These two maps show how India was divided after gaining independence from the British in 1947. The first shows India under British rule, before the partition. The second shows how the region was divided after gaining independence and the breakaway of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from West Pakistan (Pakistan today) in 1971 through the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Timeline of Events
1600- British East India Company is established
1707- Mughal Empire collapsing; Indian states begin breaking away from Mughal control
1757- Robert Clive leads victory at Battle of Plassey; begins East India Company (British) leading power in India.
1800s- Many Indians begin thinking more modernly, changing traditional ideas. Some take ideas wanting to govern themselves.
May 10, 1857- Indian Rebellion of 1857 (Sepoy Mutiny) starts. Challenges East India Company as fierce fighting breaks out.
1858- British government takes direct command of India, from East India Company.
1930- First proposed idea of partition by philosopher Allama Iqbal
Late 1930s- Muslims begin exiting Congress.
1943- Muslim League proposes “Divide and Quit” plan
July 18, 1947- Mountbatten Partition Plan is finalized
August 14-15, 1947- Independence is gained from Britain. Pakistan is formed immediate next day.
The British East India Company also known as The Honorable East India Company
Britain becomes interested in India for economic reasons in the 1600s.
The British East India company is formed after a charter is issued by Elizabeth I for favorable trading privileges between India and England.
It began originally as a joint venture with the Dutch East India Company.
Trading posts are set up in Bombay (1638), Madras (1639), and Calcutta (1690) by the company.
Because India was ruled by the Mughal empire, at first, European trading in the country was limited.
The company eventually transformed itself from a commercial trade venture to a group that basically ruled India, as you will see in the next few slides.
Original flag of East India Company
This map shows European settlements in India from 1498 to 1739. As you can see, the British & Dutch (from joint East India Company) together have the most settlements in the region, which sets the stage for the British to begin ruling the area through the East India Company.
East India Company Gains Power beginning over 100 years of British rule of India
In 1617, The company is given trade rights in India by Mughal emperor Jahangir.
By 1707, Dozens of small Indian states begin breaking away from Mughal rule. This sets the perfect time for the British to take over.
In 1717, the British are given clear trading advantage when Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar gives tax and duty free trading to the company in Bengal.
Finally in 1757, the East India Company makes there move. Led by Robert Clive, East India company troops win a authoritative victory at the Battle of Plassey, defeating Indian troops allied with the French.
From 1757 to 1858, the East India Company is the leading power in India.
Impact of British Rule in India
A huge railroad system was placed in India by the British, making trade much more
efficient and brought together regions. The British modernized India by creating
telegraph, telephone, bridges, modern roads, canals and improving public health.
Schools and colleges are founded. They also helped put an end to local warfare.
owned industries. Many villagers lost self-suffiency due to the British enforcing cash
crops. Most British carried racist attitudes towards the Indians in the country, and
adopted policies which did not abide by many religious practices in India. Traditional
Indian life was threatened due to British superiority.
Policies and Regulation
At first the East India Company ruled with little interference from the British
government until the 19th century. The company employed its own army and even had
an internal government structure. The British used India for the gain of Britain’s
Economy, and set up restrictions that didn’t allow India to operate on its own.
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 also The Sepoy Mutiny
In the 1800s, some Indians begin thinking more modern and want a greater role in governing themselves.
Economic problems began arising for the Indians due to British restrictions.
In 1857, news spread to the sepoys (Indian soldiers employed by British) that there rifle cartridges were greased with beef and pork. Hindus and Muslims both resented having to bite off the cartridge ends to use the rifle because religious rules stated that Hindus considered the cow sacred, and Muslims didn’t eat pork.
Almost 90 sepoys refused to accept the cartridges. The sepoys were jailed.
The next day on May 10, 1857, the sepoys rebelled. Fighting took place across the country both sides trying to slaughter each other’s armies.
The British government sent troops to aid the East India Company. It took over a year for them to regain power and control.
Above: A painting of a battle during the Rebellion
British Government Takes Direct Control of India in 1858
After the Sepoy Mutiny, in 1858 the British government took direct command of India, from the East India Company.
Raj was the term used to describe any part of India under British rule, from 1757 to 1947.
Britain promised to respect treaties made to citizens by the East India Company, and promised all Indian states would remain free and independent. However, Britain gained more and more control.
Nationalism Surfaces in India: the Indian National Congress and Muslim League form
Nationalist feelings began arising in the country due to modernization and the taking up of western ideas. It wasn’t long before the groups wanting to self govern themselves. Two Major Nationalist Groups formed:
The Indian National Congress
In 1885, the Indian National Government formed- comprised mainly of Hindus wanting to break free from British rule.
The Muslim League
In 1906, the Muslim League formed- another nationalist group which focused on specific concerns for the Muslim minority living in India.
Above: Current flag of Indian National Congress
Leading up to Partition: 1920-1932
Not only were Indians struggling to break away from British rule, but they were also struggling internally due to tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
The formation of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League defined a fine line between the two major religions and their views.
The first to propose separate states was writer & philosopher Allama Iqbal in 1930. An excerpt from his conversation with the Muslim League in 1930 appears on the right.
Left: Allama Iqbal was a key figure in proposing the seperation of India into two states.
Allama Iqbal’s 1930 Address to Mulsim Leage:
“The Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religions, philosophies, social customs and literature… To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.”
Leading up to Partition: 1932-1937
Not only were the Muslims pushing for separation, but so were the Hindus.
Many Hindus despised the Muslims due to the Muslims formerly ruling India for 300 years under the Mogul Empire.
Hindu organizations such as the Hindu Mahasabha pushed for the division of the country and insisted the chasm between Muslims and Hindus was too great and was in need of separate states.
In 1937, Veer Savarkar in his Presidential Address to the Hindu Mahasabha:
“India cannot be assumed today to be Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main — the Hindus and the Muslims.”
Leading up to Partition: 1937-1946
Although many groups called for the separation of India based on religion, the majority of Congress members were secular and opposed to dividing the country solely based on religion.
By the late 1930s, Muslims begin exiting congress and forming separate groups that were pushing the formation of a new Muslim state: Pakistan.
At this time Britain did not directly rule India, but just oversaw the whole country. Local and Regional governments comprised of full Indian rule.
In 1943, The Muslim League proposes a quick plan to divide and gain independence; also known as “Divide and Quit.”
Soon India was ready to be partitioned. Muslims and Hindus were constantly in quarrels, and a plan was proposed to the British.
Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) was one of the major spiritual and political figures in the move for Indian independence
For years, Gandhi struggled to keep the Muslims active in Congress so India would not have to suffer the consequence of separation and losing unity.
Not only did Gandhi use non-violent and non-cooperative methods, but he also ceased much of the radical hate ideas on both the sides of Hindus and Muslims.
"Leave India to God. If that is too much,
then leave her to anarchy."
--Gandhi, May 1942
Above: Mohandas Gandhi pictured in 1930
After Britain handed over self governance to India on August 14, 1947, the plan for the partition was put into action.
The Mountbatten Plan is what India was divided according to. The plan was written by Cyril Radcliffe, who wrote it based on a British commissioned report on India. The plan was finalized on July 18, 1947 and was put into action a month later.
India was formed out of the mostly Hindu regions and Pakistan was formed out of the mainly Muslim regions. Pakistan was formed in two dominions- East Pakistan and West Pakistan, which were separated geographically by India.
Above: British officials discussing the Mountbatten Plan, with a countdown to handover of power in the back.
Impact and Aftermath of Partition
The partition of India left both India and Pakistan devastated. Riots erupted, and looting broke out widespread. Women were raped and battered by both the Hindus and Muslims, and trains full of battered women and children would arrive between the borders of India and Pakistan daily.
Over 15 million refugees were forced into regions completely new to them. Even though they shared the same religion of thier new home, they still had not lost the bond to the region their family and ancestors grew up in. The provinces of Bengal and Punjab were divided causing outrage in many Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs alike.
Even after almost six decades after the partition, India and Pakistan have still not healed from the wounds left by the partition. India and Pakistan have been to war twice since the partition, and Pakistan suffered the bloody war of the breaking away of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. The two countries are still arguing over the landlocked region of Kashmir. Many believe the partition not only broke the unity of India, but also took away the sense of belonging to many people who were tore apart from their native regions.
Left: Refugee train of Sikhs heading to India
Right: Man carrying wife and family across the border.
“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”