Friday, August 5, 2011

Imagine this scenario

You are a British judge who agrees to draw the line that will, in essence, partition the two sensitive regions of Bengal and Punjab through the Boundary Commission and thereby create the maps of India and Pakistan. 

You've never been to India and you're landing in India only to decide how to divide her best. Apparently, the British Government in India thought this was a smart idea since it proved your neutrality. But how can you decide to partition an area you've never even visited? They had an answer: maps. 

So imagine yourself using the 20th century equivalent of Google Maps to draw the borders of new countries. That's sort of what happened. It would have been a fun thing, to take a pencil, ponder over a map and draw a line where you think is best. But sadly, this was all too real and all too serious, where a flick of the pencil and a line drawn slightly slanted, gave birth to conflicts and disputes that exist till date. A rather dubious, slipshod way for two new nation states to be born, boundaries decided by a man who has never even visited the villages his Line broke into parts.

Now let's see the material at your disposal to help you decide which regions go to which country: a census that was six years out of date. At a time when small populations had already moved from place to place, rendering any census quite irrelevant.

And oh, your decision will impact about 88 million people at that time, and thousands thereafter. No pressure. 

As you thank your lucky stars that you never were in that awful position, here's the name of the man who was: Sir Cyril Radcliffe. The man who gave his name to a line that partitioned India and Pakistan, the Radcliffe Line. 

Wiki informs me that Sir Cyril Radcliffe refused his salary of 40000 rupees after seeing the mayhem occurring on both sides of the boundary that was created by him. The least he could do, I would imagine, after the guilt of that rather thankless job.

{Radcliffe line facts found in Yasmin Khan's The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan are predominantly used here}

Recommended Reading: Drawing the Indo-Pakistani Boundary by Lucy Chester.

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts about Partition and the Indian struggle for Independence,  as India and Pakistan get ready to celebrate their independence days.


Vaishnavi said...

I never actually knew about the Radcliffe line! Thanks for sharing, I am making lists from all your suggestions and trying to read them! :)

Kals said...

You're welcome! That's great: hope you enjoy reading them :)

Anonymous said...

Whoa! I never knew this tidbit. What a terrible job to do.

At least, he had the conscience to refuse the money for it. Poor man. He probably felt terribly guilty.

Kals said...

Exactly! I remember seeing a BBC documentary where one of his friends recall him saying that nobody, neither this side nor the other, is satisfied with his border. Sigh, couldn't have been easy for anyone.

Veens said...

I NEVER knew this! I am actually looking forward to this series of posts :)

Kals said...

Thank you! The next post should be up soon :)


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