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Historical Background to The Diary of Farah Khan


Background to the British Raj

The British Raj (raj meaning “rule” in Hindi) and its aftermath has had huge repercussions for the development of South East Asia and modern they politics. During the time of the British Raj there was no country called Pakistan, no Bangladesh and no dispute regarding the territory of Kashmir the swore point for the modern Pakistan and India. The three countries alone have collectively over 1.5 billion people. Add the population of the United Kingdom into this mix then you have over 2 billion people who are and directly and indirectly associated with the actions of the British Raj and the partition of 1947 that led to the division of India. The United Nations as of 31st of October 2011 believed that there was around 7 billion people in the world. This alone explains why everyone should at least try and learn something about the British Raj and the partition of India.

The English went first to India with the intention to trade and rule, but not to settle in India as it was seen to be too far way. This approach increased the distance with the rulers and the ruled after all the ruled did not have much direct contact with the rulers which raised the question why be ruled at all?

The British Raj lasted a very long time nearly 200 years in total (between 1858 and 1947 previous the British East India Company had been ruling over India which was controlled by the British) and this is a remarkable achievement by the Britain given the comparable size and population Britain had to India.  The British Raj created its system of governance over India on June 28, 1858, when the rule of the British East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria (and who, in 1876, was proclaimed Empress of India). The British Raj ended in August 1947 when British India was partitioned into two sovereign states, the first was the Union of India which later became known as the Republic of India on 15th of August 1947, and the Dominion of Pakistan which later became known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the 14th of August, 1957.  The significance of the two different dates for independence is great as it shows the separation between the two countries to the point that it did not want to share the same Independence Day. This highlights the level of animosity between the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims during the partition which led to hundreds and thousands of people being murdered, raped or faced violence.

The Eastern half of Pakistan know at the time of partition as Eastern Pakistan later fought for independence and obtained its sovereign state on the 3rd of March, 1971. It has remained and is now known as People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Background to the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League of India

In 1885 the Indian National Congress (“Congress”) was created and met for the first time. This was majority of the Congress was made up of Hindus. Soon after the British Raj was created and it attempted to divide the state of Bengal on the basis of religious sectarianism in 1905. This lead to huge protests in Congress. The protests results in the formation of the Muslim League, which sought to guarantee the rights of Muslims in any future independence negotiations. Thus the Muslim League was formed in retaliation and in opposition of the Congress and allowed the British Raj to go longer than expected given the British Raj used the “divide and rule tactic” and played the groups differences off each other to create a landscape of political and economic instability leading to dependency on the British Raj.

The significance of World War II


With the outbreak of a Second World War in 1939 the British Empire had not yet recovered from the devastating loss of World War I.  What made things worse for the British Raj was due to the blatant disregard for the wishes of the people of India when during the outbreak of World War II, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, declared that India was to fight on behalf of the British Empire without any consideration or consultation as to how the Indian leaders felt regarding the war. After all India was located thousands of miles away from  the heart of World War II and may countries this was a Western war so should be dealt with by the western countries.  The cracks were see between the political and religious leaders of India at the time the Hindus did not support the war and the Muslin League did and wanted to secure independence both from the Hindu majority India and the British Raj.

The British government through its Cripps’ mission in an attempt to secure Indian nationalist’s cooperation in the war effort for exchange of independence for India this resulted in unsuccessful negotiations.

Mahatma Gandhi (“Gandhi”) who was trained as a Barrister at Inner Temple in London was viewed as the leader of the Hindu people of India and Mohammad Ali Jinnah (“Jinnah”) who trained Lincoln’s Inn, London became the leader for the Muslim people of India. These two individuals became the leaders of the independence movement and finally succeed in granting its independence from the British Raj.

After the failed Cripps’ mission Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement in August 1942 during the height of World War II. It was during this time that India was ravaged by the impact of the Great Depression, bringing mass unemployment. This created tremendous tensions exacerbated during the war by inflation and food grain shortages. Rationing was introduced in Indian cities and in Bengal a major famine developed in 1942. The resulting discontent was expressed in widespread violence accompanying the Congress party’s ‘Quit India’ campaign of 1942.

The movement demanded immediate withdrawal of the British Raj from India or face nationwide civil unrest. Along with all other Congress leaders, Gandhi was immediately imprisoned, leading the whole of India to protect in violent demonstrations led by students and later by peasant political groups. However, given the strength of the British Army and its presence in India this movement was quickly crushed and the British Raj could return to focus on the activities of World War II. However, the trust and faith in the British Raj was destroyed and nothing the British Raj could do to regain the trust it once had from the people of India.

Role of Japan in the Indian attempts for Independence


Japan’s role in the instability of South East Asia is not wildly known but because of Japans efforts and support for the Indian fight for independence  it weaken the British Raj’s strength further given how thinly spread the British Empire was at the time of World War II.

The Congress leaders were put in jail in 1942 and spent time trying to recoup after the failed “Quit India” movement. Attention turned towards Subhas Bose who had been ousted from the Congress in 1939 following differences with the more conservative command. Bose turned to Japan for support and through Japanese support created the Indian National Army. This was composed Indian soldiers who were once part of the British Indian army and who had now been by the Japanese.

Japan wanted to increase the unrest in South East Asia as it wanted to further destabilise the British effort in World War II and in doing so also supported a number of puppet and provisional governments in the captured regions, including those in Burma, the Philippines and Vietnam, and this the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India), presided by Bose.

Bose’s Indian National Army did not last long and ended up being defeated by the British Indian Army. Bose and his army surrendered with the recapture of Singapore, there soon after and Bose died in a plane crash soon thereafter.

Just when things were turning in favour of the British Raj a foolish and inconsiderate move by the British Raj led to widespread civil unrest and united a broken India where Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs all joined to express their lack of satisfaction for the treatment of the Indian National Army soldiers who were captured and tried at Red Fort in late 1945. Many of the soldiers were sentenced to be executed and executed behind closed doors leading to claims of unfair trials. This resulted in the nationalist violence in India to regain its momentum.

Political Landscape up to the partition 1946-1947


As a result of what was deemed to be unjust treatment of the Indian Reserve Army after their defeat in late 1945 in early January 1946, a number of mutinies broke out in with the armed services of British Indian Army.  World War II had also ended on the 2nd of September 1942 and many of the British Indian Army had been sent out by the British Raj to fight on behalf of the British Empire resulting in the deaths of many Indian soldiers. This was also viewed in a negative light by the people of India.

The mutinies came to a head with mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy in Bombay in February 1946, followed by others in Calcutta, Madras, and Karachi. Although the mutinies were rapidly suppressed, they found much public support in India and had the effect of spurring the new Labour government in Britain to action, and leading to the Cabinet Mission to India led by the Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick Lawrence, and including Sir Stafford Cripps, who had visited four years before.

During the start of 1946 new elections were called in India where the Congress won victories in most of the provinces. The negotiations between the Congress and the Muslim League, however, failed to reach a consensus regarding the issue of partition of India into two states one for a Muslims and the other for Hindus.

Jinnah proclaimed on August 16, 1946, “Direct Action Day”, with the stated goal of highlighting, peacefully, the demand for a Muslim homeland in British India. The following day Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Calcutta and quickly spread throughout India. Although the Government of India and the Congress were both shaken by the course of events, in September, a Congress-led interim government was installed, with Jawaharlal Nehru as united India’s prime minister.

Later that year in 1946, the Labour government in Britain realised the true extent of how exhausted its resources had become after the struggle to keep India under its rule all through and after the recent World War II.  In early 1947 Britain announced its intention of transferring power no later than June 1948.

As independence approached, the violence between Hindus and Muslims in the provinces of Punjab and Bengal (now known as Bangladesh) continued unabated. The British did not have the appetite for handling the increased violence decided under the new viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, decided to advance the date for the transfer of power.

In June 1947, the nationalist leaders, including Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad on behalf of the Congress, Jinnah representing the Muslim League, B. R. Ambedkar representing the Untouchable community, and Master Tara Singh representing the Sikhs, agreed to a partition of the country along religious lines. The predominantly Hindu and Sikh areas were assigned to the new India and predominantly Muslim areas to the new nation of Pakistan; the plan included a partition of the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal.

On August 14, 1947, the new Dominion of Pakistan came into being, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah sworn in as its first Governor General in Karachi. The following day, August 15, 1947, India, now a smaller Union of India, became an independent country with official ceremonies taking place in New Delhi, and with Jawaharlal Nehru assuming the office of the prime minister, and the viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, staying on as its first Governor General.

Murder, Rape, and Violence during partition


The acclaimed Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” She writes, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present

As independence neared and during the course of the mass migration, the country began to descend towards a sectarian civil war. Although Gandhi implored the Indian people to unite in peaceful opposition to British rule, the Muslim League sponsored a “Direct Action Day” on August 16, 1946, urging Muslims to take action and move to the new motherland that of Pakistan. This resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Calcutta (Kolkata). This touched off the “Week of the Long Knives,” an orgy of sectarian violence that resulted in hundreds of deaths on both sides in various cities across the country and future.

Given these new partition lines the world’s biggest mass migration had to take place as respective followers of religions attempted to move across to their chosen country based on their religious believes. Some 12 million people were involved in the mass migration with over one million people become displaced and hundreds of thousands of people facing murder, violence and rape.

The Northern part of India was a culture melting pot as it was composed with a majority populations of Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, and India and other minority faiths. The Sikhs campaigned for a nation of their own, but their appeal was denied. Instead they were granted the area of Punjab which is an extremely fertile and rich land leading to further protests as the religious groups fought to get a slice of this wealthy land. Adding further to this angry was the fact the border was drawn right down the middle of the province, between Lahore and Amritsar. On both sides, people scrambled to get onto the “right” side of the border, or were driven from their homes by their former neighbours. Trains full of refugees were set upon by militants from both sides, and all the passengers massacred with more than 500,000 were killed in the melee.

Overnight Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who had been living for generations had to flee their homes in an attempt to avoid remaining in a country that differed to their religious believes.  The mass migration appeared to happen instantly and as a result the various religious groups met during the course of the migration and during the chaotic days and months leading up to and after the August Independence of India and Pakistan violence multiplied as religious sentiment intensified and there was little in the way of police or military to maintain order. The British Raj had taken a backdrop and refused to provide assistance during this period give that they had announced their withdrawal. An undeclared civil war erupted as communities of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs fought one another to establish their own identities in their redefined homelands. And, in the process, the Indian government estimates, 83,000 women were abused and abducted. Others put the number even higher.

“Rather than being raped and abandoned,” Yasmin Khan writes in The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, “tens of thousands of women were kept in the ‘other’ country, as permanent hostages, captives, or forced wives; they became simply known as ‘the abducted women.’” Why did men “keep the women they had attacked?” Khan asks. The underlying reason—whether men forced women into unpaid labour or took them as forced wives—was the “impulse to consume, transform, or eradicate the remnants of the other community,” she says.

There are other horror stories regarding abductions and rapes where in many rural areas people of all religions killed their own wife and female children in an attempt to say their honour and prevent them from being used as pawns in the ever increasing sectarianism violence.  People who were once loving husbands and fathers out of fear of losing their female children or wife to someone from another religion thought it best to simply murder them and there are stories of numerous incidents of beheading, drowning, burning, and execution by the male head of family in order to “protect his women” from the threat of dishonour. It was simply a time and place where woman did not belong in given that all the worst things that one can imagine took place against them with little or no protection afforded by the new governments of each countries and the British Raj.

Hindus, Muslims and Sikh men in an attempt to gain one up on the other religious group and extract their revenge would rape woman of the opposite faith. During the course of the violent encounter the men would defile the woman by marking her body with tattoos with his faith and/or political stance. These included phrases like “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan”) or “Jai Hind” (“Long Live India”) or symbols like the Hindu trident or Islamic crescent moon. Many women had their breasts chopped off, others suffered the abuse and torture of their genitals in most cases leading to death. Once a girl was raped, she lost her value and place in society — she was unwanted even by her own family. In many cases, rape victims married their rapists, converted into their religion and never saw their natal families ever again. It other cases the woman out of shame would take her own life, or her natal families would end up murdering them as to them they could not see a way back from the defilement. Those who survived and were left alone went to seek shelter in a home where they lived the remainder of their lives and many still do.

Present day political and economic landscape   


The mistrust and hatred that intensified the hostiles between the two nations still remains to this day with the majority of the contention now relating to which country the state of Kashmir should properly belong to. Since August of 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three major wars and one minor war over territorial disputes. The boundary line in Jammu and Kashmir is particularly troubled. These regions were not formally part of the British Raj in India, but were quasi-independent princely states.

Because of its location, Kashmir could choose to join either India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, was Hindu while most of his subjects were Muslim. Unable to decide which nation Kashmir should join, Hari Singh chose to remain neutral. But his hopes of remaining independent were dashed in October 1947, as Pakistan sent in Muslim tribesmen who were knocking at the gates of the capital Srinagar. Hari Singh appealed to the Indian government for military assistance and fled to India. He signed the Instrument of Accession, ceding Kashmir to India on 26th of October 1947.

In 1974, India tested its first nuclear weapon. Pakistan followed in 1998. Thus, any exacerbation of post-Partition tensions today could be catastrophic.

Pakistan also blamed India after clear evidence showed that the Indian government supported the civil uprising in Bangladesh in an attempt to create a separate and individual state than that of Pakistan and succeeded in its mission in 1971.

Ever since then, military and political lack of co-operation between the two countries does not seem to reduce. While attempts to form some sort of political and economic bound between the two states have been made these all met the same face- unsuccessful. For both India and Pakistan co-operation can only properly succeed if the most singular conflict unresolved since partition that of the State of Kashmir is decided and with the religious and political state surrounding this constantly surrounded by violence this appears unlikely in the near future to be reached.

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