August 15, 2017: Cyril John Radcliffe, 1st Viscount Radcliffe was a British lawyer and Law Lord best known for his role in the partition of British India.
Radcliffe was given the chairmanship of the two boundary committees set up with the passing of the Indian Independence Act. He was faced with the daunting task of drawing the borders for the new nations of Pakistan and India in a way that would leave as many Hindus and Sikhs in India and Muslims in Pakistan as possible. Radcliffe submitted his partition map on 9 August 1947, which split Punjab and Bengal almost in half. The new boundaries were formally announced on 14 August 1947—the day of Pakistan’s independence and the day before India became independent.
Radcliffe’s efforts saw some 14 million people—roughly seven million from each side—flee across the border when they discovered the new boundaries left them in the “wrong” country. Some 500,000 people died in the violence that ensued after independence, and millions more were injured. After seeing the mayhem occurring on both sides of the boundary, Radcliffe refused his salary of 40,000 rupees (then 3,000 pounds). He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1948.
The poet W. H. Auden referred to Radcliffe’s role in the partition of India and Pakistan in his 1966 poem “Partition”.
It has been said that before his appointment, Radcliffe had never visited India before and knew no-one in India. Wanting to preserve the appearance of impartiality, Radcliffe also kept his distance from Viceroy Mountbatten.
The first person, as per records who demanded for a separate state was Allama Iqbal, who, in his presidential address to the 1930 convention of the Muslim League said that “He felt a separate nation for Muslims was essential in an otherwise Hindu-dominated subcontinent”. By 1930, Jinnah had begun to despair of the fate of minority communities in a united India and had begun to argue that main parties such as the Congress, were insensitive to Muslim interests.
The immediate consequences of partition were terrible for both countries though it is doubtful that anything Radcliffe could have done would have made a great difference. Even the most carefully crafted border would have cause the massive population migrations which resulted.