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Updated: Oct 9

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Some Facts and Perspectives on the Partition
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The Initial Days: Emergence of Religious Conflict

The policies by the British after the Revolt of 1857 underlined the separation of the Christian religion from the Queen’s rule. The British rule would not interfere with the personal affairs of the Indian population although the British maintained that Indians' traditions were ‘primitive’ and ‘abhorrent’. Therefore, ‘religious faith and observances would be left alone’.[i] The missionaries that were provided with subsidiaries were curtailed. In a sense, the belief that the new rule would convert the Indians to a new faith was undercut even though there were instances such as a Scottish missionary named Alexander Duff being under the impression that he had not done enough for the ‘Satan’s Empire’.[ii] On the other hand, new measures were taken to introduce Christian teachings through the classroom.

Divide and Rule ‘Divide Et Impera’

One of the major outcomes of the ‘Great Mutiny’ was the policy of Divide and Rule. The policy materialised through re-organising the army. The earlier policy to mix caste, creed and religion was revised. This would fracture the unity that was being established in the states. For instance, it was important to break the growing solidarity in the Bengal regiments by introducing Sikh members. The policy was going to help strengthen the division that was already present between the groups. It would go on to see the formation of ‘class regiments’ and ‘class company’ and create fissures between the existing communities.[iii]

In short, the idea of division not only separated communities but also marked the root cause for the fracture between Muslims and Hindus. Much later, the final nail in the coffin came with the introduction of separate electorates.

Another important point that aligned with the policy of divide and rule was to ensure that the caste system continued to prevail, which the British had earlier disregarded. The fear of Christianization was also something the British dealt with. Fearing another revolt, the British rulers would also take into consideration the sensitivities of the Indian ruling class as it was this section of the society that had headed the Revolt. The agricultural class was also recognised as an important part of the imperial regime.[iv]

To know more about the policy of divide and rule:

To know more about the policies that developed in the 1857 Revolt:

Opposing views

Many would argue that the British were not entirely to blame for the Partition. The Muslim– Hindu animosity was arguably seething long before the British took over, for instance, when Aurangzeb reinstituted the jizyah tax that was imposed on non-Muslims.[v] The Marathas and other non-Muslim groups were opposed to such ideas although concrete identities such as the ‘Hindu’ did not exist back then. But this argument primarily condemns the romantic ideals of the Hindu–Muslim unity even if their battles were not on religious grounds but on the basis of gold, land and politics.

Moreover, acts of violence against non-Muslims in the Delhi Sultanate, for example, were not out of the ordinary. Religious violence was not an anomaly but a practice throughout history against the non-Muslim ‘infidels’. [vi]

To know more about Hindu–Muslim conflicts beyond the British rule:

Muslim as the Other

It is also important to note that there was an undercurrent of mistrust towards the Muslims from the government. They believed it was the Muslims who had much to gain from the Revolt of 1857:

It is interesting to note that a profound distrust was reserved for the Muslim community. Actually, as the events of 1857 ended, the British chose to throw the cover of responsibility on the Muslim aristocracy alone, notwithstanding the fact that the latter were not the only ‘culprits’. This is because the British assumed that the Indian Muslims were the bona fide fomenters and the main beneficiaries of the uprising. Commenting on this fact, Thomas R. Metcalf wrote: ‘As the former rulers of Hindustan, the Muslims had, in British eyes, necessarily to place themselves at the head of a movement for the overthrow of the British Government.'[vii]

Another important point to be kept in mind is that the Muslims were often treated as the Other. The East India Company, and then the British Government sought to justify their rule and marginalise the Muslim rulers as savage conquerors. [viii] This would help legitimize their rule and also divide the country. British scholars worked on the ‘orient’ in order to further probe into this narrative, insisting on the brutality of the Muslims and the role of the British in emancipating the non-Muslims from their reign. Chachnama was an Arabic text which was said to have been misinterpreted by the British in order to mislead and perpetuate hostility between the Muslims and Hindus.

To know more about the misappropriation in the History of Sind:

The Rate of Literacy in the Muslim community

The average literacy rate among Muslims was lower than the Hindus: 6.4 per unit as opposed to the 8.4 for the Hindus. [ix] This would be one of the major reasons for the rift between the two communities, although Latika Chaudhary argues that Muslims may not have encouraged literacy once the Mughal empire began to decline; teaching predominantly happened through Quran reading schools and Madrasahs.[x]

Another possible reason for the disparity was that the elite Muslims believed that education should have its basis in religion and that its medium should be Persian. This idea did not find ground in the British educational policy. Moreover, in the late nineteenth century the Muslims desired separate educational institutions in Bengal. However, these institutions seemed to be limited to the elite Muslims. Hindus also continued to have traditional schools but as Peskin argues, there was also rampant demand for English education:

It would be misleading to suggest that the Hindus moved en masse out of their traditional schools, the tols and pathsalas, or out of schools for learning Persian, to English schools. Acceptance of traditional schools persisted. But by 1831 there was more demand for English education than the Committee of Public Instruction was able to meet. The demand grew. As a result, there developed a class of Hindus who turned more and more to the West for models in taste, dress, habits, speech, and values. They turned away from their customary sources of learning to models which were most alien to them, but with which they could not have identified more closely.[xi]

The education rate therefore continued to be unequal till 1947 and as a result, there were more Hindus in administrative and commercial positions than Muslims, which would later become a point of contention between the groups. Much later, Fazl-i-Husain would rally for fair representation for Muslims through reservations in schools and colleges. However, the Hindus and other groups were opposed to it even though the British supported the move.

To learn more about the education disparity:

To know more about Muslim education and communal conflict in colonial Bengal between 1854 and 1947, read:

Rowlatt Act

Despite the conflict between the different religious groups, the protests against the Rowlatt Act brought about a HinduMuslim unity. It is at a site of protest against the Rowlatt Act that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was executed. The Act sought to censor the press and detain political activists, legitimizing their arrest without a warrant. Dr. Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, who were the chief voices against the Act, were thus arrested. A protest was held in Amritsar, along with which people were gathering for the Baisakhi festival, many of whom were unaware of the ban order against the right to assemble and had arrived from the surrounding villages for the fairs being held in Amritsar. The ground was enclosed on all sides and Dyer decided to open fire on the defenceless crowd in Jallianwala Bagh. This tragic event invoked solidarity between the Muslims and Hindus although this growing unity did not continue after the Non-Cooperation Movement was dismantled after three years. Rajmohan Gandhi states that 19191920 highlighted the firm unity that was evidenced by Lala Lajpat Rai who mentions Hindus preaching from the Badshahi Mosque during the protests.[xii]