The sun never sets on the British Empire was no understatement. From the freezing wasteland of northern Canada to the tropical paradise of Fiji. The British Empire administered the largest empire the world had ever seen. And with it, the crown jewel of the empire. India, the richest and most populated nation within the dominion of England. From the massive taxable population to goods such as silk, spices, cotton, and tea. Unfortunately for the British, the people in India didn’t enjoy being a colony of the crown.
For over a hundred years the British Empire had ruled over India, whether it be through the British East India Company, The British Raj, or through Princely Indian States. After the Second World War, the British Empire was unable to properly administer Hindustan and soon was confronted with various Indian independence movements. The two largest and most successful of these movements were Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League and Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian National Congress(Dalrymple).
In the late summer of 1947, the British, realizing they could no longer administer land that was thousands of miles away from England, left the Indian subcontinent. The British withdrawal from India was executed so unbelievably efficient and quick that the British lost very few men during the partition(Dalrymple). During this hasteful retreat from South Asia, the British left the subcontinent in shambles. The British drew the modern day borders of the Indian subcontinent a couple of days before leaving India. Which led to many on the wrong side of the border. Because of the hastefully drawn borders drawn by the British, there was religious tension, civil unrest, and instability across the Indian Subcontinent.
At midnight August 15th, 1947 Indian politicians from all over the country celebrated the work of the Indian National Congress and the nation’s newfound independence. India’s first Prime Minister famously said in a speech the day before that “India will awake to life and freedom”(Dalrymple). Hours after independence a group of Hindus in Lahore, Pakistan were slaughtered at a train station while they were waiting for a train to get out of Pakistan (Dalrymple). This would be one of the first acts of violence committed after the partition. Almost immediately after the midnight independence of India and Pakistan, sectarian violence sprung up across all of South Asia.
Subsequently, due to the partition, many different ethnic and religious groups had to pack up everything they own and move to another region of South Asia. People who had been living in a certain area for generations had to resettle somewhere that was unfamiliar to them. During this whole time, while people were relocating, religious violence sprang up across both countries. Most often where refugees were traveling. “Gangs of killers roamed the border districts, slaughtering minorities or driving them across the frontier. Huge, mile-long caravans of refugees took to the dusty roads in terror”(Hajari).
The Punjab region was the hardest hit with violence after the partition of India. “The new border had split the province in two, leaving millions of Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs in what was now Pakistan, and at least as many Punjabi Muslims in India”(Hajari). The next two months transitioned into an all out free-for-all with various marauders wandering the streets of India and Pakistan. People from both countries used this time to benefit from the instability of the region. At the same time, Muslims were migrating from India to Pakistan, while Hindus and Sikhs were leaving for India. In 1941 the religious demographics of both countries show that both countries have/had sizable numbers of religious minorities(Dalrymple). By the late 1940s most had left to the other country(Dalrymple).
Whilst there were countless criminal acts against individuals during the time after the Partition that involved religion, the majority of wrongdoings were committed by goons that knew they could get away with it. History tells us that whenever a realm finds itself in disarray, people from various walks of life use the disorder to their advantage so that they can seek riches and other spoils from looting. Little was done to prevent the looting that followed the instability from the Partition. “India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was appalled to see a contingent of police standing be idly as Hindu and Sikh rioters carried off ladies’ handbags, cosmetics, and wool scarves”(Hajari).
Both India and Pakistan were new nations whose governments were not yet strong enough to crack down on the immediate problems that arose due to the partition. “There is a possibility-and most keen a possibility-that orderly government may collapse”(Hajari). Although the recently created governments of India and Pakistan didn’t completely collapse, they were not able to calm the tides of the partition.
After the departure of Britain from the Indian subcontinent, it was inevitable that conflict would arise. Conflict could have been minimized if the British Empire took more time to understand the consequences of leaving in the fashion they did. Perhaps there was no way for there to have been an avoidance of conflict, but only by speculation can we assume what could have happened if the British had done things differently.