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How a man who had never visited India got the task of 'drawing' lines of Partition

It is said that after drawing the 'Radcliffe Line' Sir Cyril left India the very next day and never came to the country again.

Published: 15th August 2020 10:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th August 2020 07:26 AM   |  A+A-

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (L), Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Centre) and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (R) at a meeting in 1947 for discussing the lines of Partition.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (L), Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Centre) and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (R) at a meeting in 1947 for discussing the lines of Partition. (File Photo | AP)

Online Desk

"I feel there is a Punjabi and Bengali consciousness which has evoked loyalty to their province and so I felt it was essential that the people of India themselves should decide this question of partition." Lord Mountbatten in a radio broadcast addressed to the people.

With these words, the last Viceroy of British India and the first Governor-General of Independent India washed his hands off the task that would change the future of Indians for generations to come. 

India, after that announcement, was destined to be divided into two countries and three parts - India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan. 

So, after much struggle, two nations were born on the midnight of 14th-15th August 1947. But it wasn't an easy task!

To make an 'impartial' decision, the British chose English Barrister Sir Cyril Radcliffe to draw the boundary that would demarcate the Punjab and Bengal provinces. Radcliffe had never visited British India or written about it ever in his professional life as a lawyer.

He virtually had no knowledge of the subcontinent, which was why he was chosen as somebody who'd make an 'unbiased' decision. He was given two Muslim and Hindu lawyers each to help in the task.

​ALSO READ | 'People were buried alive': On I-Day, a 90-year-old shares the still-raw pain of Partition

Radcliffe knew the job given to him would be a thankless one and he would term it all as 'shoddy' in the future 

"..The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we've arranged to provide you with other accommodation..."
-WH Auden in his poem Partition


In the same interview with Nayar, he further said ''the time at my disposal was so short that I could not do a better job. However, if I had two to three years, I might have improved on what I did.''

Five weeks - in just five weeks - the fate of millions of people got sealed and this unleashed an epic humanitarian crisis.
 
According to records, Radcliffe barely knew where Punjab and Bengal were, yet he accepted the job as a man with a deep sense of duty.  

In a famous interview Radcliffe gave to veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar in 1976 in Britain, he reveals that he 'had almost given Lahore to India but was then told how Pakistan would be left without any major city' as the decision to give Calcutta to India was already taken.

In the same interview with Nayar, he further said ''the time at my disposal was so short that I could not do a better job. However, if I had two to three years, I might have improved on what I did.''

Five weeks - in just five weeks - the fate of millions of people got sealed and this unleashed an epic humanitarian crisis.

So saddened was Radcliffe to hear about the death of people on either side of the lines that he refused to accept the payment for his work.

The country which was once administered as one was now ready to divide its unified postal service, the army, political offices and even civil servants and currency. 

"For more than hundred years you have lived together… My great hope was that communal differences would not destroy all of this..."  - Lord Mountbatten

So that's how the story of Radcliffe lines goes. An English barrister, who never set foot in India before July 8, 1947, decided which families would be part of India and which houses would go to East and West Pakistan.

Many historians have debated the nature of this decision and many have asked if it was necessary to carry out such a 'hasty' job.

Countless stories written about the partition reveal horrors that happened during August 1947. In one such poem written about Sir Radcliffe, we see how ‘fate’ decided who belonged where.

"...He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect.."
-
WH Auden’s Partition

Thirty years after the partition, Sir Cyril died in April 1977 in Britain. It is said that after drawing the 'Radcliffe Line', he left India the very next day and never came to the country again.



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