The Radcliffe Line was published on 17 August 1947 as a boundary demarcation line between India and Pakistan upon thePartition of India. It was named after its architect, Sir Cyril Radcliffe , who, as chairman of the Border Commissions, was charged with equitably dividing 175,000 square miles (450,000 km 2) of territory with 88 million people. Today its western side still serves as the Indo-Pakistani border and the eastern side serves as the India-Bangladesh border .
On 15 July 1947, the Indian Independence Act 1947 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom stipulated that British rule in India would come to an end just one month later, on 15 August 1947. The Act also stipulated the partition of the
Provinces of British India into two new sovereign dominions: the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan .
The Indian Independence Act, passed by the British parliament, abandoned the
suzerainty of the British Crown over the
princely states and dissolved the Indian Empire, so that the rulers of the states found themselves fully independent and were free to decide for themselves whether to accede to one of the new dominions or to remain independent.
Pakistan was intended as a Muslim homeland, while the new India was for the Hindus with a Hindu majority. Muslim-majority British provinces in the north were to become the foundation of Pakistan. The provinces of Baluchistan (91.8% Muslim before partition) and Sindh (72.7%) were granted entirely to Pakistan. However, two provinces did not have an overwhelming majority— Bengal in the north-east (54.4% Muslim) and the Punjab in the north-west (55.7% Muslim). The western part of the
Punjab became part of West Pakistan and the eastern part became the Indian state of East Punjab , which was later divided between a smaller Punjab State and two other states. Bengal was also partitioned, into East Bengal (in Pakistan) and West Bengal (in India). Following independence, the North-West Frontier Province (whose borders with
Afghanistan had earlier been demarcated by the Durand Line) voted in a referendum to join Pakistan. This controversial referendum was boycotted by the most popular Pukhtun movement in the province at that time. The area is now a province in Pakistan called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa .
The Punjab’s population distribution was such that there was no line that could neatly divide Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs . Likewise, no line could appease the
Muslim League , headed by Jinnah, and the Indian National Congress led by
Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel , and by the British. Moreover, any division based on religious communities was sure to entail “cutting through road and rail communications, irrigation schemes, electric power systems and even individual landholdings.” However, a well-drawn line could minimize the separation of farmers from their fields, and also minimize the numbers of people who might feel forced to relocate.
As it turned out, on “the sub-continent as a whole, some 14 million people left their homes and set out by every means possible—by air, train, and road, in cars and lorries, in buses and bullock carts, but most of all on foot—to seek refuge with their own kind.” Many of them were slaughtered by an opposing side, some starved or died of exhaustion, while others were afflicted with ” cholera ,
dysentery , and all those other diseases that afflict undernourished refugees everywhere”. Estimates of the number of people who died range between 200,000 (official British estimate at the time) and two million, with the consensus being around one million dead.