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India and Pakistan

By Peter Bowden - posted Tuesday, 16 January 2024

We watched a movie last night on the India Pakistan split. It was not the world's biggest disaster, but did it go close? The partitioning resulted in between 14 million and 18 million people moving, as scores of Hindus and Muslims migrated in opposite directions across the Radcliffe Line to reach India and Pakistan, respectively. And up to two million deaths. Was religion the cause? Or the stupidity of the rulers of the British Empire?

The term 'Pakistan', meaning 'the land of the pure' was first coined in 1933 in a pamphlet by Cambridge law student, Choudhry Rahmat Ali. He envisaged a separate homeland for Muslims in South Asia. He is considered one of the originators of Pakistan Movement, along with philosopher Muhammad Iqbal who also suggested the two-nation theory. In the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, it was the first modern nationalist movement to emerge in the British Empire in Asia and Africa. From the late 19th century, and especially after 1920, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress became the principal leader of the Indian independence movement. Its best-known leaders included Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Both had long argued even before the 1940s, for a unitary state with a strong centre, Even though Congress was ostensibly secular in its objectives, organisations representing minority interests increasingly viewed this idea with suspicion, believing that it would entrench the political dominance of Hindus, who made up about 80% of the population.

At around 25% of its population, Muslims were British India's largest religious minority. The divide led to the split formation of both West Pakistan (later just 'Pakistan') and East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh) in 1971. In the influential Muslim-majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab, in 1945-6, the All-India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, won a majority of Muslim votes in provincial elections. This strengthened the party's claim to speak for a substantial proportion of, but never all, the subcontinent's Muslims.


The two partitioned regions were around 1,000 miles apart, with India in the middle. For centuries, in certain areas of India, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists had lived together peacefully.

Deborah Nixon, a historian from Sydney's University of Technology, says relations between Muslims and Hindus started to change after the British began ruling India in 1858, after the rebellion against the East India company in 1857, Dr Nixon describes partition as a "catastrophic rupture in the history of India and Pakistan. Dr Nixon describes as "staggering" the number of those who died or were killed during partition, in violence between civilians or from police.

Between one and two million people lost their lives "It was completely horrific," she says. One of those deaths was that of Independence Movement leader Mahatma Gandhi. A right-wing Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse, assassinated Gandhi when he was heading for a group prayer in January 1948. Godse thought Gandhi had betrayed India's Hindus by agreeing to partition, leading to the creation of Pakistan, and by championing the rights of Muslims. In 1949, Godse was hung for Gandhi's murder. Godse is venerated today as a Hindu Nationalist

"The British used religion as a way of dividing people in India into categories," Prof Navtej Purewal, Indian fellow for the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK, says. "For example, they created separate Muslim and Hindu lists of voters for local elections. In the words of Shashi Tharoor, an Indian parliamentarian: "The colonial project of 'divide et impera' (divide and rule) fomented religious antagonisms to facilitate continued imperial rule and reached its tragic culmination in 1947.

"There were seats reserved for Muslim politicians and seats reserved for Hindus. "Religion became a factor in politics."

The British had been horrified, during the Indian Revolt of 1857, to see Hindus and Muslims fighting side by side and under each other's command against the foreign oppressor. The two states India and Pakistan fought each other in 1947-and three more times since, in 1965,1971, and 1999.


Was then the British decision to split India a sound decision? Despite Pakistan arguments for separation, it is difficult to say, but the experiences of Indian/Pakistan emigrants in an Australian community give us an indication. 97-year-old Kailash Bhatnagar describes her life in Lucknow in northern India as quiet and peaceful. "We never felt that we were threatened by others," she told ABC's Radio National's The History Listen. Her story notes the general conciliation between Indian and Pakistani immigrants in Australia, but that some tensions still linger. More than 710,000 Indians now live in Australia, one of the world's biggest "immigrant nations" The number of Pakistani migrants to Australia number about 80,000. Early Muslim migrants (known as "Ghans") entered Outback Australia as camel drivers in the late 1800s from Colonial India, arriving from areas that are now part of present-day Pakistan.

This article asked two questions, Was religion the cause of the split? Or British stupidity? I will leave that question to the reader. On the stupidity issue, Australia recently had a referendum that split the country, NO voters claim it was not them, who massacred the original aboriginal inhabitants and caused their extreme difficulties. It was the original British settlers. YES voters claim that the Australian inheritance of the role of the opposition being to oppose the government, caused the Coalition to advocate a NO simply because it was proposed by the Government in power. These responses ascribe the blame to British stupidity. The Brits have also had religious wars themselves, Several of their civil wars were caused by religion, They even executed one of their Kings, Charles I, because of his religion,

This writer ascribes the India Pakistan conflict to the widespread idiocy of the human race. The world has experienced wars and conflict since the beginning of recorded history. It has been unable to stop them. This is despite our feeble attempt through the United Nations. Despite considerable research, this writer has been unable to identify why the world is such a mess .One possibility is our evolution from some ancestor common to both ourselves and chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are a particularly aggressive animal.

So how do we make a better world? Ending religion? There is little doubt that the commitment to religious practices and beliefs is lessening around the world. The world has continually progressed since the beginning of our early history, ending feudalism, slavery, the divine right of kings, bringing in democracy, poor laws, the 40 hour week, minimum wages, national health schemes (Except in the US where Obama's health plan was opposed by conservative republicans). What will be next? Ending conservatism and resistance to change ? Even change for the better? An effective United Nations? An end to the Gaza/Israel slaughter? Do give your opinion.


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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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