition

The British Cabinet dispatched a three-man mission to Delhi to investigate the League's demands and propose a suitable political framework for a free India. After a three-month tour of the country, the Cabinet Mission recommended a loose three-tier confederation.

India was to maintain its unity.

The plan was for a weak central government to control only foreign affairs, defence, and communications while electing the constituent assembly, with the existing provincial assemblies divided into three sections:

Section A is for the provinces with a Hindu majority.

The Muslim-majority provinces of the northwest and northeast (including Assam) are covered in sections B and C, respectively.

Various regional units would make up the sections or groups of provinces.

They would be able to form their own intermediate-level executives and legislatures. This plan was accepted by all of the major parties. Because the agreement was based on diametrically opposed interpretations of the plan, it was short-lived.

The League wanted the grouping to be mandatory, with Sections B and C growing into powerful entities with the ability to secede from the Union at any time.

Congress wanted provinces to be able to join a coalition. The Mission's clarification that grouping would be mandatory at first did not satisfy it.

After the constitution is finalised and new elections are held in accordance with it, provinces will have the option to opt-out.

The Cabinet Mission's proposal was rejected by both the League and Congress.

This was a critical juncture because partition became more or less inevitable after this, with most Congress leaders agreeing to it, seeing it as tragic but unavoidable.

Only Mahatma Gandhi and the NWFP's Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan remained adamantly opposed to partition.

Towards Partition

After abandoning the cabinet mission, the Muslim league chose ‘Direct Action' to win its Pakistan demand.

“Direct Action Day” was declared in 1946.

On this day in Calcutta, riots erupted, killing thousands. By March 1947, violence had erupted across northern India.

In March 1947, Congress decided to divide Punjab into two halves, one Muslim and the other Hindu/Sikh and asked that the same principle be applied to Bengal.

Many Sikh leaders and Congressmen in Punjab believed that without Partition, Muslim majorities would overwhelm them and dictate terms.

In Bengal, too, a section of Bhadralok Bengali Hindus feared the "permanent tutelage of Muslims" (as one of their leaders put it). They felt that, as a minority, only a provincial division could ensure their political dominance.

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The Withdrawal of Law and Order

The bloodbath grew in intensity as the government institutions crumbled.

When arson and killings occurred in Amritsar in March 1947, according to Penderel Moon, an administrator in Bahawalpur (in present-day Pakistan), the police did not fire a single shot.

Later in the year, when the city's authorities crumbled, the Amritsar district saw bloodshed. Officials in the United Kingdom had no idea how to deal with the crisis; they were unwilling to take any action and even more reluctant to step in.

People were urged to get in touch with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabh Bhai Patel, or M.A. Jinnah after being contacted by British officials.

Nobody knew who had the authority and the power to make decisions.

Many Indian civil servants in the affected provinces were afraid for their own lives and property while the top leadership of the Indian parties, aside from Mahatma Gandhi, were involved in negotiations about independence.

The British were hard at work putting together their plans to leave India.

The situation was made worse by the fact that Indian soldiers and police officers began to pose as Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, respectively.

In many places, police officers not only aided their fellow believers but also engaged in violence against non-believers.

The one-man Army

At the age of 77, Mahatma Gandhiji decided to put everything on the line in an effort to prove his long-held principles of nonviolence and the power of changing people's hearts.

To stop Hindus and Muslims from killing each other, he moved from the East Bengal villages of Noakhali (present-day Bangladesh) to the riot-torn slums of Calcutta and Delhi, always taking care to reassure the minority community.

Muslims in East Bengal waged an attack on Hindus in October 1946. Local Muslims were persuaded by Gandhiji to guarantee Hindus' safety after he toured their villages on foot.

He made an effort to foster a sense of trust and cooperation between the two groups.

An exiled Delhi Muslim, Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi, compared Gandhiji's arrival in Delhi on September 9th, 1947, to "the arrival of the rains after a particularly long and harsh summer." Gandhiji's arrival in Delhi on September 9th, 1947, was like that.

In his memoir, Dehlavi recalled Muslims saying, "Delhi will now be saved."

Gandhiji went to Gurdwara Sisganj to speak to Sikhs on Guru Nanak's birthday, November 28, 1947.

Gandhiji remained in Delhi, battling those who wanted to expel all Muslims from the city because they viewed them as Pakistani.

In an attempt to change his mind, he began fasting. Surprisingly, many Hindu and Sikh migrants joined him.

It was only after Gandhiji's martyrdom that the people began to see the foolishness of the pogrom they had instigated against the city's Muslim population. Many Delhi Muslims at the time reflected later on how the world had changed.

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Gendering Partition

What were the conditions of women at the time of partition?

In the earliest violent times Women were raped, abducted, sold, often many times over, forced to settle down to a new life with strangers in unknown circumstances. Many people and scholars were deeply traumatized by these instances and established new bonds in their changed circumstances.

The Indian and Pakistani governments were insensitive to the complexities of human relationships. Believing the women to be on the wrong side of the border, they now tore them away from their new relatives and sent them back to their earlier families or locations.

They did not consult the concerned women, undermining their right to make decisions regarding their own lives.

According to one estimate, 30,000 women were “recovered” overall, 22,000 Muslim women in India and 800 Hindu and Sikh women in Pakistan, in an operation that ended as late as 1954.

The notion of honour drew upon a conception of masculinity defined as ownership of zan (women) and zamin (land), a notion of considerable antiquity in North Indian peasant societies.

It was believed lay in the ability to protect your possessions – zan and zamin – from being appropriated by outsiders. And quite frequently, conflict ensued over these two prime “possessions”.

Therefore there were men who feared that “their” women – wives, daughters, sisters – would be violated by the “enemy”, they killed the women themselves.

Regional Variations 

What was the Partition like in Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Central India and the Deccan?

The carnages occurred in Calcutta and Noakhali in 1946 & the Partition was most bloody and destructive in Punjab.

The near-total displacement of Hindus and Sikhs eastwards into India from West Punjab and of almost all Punjabi-speaking Muslims to Pakistan happened in a relatively short period of two years between 1946 and 1948.

Many Muslim families of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh continued to migrate to Pakistan through the 1950s and early 1960s, although many chose to remain in India.

Most of these Urdu-speaking people, known as muhajirs(migrants) in Pakistan moved to the Karachi-Hyderabad region in Sind.

In Bengal, the migration was even more protracted, with people moving across a porous border. The Bengali division produced a process of suffering that may have been less concentrated but was as agonising.

The exchange of population in Bengal was not near-total. Many Bengali Hindus remained in East Pakistan while many Bengali Muslims continued to live in West Bengal.

Bengali Muslims (East Pakistanis) rejected Jinnah’s two-nation theory through political action, breaking away from Pakistan and creating Bangladesh in 1971-72.

Religious unity could not hold East and West Pakistan together.

There is a huge similarity between the Punjab and Bengal experiences. In both these states, women and girls became prime targets of persecution.

Attackers treated women’s bodies as territory to be conquered. Dishonouring women of a community was seen as dishonouring the community itself, and a mode of taking revenge.

Help, Humanity, Harmony

Buried under the debris of the violence and pain of Partition is an enormous history of help, humanity and harmony.

Abdul Latif’s poignant testimony. Historians have discovered numerous stories of how people helped each other during the Partition period, stories of caring and sharing, of the opening of new opportunities, and of triumph over trauma.

Khushdeva Singh, a Sikh doctor specializing in the treatment of tuberculosis, posted at Dharampur in present-day Himachal Pradesh.

Immersing himself in his work day and night, the doctor provided that rare healing touch, food, shelter, love and security to numerous migrants, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu alike.

The residents of Dharampur developed the kind of faith and confidence in his humanity and generosity that the Delhi Muslims and others had in Gandhiji.

Oral Testimonies

Written accounts, oral histories, memoirs, diaries, and family histories, as well as first-person accounts from people who lived through the partition, all help us to better understand the struggles of ordinary people.

Partition was viewed by millions as a symbol of the suffering and difficulties of the time. The Muslim League, Congress, and others did not see it as a purely constitutional split or a purely partisan issue for them.

Unexpected life shifts that occurred between 1946 and 1950, resulting in the need for people to adjust on the psychological, emotional, and social levels.

The reality of an event is shaped by memories and experiences.

Personal reminiscence is a type of oral source that has the advantage of helping us remember experiences and memories in great detail.

It gives historians the tools they need to paint a vivid picture of historical events like Partition. This type of information cannot be gleaned from public records.

The latter is in charge of policy, politics, and various government-sponsored initiatives.

Partition documents such as government reports and files, personal writings of senior officials, and diaries shed a lot of light on negotiations between the British and India's major political parties about India's future or on refugee rehabilitation.

Using oral history also gives historians a chance to go beyond the confines of their field by rescuing the voices of the marginalised.

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