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India's Independence & Division into Two States

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  • 0:03 Religious Tension in India
  • 0:39 British Rule in India
  • 1:32 Partition of British India
  • 4:29 Southeast Asia After WWII
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn how British India was divided into two states: India and Pakistan. We will examine the factors leading to this development, particularly the role of the Hindu and Muslim religions. We will also quickly explore geopolitics in postwar Southeast Asia.

Religious Tension in India

India has a long tradition of religious tension. While there has been historic tension between Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Christians, and numerous other sects, one of the most sustained religious conflicts has been between Hindus and Muslims. This struggle has raged since Islam spread into the Indian Peninsula in the early 700s. In the 20th century, this tension was a major factor in the partition of the British colony of India into the new states of India and Pakistan.

The Beginning of British Rule in India

Before we go any further, let's explore some context very quickly. So how is it that the British came to rule India in the first place? Well, during the 17th and 18th centuries, India emerged as a major center of European trade. Increasingly, trading companies, like the British East India Company, established outposts on the subcontinent. The East India Company pushed out competition and eventually assumed the role of government. In 1858, the British government took over control of India from the East India Company. The term British Raj refers to British rule over India between 1858 to 1947. 'Raj' is the Hindi word for 'rule.'

The Partition of British India

In the 20th century, Hindu-Muslim tension played a vital role in the partition of British India. See, while Hindu Indians dominated the central and eastern part of the subcontinent, Muslim Indians dominated the western part of the region (in what is now Pakistan).

Many Muslim Indians belonged to the upper classes of society. But as democratic thinking grew among the poor and lower classes, which had a large composition of Hindus, many Muslim Indians became concerned. Hindus were increasingly coming to power, and pushing Muslims out of society. The Muslim League, technically called the All-India Muslim League, was established in 1906 to protect the civil rights of Muslim Indians, particularly those of the upper class.

Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress, a political organization and party established in 1885, worked to secure greater autonomy from the British Raj. While the Indian National Congress contained some members who were also members of the Muslim League, by the 1930s, it became increasingly dominated by Hindus. By this time, many Indians also began demanding complete independence from British rule. So basically, India was becoming divided along Hindu-Muslim lines.

Enter Gandhi. Mohandas Gandhi was the leading figure of India's independence movement. He became famous for his acts of civil disobedience toward British authority. Gandhi's vision of a free India consisted of a secular democratic republic, in which all Indians, regardless of religion or class, lived together in harmony. Gandhi's program of satyagraha, or passive resistance, helped inspire a mass movement, which finally convinced the British to grant Indian independence. As British authority in India was rapidly deteriorating, the Muslim League began demanding the formation of a separate nation-state for Muslim Indians.

The ruler of British India (called the viceroy), Lord Mountbatten, favored partition, and following World War II, the British government agreed to the Mountbatten Plan. Under the plan, the British government approved the creation of two brand new states: India and Pakistan. The Mountbatten Plan was formally accepted on July 18, 1947, when Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act. A month later, on August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan officially came into existence.

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