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For Some in Bengal, Independence Day is Aug 18

For Some in Bengal, Independence Day is Aug 18

Cyril Radcliffe was a man in a hurry. A barrister from London who had “never travelled east of Paris”, let alone set foot in India, Radcliffe was tasked with drawing the line that would partition an undivided India into two separate nations, India and Pakistan. 

And he had only five weeks to do it.

As Chairperson of the Boundary Commission, Radcliffe drew two international boundaries – one in Punjab, which separated India from Pakistan, and the other in Bengal, which separated India from East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). He had one principal yardstick – while Muslim-dominated areas along these borders should go to Pakistan, Hindu-majority areas should be allotted to India.

With just five weeks to Partition an entire subcontinent and seal the destiny of millions – the line he drew triggered one of the worst-ever humanitarian crises.

Obviously, errors crept in.

It was these errors that kept people in some of Bengal’s border towns on tenterhooks, riddled with fear, uncertainty and confusion, for three whole days after Independence came to the rest of India. It was these errors that brought independence to them, not on 15th August 1947 but on 18th August.

The regions affected by the extended Partition of India: green regions were all part of Pakistan by 1948, and orange part of India. The darker-shaded regions represent the Punjab and Bengal provinces partitioned by the Radcliffe Line. The grey areas represent some of the key princely states that were eventually integrated into India or Pakistan, but others which initially became independent are not shown. | Wikimedia Commons

Old timers in these parts will tell you how they waited with bated breath to know their fate. Some had begun to swap property, or had at least made arrangements to, in case they found themselves on the wrong side of the Radcliffe Line. Others left their homes to live with relatives in areas they felt could not be ‘given away’. Most people just prayed.

Then, a couple of days before 15th August 1947, a broadcast on All-India Radio revealed that parts of border districts in Bengal, like Malda, Nadia, Murshidabad and North 24 Parganas, had been awarded to East Pakistan. These were Hindu-dominated villages and towns that should have stayed with India.

The people of these towns found themselves on the wrong side of history.

Panic gripped the people and, on 15th August, there were widespread protests in some border towns and villages. In some places, a total blackout was observed and women refused to cook for two days. It is said that the Muslim League responded by hoisting the Pakistani flag and their supporters marched through the streets, shouting slogans. Tensions mounted.

At the forefront of the protests was the royal family of Nadia. Apart from a large part of Nadia district, the royal capital of Krishnanagar too had been allotted to East Pakistan. The royal family was especially outraged when the Muslim League hoisted the Pakistani flag at the Krishnanagar District Library near the royal palace.

External view of Royal Palace, Krishnanagar, Nadia | Wikimedia Commons

Prominent leaders from Bengal and the Nadia royals appealed to Lord Mountbatten, the last British Governor-General who was overseeing the transfer of power from Britain to the two new nations. Mountbatten, in turn, asked Radcliffe to rectify the errors.

The order was finally issued on the night of 17th August, 1947, and the Hindu-majority areas were returned to India. 

A historical wrong was righted. 

August 18 is thus celebrated as ‘Day of Inclusion’ in these towns and villages in Bengal, which for three days were considered parts of Pakistan. Now they hoist the tricolour along with the rest of India on 15th August or Independence Day, as well as on 18th August – their very ‘own’ Independence Day.

Cover Image: Watercolour painting of Murshidabad in West Bengal by Robert Smith 

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