Karachi, 14 August 1947.
Hundreds of journalists and visitors have come to witness and celebrate the birth of Pakistan. The ceremony is held before India becomes independent to avoid the impression that Pakistan has seceded from India. Accommodation in the city is scarce, as are furniture, stationery and typewriters. Hastily, a government is being assembled.
Relations between Jinnah and Mountbatten are tense. Mountbatten hoped to become Governor-General of both new dominions, but Jinnah declined and assumed the role himself. From Delhi intelligence comes that Hindu opponents of Pakistan will explode a bomb during the celebratory state drive through the city. Some argue forcefully that the procession should be called off, but they decide to press on.
People line the streets, jubilant and cheering. Mountbatten, dressed in full naval uniform, seated beside Jinnah, waves and smiles. The crowds are cheering the Quaid-e-Azam and giving thanks to Allah for this day. Jinnah looks tired. Only a few are aware that he is suffering from tuberculosis. He has just a year still to live.
The evening of 14 August, Cyril Radcliffe wrote a letter to his stepson:
I thought you would like to get a letter from India with a crown on the envelope. After tomorrow evening nobody will ever again be allowed to use such stationery and after 150 years British rule will be over in India – Down comes the Union Jack on Friday morning and up goes – for the moment I rather
forget what, but it has a spinning wheel or a spider’s web in the middle. I am going to see Mountbatten sworn as the first Governor-General of the Indian Union at the Viceroy’s House in the morning and then I station myself firmly on the Delhi airport until an aeroplane from England comes along. Nobody in India will love me for the award about the Punjab and Bengal and there will be roughly 80 million people with a grievance who will begin looking for me. I do not want them to find me. I have worked and travelled and sweated – oh I have sweated the whole time.
-New Delhi, 15 August 1947
A more comfortable ceremony ushers in the Independence of India. In the Constituent Assembly, Indian and foreign dignitaries are gathered. Famously, Nehru addresses the people:
Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny; and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.
The midnight hour, the moment of freedom, is marked by the blowing of whistles, hooters and conch shells and cries in praise of the Mahatma. The crowd that day is exuberant and good-natured. The following day, when the flag of the new Republic is hoisted, the Hindustan Times describes there being ‘a torrent of popular joy’.
The Punjab, meanwhile, is the scene of mass murder and carnage.
The boundary award was announced after the Independence Day celebrations. Radcliffe was right. Everyone had a grievance.
Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan had included the whole of the Punjab. Regardless of where Radcliffe drew the line, its partition would render the country a ‘moth-eaten’ version of his dream.
The Sikhs had argued for a boundary at the Chenab River so that they would retain a sizeable homeland within the new state of India. But the boundary was drawn far to the east of the Chenab. Pakistan was awarded Lahore and Sikh hopes were crushed. They lost the birthplace of Sikhism, many gurdwaras and most of the canal colonies they had helped to create, Sargodha among them.
The Sikh leaders had warned they would fight if the boundary award went against them and, soon after it was announced, the violence escalated sharply. In the east, Sikh jathas attacked Muslim villages. The Sikh leaders, Tara Singh and Gyani Kartar Singh, tried to call them off, but they were beyond reason or control. They were well armed and organised. The west was a mirror image. In his powerful novel Train to Pakistan, Khushwant wrote, ‘the fact is, both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped.’
Excerpted with permission from The Lost Homestead: My Mother, Partition and the Punjab by Marina Wheeler, published by Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette India. You can buy the book here.
Watch Marina Wheeler in conversation with Mini Menon, as she traces the journey of her Sikh mother from Pakistan to India and beyond and captures some of the terrible human fall outs of the Partition, here-
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