Freedom and Fear: India and Pakistan at 70

70 years later, the neighbors and rivals still struggle with the “unfinished business of partition.”

Freedom and Fear: India and Pakistan at 70
Credit: Darren Whiteside, Reuters; Patryk Michalski, Shutterstock

In the midst of the monsoon of August 1947, British India ceased to be and gave way to two independent nations. The logic of this partition being religious and regional, the older and larger India was reinforced as a Hindu majoritarian society, while the newer and smaller Pakistan emerged as an Islamic country. No partitions are total and absolute but this one was especially terrible and ambiguous; it left about a 20 percent religious minority population on both sides. Moreover, it created two wings of Pakistan with a hostile Indian body-politic in the middle.

This event was not entirely of subcontinental making. The British Empire in Asia cracked under the hands of the Japanese army during World War II, most spectacularly with the fall of Singapore in February 1942, and began to crumble in South Asia after the war. Along with India and Pakistan, Burma (today’s Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) also emerged independent (both in 1948) at this time. All this was to bring about many changes, both internally in India and internationally. Europe, the ravaged battlefield of the world wars, ceased to be the center of the Western world, with political and economic power shifting decisively to the Soviet Union and the United States, representing two contrasting and conflicting ideological visions for the post-1945 world.

The end of British rule in South Asia happened alongside the emergence of this conflict, christened the Cold War. The road to freedom and partition of India and the creation of Pakistan was a long one and accompanied with fundamental social, economic, and political changes. From the mutiny of 1857 to the massacre of 1919 in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar; from the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 to the establishment of the All-India Muslim League in 1906; from fighting for king and country in two world wars to seeking self-rule in the interwar years; and from the development of an elaborate civil and military bureaucratic and infrastructural apparatus and a space for provincial politics – all these were to completely transform Indian society.