The Political and Social Partition of India – History Essay
The political and social partition of India was several decades in the making. The ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ in India were of a mindset completely different from that of the British. Prior to British colonialism ‘Hindus’
and ‘Muslims’ did not identify themselves as such. The lines between each religion were blurred. After the British colonized India, they began to identify these similar groups of people purely on the basis of their religious beliefs. The effects were not significant to begin with, but as time went on they began to root themselves within Indian culture. Those people who were once ignorant to religious profiling began to do so in their own right, without coercion from the British. Each generation following the previous one cultivated this prejudice and it infected India like a virus. Politically the two religious factions were rivals. Their ideas and interests clashed in every way possible. There were external factors that contributed a great deal. British colonialism got the ball rolling. The differences between Muslim and Hindu became clearer every day until it tore the country in half.
From the day the East India Company introduced itself into the subcontinent until the time Indian won its independence a great deal of change occurred, most of which could be attributed to the birth and rise of the East Indian Company. Although the significant changes were not made until and after Lord George Nathaniel Curzon arrived in India as viceroy in 1899. Curzon was “convinced that efficient administration by benevolent autocratic rulers best served the country (Metcalf & Metcalf 153).” Lord Curzon was an extremely driven and effective viceroy, who was also said to be both overbearing and arrogant. Towards the beginning of his stint as viceroy Curzon did what he could to keep the diverse group of people that inhabited India happy, but his popularity vanished promptly. Curzon was very surprised because he had assumed that such reforms as establishing the department of commerce and industry and the Archeological Survey of India, as well as supporting agricultural research would “keep the masses content and the politically active chastened (Metcalf & Metcalf 154)” It became clear to Curzon that he needed to make a much bolder political move in order to keep the people happy. After all it had been less than forty years since the last revolt, and Curzon knew he would be responsible if it happened again.
In 1905 Curzon announced his intentions to split Bengal into separate provinces. The Hindu population was outraged, especially the upper caste bhadraloks, they believed this was an attempt by the British to reduce their power. Bengal was considered the ‘divine Mother’ by the bhadralok, and Curzon’s plan to split Bengal would give the Muslims control of western Bengal. At this point the lower caste ‘Hindus’ did not concern themselves much with politics, but the bhadralok needed their support in order to successfully secure Bengal from what they believed to be Muslim oppression. In order to gain the support they needed, the bhadralok began what they would deem the ‘swadeshi movement.’ The purpose of the swadeshi movement was first to create a national Hindu identity and second to utilize this nationalist identity to oppose both the British and Muslims. The bhadralok took their first steps towards creating the national ‘Hindu’ identity by utilizing popular religious symbols to promote nationalistic principles. This tactic was extremely effective; it mesmerized the common Hindu and placed the bhadralok in a very powerful position. The bhadralok began the swadeshi movement, and furthered the nationalist movement, but their power would not last. In a short period of time the nationalist movement became so far reaching that there was no way to control it. “Nationalists across the country took up Bengal’s cause. Calcutta came alive with rallies, bonfires of foreign goods, petitions, newspapers and posters.” The Hindu nationalist movement had taken root in Bengal and was quickly spreading, gaining more support each day. It was only a matter of time before the bhadralok’s vision of freeing India from Muslim oppression would become a reality (Metcalf & Metcalf 155-56).
In the meantime, the partition of Bengal and other reforms motivated the Muslims to seek more political autonomy in India. In 1906, lead my Aga Khan, the Muslim population in India, “urged the viceroy…to grant Muslims a representation that would reflect not only their numerical strength, but also their political importance (Metcalf & Metcalf 158)” Although this became a popular idea amongst the Muslims, the British, hesitant to give up any of their governmental power, didn’t give it much thought. Although the British didn’t want to give up any governmental power to the Muslims, they needed to keep them happy. In 1911 the king-emperor George V announced three ‘boons’. First the capital of India would be moved from Calcutta to Delhi. This not only moved the capital out of the politically active Calcutta, it also reminded Muslims of a past Mughal glory. Next the partition of Bengal would be nullified and the British would recognize its power by making it a governor’s province. Now that the partition of Bengal was repealed the Muslims were back to square one, the entire basis of their power was dependant upon their influence over western Bengal. Despite this setback the Muslims were now determined to become more actively involved in Indian government (Metcalf & Metcalf
In 1913 Mohammad Ali Jinnah joined the Muslim League. Prior to Jinnah joining the Muslim League, it had significantly less power than it did after he joined. The Muslims were still under the thumb of both the British and even the Hindus, but an important piece of legislation would be passed in 1916 titled the Lucknow Pact. The Indian National Congress and the Muslim league met agreeing to the principle of separate electorates for Muslims in the larger interest of Hindu-Muslim unity against colonial rule. The Lucknow Act could be considered a victory for both the Hindus and the Muslims, after all the Hindus gained a powerful ally in their fight against British rule and the Muslims were finally making progress in their fight for a more active roll in government. Although the short-term effects were positive, this marks a crucial point in the social interaction between the two religious groups (Jalal 415).
Muslims were not happy with the fact that they were the minority. The Lucknow Pact may have brought out the best in the two religious groups, but it was just a start. The Muslims and Hindus had to wait thirty more years before they would finally achieve independence from the British and the creation the two new nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947. Now that the independence of India and Pakistan was reality the religious factions would no longer have an oppressive government to fight together, so they began to fight each other. “Independence was to be disfigured by the ugly horrors of riot and massacre.” The Hindus were more than anxious to finally separate themselves from the Muslims whom they believed were disgracing their mother land simply by living there. Although there is no way to be completely accurate calculating how many deaths there were during the riots, it is said that over a half million people were killed. Fourteen million people who were not killed became refugees and were forced out of the country. “What made the moment of independence particularly bitter was that neither of the two new states turned out to be quite what its proponents had hoped for (Pandey 613).” Even though Pakistan was supposed to become a homeland for every Muslim that had inhabited India, nearly ninety-million remained and were dispersed throughout the country. This gave rise to a very hot debate for both new nation states, should they choose to be secular or not? Although no formal political decisions were made Pakistan was doing everything in its power to make Pakistan a homogenous nation. Hindus who inhabited Pakistani lands that were once part of India became refugees, and Muslims who still lived in India were to be removed and there land handed over to the Hindus. Those people who would not migrate to their respective land faced a great deal of opposition. “…killing and counterkilling, massacre and countermassacre could not go on endlessly without destroying everything and everybody, by the fact that in some areas there was no one left to kill…” ( Pandey 614). Ten percent of India was still Muslim, even after all the terrible things they were subjected to while they were there. The people that stayed in India who were Muslim no longer had an identity outside of being Muslim in the eyes of those Hindus in India. They were not trusted and were treated as second-class citizens who didn’t belong. Relations became so cold between Muslims and Indians at this point that there was even thoughts of war between the two countries. The Congress Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Ballabh Pant had this to say in regards to his feelings toward those Muslims who chose to stay in India. “Every Muslim in India would be required to shed his blood fighting the Pakistani hordes, and each one should search his heart now, and decide whether he should migrate to Pakistan or not (Pandey 617)”
After the British colonized India, they began to identify these similar groups of people purely on the basis of their religious beliefs. The effects were not significant to begin with, but as time went on they began to root themselves within Indian culture. Those people who were once ignorant to religious profiling began to do so in their own right, without further coercion from the British. Each generation following the previous one cultivated this prejudice and it infected India like a virus. Politically the two religious factions were rivals. Their ideas and interests clashed in every way possible. The differences between Muslim and Hindu became clearer every day until it tore the country in half. The creation of the two nation-states India and Pakistan, it turns out, was not even the tip of the iceberg. The Hindus and Muslims held an unfathomable amount of contempt for each other, all of which was based on nothing other then they practiced different religions. The two countries were being assembled by religious zealots who refused to seek compromise, and had no tolerance for anything the opposite people believed in.
If the British had not colonized India by way of the East India Company in 1600, here is no telling what would have become of India. It is clear that the British are responsible for what nearly could be considered a civil war in India. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed, all of which could have easily been avoided. Of course the British cannot be blamed solely for these atrocities, but if it had not been for the British one wonders what India would be like today if the British had never settled there.