This bloody line

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On the occasion of the release of a short movie on Sir Cyril Radcliffe about the drawing of a border line in 1947 that was to separate millions of people in India, Bhagawati takes a look at this historical event.

Within British India, the border between India and Pakistan (the Radcliffe Line) was determined by a British Government-commissioned report prepared under the chairmanship of a London barrister, Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Pakistan came into being with two non-contiguous enclaves, East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, separated geographically by India. India was formed out of the majority Hindu regions of British India, and Pakistan from the majority Muslim areas.

This film is a poignant and humanising take on the emotional turmoil of the much reviled Sir Cyril who was charged with the most odious task of 20th century South Asian history, created by award-winning director Ram Madhvani who reimagined Sir Cyril, acted by Martin Bishop, and Lena Hodgson as his wife.

Watch on YouTube

Sir Cyril was the man who drew the borders on the subcontinent that resulted in the two self-governing countries of India and Pakistan in 1947. It also resulted in a horrifying separation of millions of people and the brutal death of hundreds of thousands. It was a refugee crisis of immense proportions that displaced between 10 and 12 million people along religious lines. Estimated loss of life is disputed yet varies between several hundred thousand and two million. India was torn apart savagely.

Radcliffe map

The partition plan was accepted on June 3, 1947 by the Congress Working Committee, and in the following months resulted in massive bloody and brutal population shifts between the two new states. It was followed by India’s and Pakistan’s independence that legally came into existence at midnight on 14–15 August 1947.

The population of undivided India in 1947 was approx 390 million. After partition, there were 330 million people in India, 30 million in West Pakistan, and 30 million people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority.

The 1951 Census of Pakistan identified the number of displaced persons in Pakistan at 7,226,600, presumably all Muslims who had entered Pakistan from India. Similarly, the 1951 Census of India enumerated 7,295,870 displaced persons, apparently all Hindus and Sikhs who had moved to India from Pakistan immediately after the Partition.

BhagawatiBhagawati is a regular contributor

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