Partition of India: What was the Trigger?

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The partition of India was one of the most painful chapters in the history of modern India. Although discussed for many years, the idea of Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation, took concrete shape only at the Lahore Session of the Muslim League in 1940.

Since there were powerful voices against partitioning the subcontinent – Mahatma Gandhi was the most prominent proponent of a united India – Mohammad Ali Jinnah decided to act as a catalyst. What he did was swift, brutal and bloody.

Muslim League rally on Direct Action Day | Wikimedia Commons
Muslim League rally on Direct Action Day | Wikimedia Commons

Jinnah announced a nationwide protest on 16th August 1946, later known as ‘Direct Action Day’. Muslims were asked to stop their daily activities, and held rallies and meetings across India to explain the Muslim League’s resolution.

Calcutta 1946 riot | Wikimedia Commons
Calcutta 1946 riot | Wikimedia Commons

The strike triggered communal riots in Calcutta. Within just 72 hours, more than 5,000 people died and 100,000 were left homeless. The riots spread to Noakhali district in Eastern Bengal, to Bihar, the United Provinces and to Punjab.

The most violent riots took place in Punjab. There was fear, hatred and mistrust everywhere, and this seemed to justify the need for Partition. Finally, the Indian National Congress was compelled to accept the Muslim League’s demand for a separate nation – Pakistan.

British Indian Empire Religions | Wikimedia Commons
British Indian Empire Religions | Wikimedia Commons

By now, the British were to leave India and they wanted a quick transfer of power. In June 1947, Cyril Radcliffe, a British barrister, was appointed to draw borders between India and Pakistan in Punjab and Bengal. This hasty border is called the 'Radcliffe Line '.

As soon as it was drawn, millions crossed over to their new homelands. Families were separated, thousands were massacred, and millions became homeless. And so, from the ashes of Partition, a new India was born.

Cover Image: BBC News

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