UPSC Exam Preparation: This Day in History – Aug 17

17 August 1947

Radcliffe Line revealed.


What happened?

On 17 August 1947, the border line that separated India from Pakistan, known as the Radcliffe Line was revealed.

Background

  • On this day, the line demarcating India from the newly formed Pakistan after partition was published.
  • It was named after the chairman of the Border Commissions, Sir Cyril Radcliffe. He was a lawyer from England who had no previous knowledge or experience with cartography.
  • This line is today the international boundary between India and Pakistan on the western side and between India and Bangladesh on the eastern side.
  • Before independence, it was decided to partition India into India and Pakistan for the Hindu and Muslim communities respectively.
  • The provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan with an overwhelming majority of Muslims (more than 70% and 90% respectively) were granted to Pakistan.
  • However, the provinces of Punjab and Bengal only had a marginal majority of Muslims. Punjab had 55.7% of Muslims and Bengal had 54.4% Muslims. Even though Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted these provinces to go to Pakistan in their entirety, the Congress Party did not agree considering the feelings of the Hindu and Sikh populations.
  • So it was decided to cut through these provinces and give portions to both countries.
  • This was an arduous task especially in the Punjab province since the population was by and large scattered, and it was impossible to have a neat line that divided the populations according to religion.
  • Sir Cyril Radcliffe was made the Chairman of the two Border Commissions (one each for Bengal and Punjab) in June 1947.
  • Each commission had 5 members – Sir Cyril, 2 members nominated by the Muslim League and 2 members nominated by the Congress Party.
  • Sir Cyril was asked to complete the demarcation by 15 August but the final result was published only on 17th.
  • Sir Cyril was a neutral man in the eyes of the British and he could not be partial to either India or Pakistan as he had no prior knowledge about India or the conditions here. This was one of the reasons behind his appointment.
  • Not only the population, the border commissions had also to take care of roadways and railway lines, power systems, irrigation schemes and also individual landholdings. They intended to avoid or minimise the separation of farmers from their fields, and also reduce the number of people who would have to migrate to the ‘right’ side.
  • The total area of land they were charged with dividing totalled 450000 sq. km. with a population of 88 million people.
  • Since the representatives from the League and the Congress could not see eye to eye on many issues, it was left to the chairman to make all the final decisions.
  • Some areas were especially hard to place on either side of the border with an unclear majority of people and also factors like cultural references and irrigation lines to consider. Some Muslim majority areas (marginal majority) were awarded to India like Gurdaspur district’s Muslim majority tehsils, Ajnala in Amritsar, Zira and Ferozpur in Ferozpur, etc. Chittagong Hill Tracts (with 97% non-Muslim, mostly Buddhist) were awarded to East Pakistan because of inaccessibility to India. The Khulna district with a marginal Hindu majority of 51% was awarded to East Pakistan. Murshidabad with 70% Muslims was given to India.
  • The partition of the country saw more than a million deaths and about 12 million people were displaced.
  • Sir Cyril Radcliffe left India even before the line was published and did not accept his payment of Rs.40000 for the job.

 

Also on This Day 

1909: Revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra was hanged by the British in London for assassinating Curzon Wyllie, an official of the British Indian government.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *