Of all the episodes in Britain’s Imperial past, its ham-fisted partition and subsequent abandonment of India is one of the most outrageous.
As seen below in the 90- minute documentary The Day India Burned – Partition, Britain behaved with a stunning disregard for India’s national well- being, as it drew up a partition between India and Pakistan almost on a whim, and then got out sharpish as chaos flared in its wake.
By the time of the partition in August 1947, India had been the jewel in the empire’s crown for nearly 200 years. But after being bankrupted by the Second World War, it was clear that Britain could no longer afford to maintain its Indian army. The empire had well and truly crumbled, so it was up to dashing old Louis Mountbatten to trot over and sort out all this bally bother.
Following a series of negotiations between Mountbatten, Muslim leader Mohammed Ali Jinha, and Indian national congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru, it was eventually decided that India would be split up, and Pakistan born, in the summer of 1948. But the following day, Mountbatten suddenly announced that Britain would actually be leaving a year earlier than planned. Sorry about that, old fruit, but must dash, what?
Violent civil unrest was already on the increase by this point, notably during the three- day Calcutta riots of 1946, in which around 5,000 people were killed. As Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims all slaughtered one another (and, in some cases, their own), the British army hid in case they became outnumbered by the rioters. This allowed for horrific scenes of violence to go unmonitored.
The film gathers an impressive number of contemporary eyewitnesses to tell their sides of the tale, including Nehru’s niece, Mountbatten’s daughter, and Gandhi disciple Ashoka Gupta. By the end, the message had come across loud and clear: the partition was a dreadful disaster, Britain is a twit, humans are capable of truly monstrous deeds, and Richard Dawkins is right – religion can be one of the most destructive tools known to mankind.
Partition: The Day India Burned - BBC Documentary (all parts 10 minutes in length)