India, Pakistan Mark 60 Years Free of British Rule This week, India and Pakistan will celebrate 60 years of independence from Britain. Bernard Dineen served as a young captain in the Punjab Boundary Force that was tasked with keeping order during the tumultuous partition of the sub-continent.
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India, Pakistan Mark 60 Years Free of British Rule

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India, Pakistan Mark 60 Years Free of British Rule

India, Pakistan Mark 60 Years Free of British Rule

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Pakistan will be celebrating 60 years of independence this week as will India. It was 60 years ago that Britain pulled out of the subcontinent leaving behind the two new nations.

India's Muslim minority had long demanded its own state and on August 14th and 15th 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, presided over separate independence ceremonies.

Admiral LOUIS MOUNTBATTEN (Royal Navy, Great Britain; Viceroy of India): I have a message from His Majesty, the king, to deliver to you today. This is his majesty's message.

(Reading) On this historic day, when India takes her place as a free and independent dominion on the British Commonwealth of Nations, I send you all my greetings and heartfelt wishes. Freedom-loving peopleā€¦

ELLIOTT: But once the pageantry ended, violence broke out on an immense and tragic scale. Muslims in India fled by the millions to Pakistan, equal numbers of Hindus found themselves on the wrong side of the newly drawn border. The fledgling governments couldn't cope and hundreds of thousands of people died of violence and disease.

India and Pakistan were enemies almost from the start. War between the two broke out late in 1947 over the territory of Kashmir, which is still in dispute.

Bernard Dineen witnessed the upheavals as a young captain in the Punjab Boundary Force. He's now a columnist for the Yorkshire Post in England and he joins us from the BBC studios in Leeds, England.


Mr. BERNARD DINEEN (Columnist, Yorkshire Post): Hello, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Describe for us what you saw on Independence Day.

Mr. DINEEN: Well, Independence Day was tended to be a bit of an anti-climax because we've been waiting for the actually boundaries to be laid. You see, it was all done in incredible secrecy because right until the day before, nobody knew where exactly the border will be.

So you can imagine that people were getting anxious on both sides of the border, wondering whether they would end up in Pakistan, whether they would end up in India. And also very conscious of the hostility they would encounter if they were on the wrong side of the border.

ELLIOTT: So the boundary was done in secret and in haste. But, I mean, what were the factors? How did British authorities decide where to draw the boundary?

Mr. DINEEN: It was given to a man called Cyril Radcliffe who was a London lawyer, who'd never been to India at all - knew nothing about India, and they gave him six weeks to do it. And Mountbatten started to interfere one stage. Mountbatten was not even supposed to know what the boundary was right until the day of independence, because if they had known in advance, that would have led to constant interference.

ELLIOTT: Now you were stationed in the Punjab at the time and I understand the new national boundary was drawn right through the middle of that province.

Mr. DINEEN: Yeah. It was the nearest Pakistani city now is Lahore and the actual boundary was drawn halfway between Amritsar and Lahore.

We were in Amritsar, which is, of course, the Sikh capital. You - you mentioned Hindus - and Muslims. But the Sikhs were one of the really important factors in this because this was their sacred capital. It was also the place, which they hoped would be the capital of an independent Sikh state.

So they were disappointed on all counts to having to leave Pakistan and many of them - you see, they're remarkably talented communities, some of the finest farmers in the Punjab. They have to uproot themselves and just get out with an accompaniment of being attacked all along the way. So the Sikhs were a very important factor.

ELLIOTT: Explain to us the - what you were doing, The Punjab Boundary Force in which you served. What was its mission?

Mr. DINEEN: Well, the mission was to preserve order on both side of the both side of the border. It was an impossible mission from the start because Mountbatten, who I'm not the biggest fan - Mountbatten laid down that it should be a sort of a minimal force. It was 15,000 people for a place in an enormous section of India, with 18,000 villagers for a start. You work out how 15,000 men can keep order in that.

Mountbatten was, in fact, notified by the governor of the Punjab, that - at least - at least 60,000 troops would be needed to keep order. And, of course, with characteristic deviousness, Mountbatten later denied that he ever have told any such thing.

The other point is, you mentioned the date of independence, it had been set for 1948, and suddenly, without any warning, Mountbatten suddenly decided that he bring it forward one year. He never explained afterwards how he took that decision. He more or less boasted that, you know, he just threw it out, the main order, to get them moving.

ELLIOTT: You were there in the Punjab trying to keep order. What kinds of things were you seeing as people were starting to flee across the newly drawn border?

Mr. DINEEN: Well, the thing in our section of the Punjab was that there were lots of Muslim villages and they were being attacked by Sikh bandits, which were called jackals(ph). So you'd arrive at the village along when the Sikhs are long gone to find a village full of corpses.

And then, of course, you had refugee columns 25 miles long, in some cases, which made their way with Sikhs coming out from the new Pakistan, Muslims going from India. And the refugee trains were almost invariably attacked whereas the Sikhs used to go down and killed anyone who was circumcised. But on the other side of the border, the Muslim kill anybody who wasn't circumcised. So it was a hell of a situation all around.

ELLIOTT: Why do you think the bloodshed was so terrible and so widespread?

Mr. DINEEN: Well, it's impossible to imagine the depths of religious hatred, which can be stirred up in that way. You see, the other thing is - it's a long story but Pakistan was only set up. There was no real widespread demand for it but it was virtually of the creation of Jinnah, Dr. Mohammed Jinnah, the Muslim leader who is a brilliant man with enormous determination.

He'd been a sophisticated lawyer in London. He used to drive around London in a Bentley, smoking cigarettes from a long holder. He secretly, even though Muslim are not supposed to drink, he secretly enjoy a drink of whiskey. And by sheer determination, he got it through. He wasn't an extremist in any way. His dream of Pakistan was that it would be not become a religious fanatical state but it would, in fact, become a Muslim welfare state.

Sadly, he died almost ten months of independence and that really contributed to the chaos. So the setting up of Pakistan was a great mistake because it depended entirely on the personality of Jinnah. And he was soon gone.

ELLIOTT: Bernard Dineen was an eyewitness to history during the partition of India. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. DINEEN: My pleasure.

ELLIOTT: This week on MORNING EDITION. We'll take a look at Pakistan's emergence after partition - from the military to the media to everyday life in the city - a Pakistan you may not know.

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