Kids Corner


1947: "The Partition of Punjab Was a Disaster"




Memoirs of a British civil servant never seen in public until recently, show how much the Partition of Punjab and India was decided by just two men, the BBC's Alastair Lawson reports. 

In a quiet village in the northern English county of Yorkshire, Robert Beaumont rifles through his father's archives. The various and somewhat tatty pieces of paper he unearths are no ordinary collection of paternal memoirs.

They are the thoughts and reflections of his father, Christopher Beaumont, who played a central role in the partition of India in 1947, which resulted in arguably the largest mass migration of peoples the world has ever seen. After the death in 1989 of Mountbatten's Private Secretary, Sir George Abell, Beaumont was probably not exaggerating when he claimed to be the only person left who "knew the truth about partition".

Bending the border

It is estimated that around 14.5 million people moved to Pakistan from India or travelled in the opposite direction from Pakistan to India.

In 1947, Beaumont was private secretary to the senior British judge, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was chairman of the Indo-Pakistan Boundary Commission. Radcliffe was responsible for dividing the vast territories of British India into India and Pakistan, separating 400 million people along religious lines.

The family documents show that Beaumont had a stark assessment of the role played by Britain in the last days of the Raj.

"The viceroy, Mountbatten, must take the blame - though not the sole blame - for the massacres in the Punjab in which between 500,000 to a million men, women and children perished," he writes. "The handover of power was done too quickly."

The central theme ever present in Beaumont's historic paperwork is that Mountbatten not only bent the rules when it came to partition - he also bent the border in India's favour.

The documents repeatedly allege that Mountbatten put pressure on Radcliffe to alter the boundary in India's favour. On one occasion, he complains that he was "deftly excluded" from a lunch between the pair in which a substantial tract of Muslim-majority territory - which should have gone to Pakistan - was instead ceded to India. Beaumont's papers say that the incident brought "grave discredit on both men".

Punjab ‘disaster'

But Beaumont - who later in life was a circuit judge in the U.K. - is most scathing about how partition affected the Punjab, which was split between India and Pakistan.

"The Punjab partition was a disaster," he writes. "Geography, canals, railways and roads all argued against dismemberment. The trouble was that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were an integrated population so that it was impossible to make a frontier without widespread dislocation. Thousands of people died or were uprooted from their homes in what was in effect a civil war. By the end of 1947 there were virtually no Hindus or Sikhs living in west Punjab - now part of Pakistan - and no Muslims in the Indian east.

"The British government and Mountbatten must bear a large part of the blame for this tragedy."

Personality clash

Beaumont goes on to argue that it was "irresponsible" of Lord Mountbatten to insist that Beaumont complete the boundary within a six-week deadline - despite his protests.

On Kashmir, Beaumont argues that it would have been "far more sensible" to have made the flash-point territory a separate country. According to Beaumont, the "formidably intelligent" Radcliffe "did not get on well" with Mountbatten. "They could not have been more different," he writes.

"Mountbatten was very good-looking and had a well-deserved history of personal bravery but, to put it mildly, he had few literary tastes. "Radcliffe ... was very quietly civilised. It was a relationship so like chalk and cheese that Lady Mountbatten had to use all her adroitness to keep conversation between them on an even keel."

Beaumont died in 2002 - his son Robert remembers him with great affection. "He was also a man of supreme honesty, who spoke out on numerous occasions against the official British version of events surrounding partition without in any way being disloyal to his country," Robert Beaumont recalls.


[Courtesy: BBC]

April 22, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Vivek Ruparel (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), April 22, 2011, 9:37 AM.

The whole partition was a disaster. Farooq Haider Maududi, son of Jamaat-e-islami's founder states his father opposed it because the Muslim League was merely manipulating people on the basis of religion. The entire League was labelled 'Be-deen' by him. The video is on YouTube.

2: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, U.S.A.), April 22, 2011, 2:43 PM.

Since my childhood, I have always wondered why the Brits, the rulers, should have shown compassion towards the ones they ruled ... when they were fleeing in 1947.

3: H.Singh (United States), April 22, 2011, 3:46 PM.

Regarding Kashmir, it might have stayed independent. However, Pashtun tribesmen backed by Pakistan's army invaded the region, thus provoking an Indian response.

4: Karnail Singh (Fresno, California, U.S.A.), April 22, 2011, 6:50 PM.

I guess the Sikhs didn't gain anything from this Partition because, unlike the Hindus and Muslims, we lacked a good, strong leader to represent the community.

5: N. Singh (Canada), April 22, 2011, 9:41 PM.

Vivek, I believe the opposite was true. Please read "Indian Summer" by Tunzelmann ..."despite the cultural and religious differences in India in 1931, there was not yet a mainstream demand for partition ... The call for Pakistan would only come to prominence as a result of the alienation of ... Mohammed Ali Jinnah" (p. 90) ... "He (Jinnah) made himself a figurehead for Hindu-Muslim unity, and was acclaimed as such by Hindu Congress luminaries ... it was the emergence of Gandhi as the spiritual leader of Congress in 1920 that began to elbow Jinnah out ..." Also on p 93 Jinnah is quoted as saying: "I had the distinct feeling that unity was hopeless, that Gandhi did not want it". So much for the demonic Jinnah and the saintly Gandhi. I would recommend that you revisit the facts from an unbiased perspective.

6: N. Singh (Canada), April 22, 2011, 9:43 PM.

H. Singh, I will take your comment with a grain of salt. I suspect there is a pro-India agenda rather than an agenda of the truth going on here ...

7: H.Singh (United States), April 23, 2011, 3:03 AM.

N. Singh ji: No agenda, just what I have read. I don't deny that India didn't have any initial plans for Kashmir's annexation. However, there did not seem to be any military preparation for the purpose. It was more through diplomtic channels. In fact, Patiala's Sikh soldiers were airlifted into Srinagar at the last minute and saved the day, as the Pathan tribals were on the verge of overrunning it.

8: Yogesh (India), April 23, 2011, 7:07 AM.

You feel so much when you read these comments.

9: Harinder (Uttar Pardesh, India), April 23, 2011, 9:56 AM.

It was a disaster the British did not see, because they fled the scene. They created Pakistan and today, it is their source of unmitigated worry. "As you sow, so shall you reap!"

10: Gobind Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 25, 2011, 5:02 PM.

Unfortunately the Sikhs have faced problems, one after another, in history. For example, after Maharajah Ranjit Singh's death, the Sikh Empire completely fell into the hands of British Imperialism in 1849. Then in 1919 the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre occurred under the Command of Reginald Dyer in Amritsar. Then in 1947 British India was divided along religious lines; Hindus got India and Muslims got East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Sikhs witnessed their land Punjab being divided up into two parts, of which East Punjab became part of India and West Punjab became part of Pakistan. Sikhs again witnessed their land Punjab being divided up in 1966 along linguistic lines as Haryana and Himachal Pradesh became two separate Hindi-speaking states, carved out of East Punjab. On April 13,1978, 13 Sikhs were killed by the Nirankaris who were in fact being supported by the Indian government. By 1983 the Indian Army started planning for a Golden Temple attack with a replica of the Golden Temple constructed not far from Uttar Pradesh. In 1984, during the Operation Bluestar, they finally made an assault on the Golden Temple; many Sikh artifacts were stolen and the Sikh Reference Library looted and then burned down by the Indian Army - long after the cessation of 'hostilities'. From a period of 1984 to 1996, Punjab was placed under a curfew; any Sikh man between the age of 18 to 35 had been abducted by the police, some were killed in fake encounters, others were kept in jails without any charge or evidence. In 2000, 35 Sikhs living in Chattisinghapura in Kashmir were killed by men dressed in army uniforms. The Indian media has from 1947 till now adopted a very anti-Sikh stance. For example, the Indian media, particularly Bollywood, generally depicts Sikhs in inappropriate ways ... the few recent exceptions do not make up for the total damage being done. Sikhs have also been attacked religiously; for example, in Punjab there are more singers and deras (sadhus, babas, astrologers, palm readers) than there are doctors, scientists, teachers, engineers, IT programmers, etc. Today, in Punjab, alcohol and drugs have become an epidemic problem.

11: Devinder Singh (India), April 27, 2011, 6:18 AM.

The Cripps mission of 1942 had offered a window of opportunity for India to remain undivided. Sir Winston Churchill had come to power. Though he opposed giving independence to India later, in 1947, at the moment he realized the inevitability of India's future independence, and he diplomatically sent Sir Stafford Cripps to India to secure her support during the war. Cripps came to India in March 1942 and had discussions with the top leaders of the freedom Movement. The proposal was to grant dominion status to India after the war. It was to be a prelude to total independence. The Congress made a mistake in rejecting it, for it was virtually a step towards independence. We should have joined the war-effort. That would have created an opportunity to enter into all military departments and operations in air, on sea and land; hold positions, become efficient and thus enforce our natural right for freedom. Of course, if we had the strength and power to make a revolution and get what we wanted, it would have been a different matter. Politicians and statesmen have to take account of situations and act as demanded by them. The Cripps Proposals, if accepted, would have changed the fate of India. There was a pother about small points and overlooking of the central important objective to be attained. The proposals envisaged a single, free, undivided India setting up a united front against the enemy which was then Japan.

12: Bilal Anwar (Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan), April 15, 2012, 9:31 AM.

The fact remains weather we wanted this or not Punjab has been plundered and pillaged by both India and Pakistan, both have destroyed its culture, oppressed it people. In both Pakistan and India it is the people from Central India who are reaping profit at our expense.

13: Omer Karimi (Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan), September 11, 2013, 6:59 AM.

I must say that India does not do justice with the Sikh community. The govt just provokes them against Muslims, and Muslims against Sikhs, thus creating a large number of problems in both East and West Punjab.

Comment on "1947: "The Partition of Punjab Was a Disaster""

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.