Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jad Adams is a writer and Fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

1947: In­dia gains in­de­pen­dence

The big­gest democ­racy the world had ever seen came into be­ing at mid­night on 14/ 15 Au­gust 1947, when In­dia be­came in­de­pen­dent after a long strug­gle.

The in­de­pen­dence move­ment had its roots in the Congress, a meet­ing of mid­dle-class In­di­ans called in 1885 by Al­lan Hume who was a for­mer worker in the In­dian Civil Ser­vice. They felt it wrong that In­dian lawyers and other pro­fes­sion­als who were ad­min­is­ter­ing the colony for Bri­tain had no say in the coun­try’s gov­ern­ment. The Bri­tish were not op­posed to a mea­sure of self­gov­ern­ment, which was granted at lo­cal level in 1884, pro­vin­cial in 1909 and in re­gional gov­ern­ment in 1935. What the Bri­tish would not do was just grant na­tional in­de­pen­dence and leave.

Many in Bri­tain were re­luc­tant to lose the em­pire’s ‘jewel in the crown’. Peo­ple such as Win­ston Churchill, a marked im­pe­ri­al­ist who had served in In­dia, ar­gued that the na­tion was not ready for self-gov­ern­ment: there were too many con­flict­ing in­ter­ests such as dif­fer­ent re­li­gions. He also ar­gued that the con­di­tion of women and of the out­caste ‘un­touch­ables’ would suf­fer un­der na­tive con­trol.

Congress was trans­formed from be­ing a mid­dle-class move­ment by the cam­paign­ing as­cetic Gandhi, some­times re­ferred to by the hon­orific Hindu ti­tle Ma­hatma. He of­fered the In­dian masses tales of a sim­ple, vil­lage­based lifestyle in the new In­dia that was to be es­tab­lished, like that de­scribed in the Hindu holy text the Ra­mayana. An in­de­pen­dence move­ment of the elite was now that of the masses, and thereby be­came un­stop­pable.

Loyal na­tion­al­ists boy­cotted Bri­tish goods and com­mit­ted acts of civil dis­obe­di­ence that re­sulted in the jail­ing of thou­sands. These in­cluded Western-ed­u­cated pro­fes­sion­als such as Jawa­har­lal Nehru, who be­lieved that a mod­ern democ­racy could be cre­ated out of the patch­work of lan­guages, re­li­gions and eth­nic­i­ties that made up the sub­con­ti­nent.

How­ever, re­li­gious fac­tions were not so sure. Mus­lims in par­tic­u­lar had long been sus­pi­cious of Congress as a ve­hi­cle for Hindu na­tion­al­ism, and there was some jus­tice in that: the top lead­ers were of­ten sec­u­lar na­tion­al­ists, but lower down the ranks were re­li­gious zealots.

The Mus­lims were led by Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah, who felt that only a sep­a­rate


Mus­lim state would sat­isfy his as­pi­ra­tions and pro­tect his peo­ple. The new na­tion was to be called Pak­istan, an acro­nym that com­bined the names of the Pun­jab, Afghan prov­ince, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchis­tan. If a united in­de­pen­dent In­dia was im­pos­si­ble, Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors felt obliged to ac­cept a sep­a­rate Mus­lim state. In­dia had sup­plied the largest vol­un­teer army the world had ever seen in sup­port of Bri­tain in the Sec­ond World War, and many of these vol­un­teers were Mus­lims, so their de­mand for their own coun­try should be re­spected like that of Congress. How­ever, one prob­lem the na­tion­al­ists faced was that the Bri­tish did not di­rectly con­trol all of In­dia: two-fifths was un­der the rule of lo­cal ra­jas and ma­hara­jahs. The Bri­tish could leave, but that alone did not hand the na­tion over to In­dian politi­cians. It helped the tran­si­tion that the viceroy ap­pointed to over­see it, Lord Louis Mount­bat­ten, was a bril­liant diplo­mat. He and his wife Ed­wina worked to smooth the way be­tween var­i­ous fac­tions. He suc­ceeded in solv­ing the prob­lem of the ra­jas: most of them were bought off with of­fers of a large pen­sion for re­tir­ing from rule, and per­mis­sion to keep their royal ti­tles.

It was Mount­bat­ten who de­cided the Au­gust date for in­de­pen­dence. It was too soon for many ex­perts, but un­rest was wors­en­ing in many parts of In­dia and civil war threat­ened. There were in­suf­fi­cient Bri­tish forces to main­tain or­der.

The day after the in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion the de­tails of the Par­ti­tion of In­dia were re­vealed. The Bri­tish set­tle­ment carved out the Mus­lim ma­jor­ity ar­eas, which were to the west and east of the large Hin­du­ma­jor­ity na­tion of In­dia. Some pre­dicted trou­ble in the fu­ture: East and West Pak­istan had their faith in com­mon, but they were eth­ni­cally and cul­tur­ally dif­fer­ent.

The big­gest trans­fer of pop­u­la­tions in his­tory led to hor­rific mas­sacres in the Pun­jab and Ben­gal. The re­luc­tance of the Ma­hara­jah of Hy­der­abad to cede his king­dom to the new na­tion meant In­dia’s army moved in to en­force the takeover. The al­le­giance of Kashmir was dis­puted be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, and con­tin­ues to this day to be a point of con­flict be­tween them.

In­dia adopted a con­sti­tu­tion with univer­sal suf­frage and equal cit­i­zen­ship. Your fore­bears, many of whom had af­fec­tion­ate mem­o­ries of liv­ing in In­dia, wel­comed the new na­tion.

A harsh win­ter

The Bri­tish press did not dwell on the mas­sacres of Par­ti­tion, and your fore­bears paid lit­tle at­ten­tion to it: there had been too much suf­fer­ing in Europe, and life was hard at home. The lin­ger­ing ef­fects of the war and con­tin­u­ing aus­ter­ity mea­sures had com­pounded the mis­ery of the worst win­ter since the 1880s.

From 21 Jan­uary a se­ries of cold spells brought drifts of snow cov­er­ing first the south and south-east, then the whole coun­try. In Es­sex the tem­per­a­ture reached –20°C. As the freeze per­sisted into another month, the coal

stocks froze at the de­pots. Even when coal could be ac­cessed, it could not be moved on roads or rail­ways where the routes had be­come im­pass­able. The Army and Ger­man pris­on­ers of war were put to work clear­ing snow from the rail­ways. Coal-car­ry­ing ships strug­gled through ice floes to reach power sta­tions, but still the low lev­els of fuel meant they had to close or de­crease their out­put.

Your rel­a­tives alive at the time ex­pe­ri­enced power cuts and un­em­ploy­ment – more than two mil­lion fac­tory work­ers were tem­po­rar­ily laid off be­cause there was not enough power for them, and of­fices also had to close. Cook­ing a sim­ple meal at home took hours be­cause elec­tric cur­rent was weak and gas pres­sure ran low. Food was in short sup­ply be­cause root crops froze in the ground and an­i­mal herds froze in fields and barns, or starved to death be­cause feed could not get to them. In Lin­colnshire, Nor­folk and York­shire the Royal Air Force dropped food sup­plies for stranded vil­lagers and their live­stock.

Tele­vi­sion was can­celled, ra­dio trans­mis­sions re­duced, news­pa­pers dropped pages, and food ra­tions were cut in econ­omy mea­sures that dam­aged morale with­out pro­duc­ing ap­pre­cia­ble ben­e­fits. Peo­ple car­ried on by can­dle­light, of­ten curs­ing their Gov­ern­ment.

A short­age of coal was blamed on the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the in­dus­try which had hap­pened in Jan­uary. Although the true cause was ex­ces­sive de­mand and the dif­fi­culty of mov­ing the coal that was avail­able, the min­is­ter of fuel and power Em­manuel ‘Manny’ Shin­well was blamed to the ex­tent that he re­ceived death threats and had to be placed un­der po­lice guard.

Dev­as­tat­ing floods

It was not un­til mid-March that warmer weather thawed out the coun­try, but with that there were dev­as­tat­ing floods. The Sev­ern broke its banks, and in London part of the un­der­ground had to be closed. Flood­ing in the Fens de­stroyed crops, and drowned poul­try and cat­tle.

One re­sult of the win­ter you might see in fam­ily records is em­i­gra­tion. A record num­ber of peo­ple felt that they had had enough of bad weather, and set sail for Aus­tralia.

To lighten the at­mos­phere in these days of aus­ter­ity, the first in­ter­na­tional arts fes­ti­val in Bri­tain was launched in Ed­in­burgh in Au­gust. The flags were out in the Scot­tish cap­i­tal for 800 artists from 20 coun­tries per­form­ing mu­sic and drama. The Vi­enna Philharmonic, the Hallé Or­ches­tra and Sadler’s Wells Bal­let were to the taste of some of your fore­bears.

How­ever, oth­ers crit­i­cised the em­pha­sis on high­brow en­ter­tain­ment as bour­geois, and launched their own fes­ti­val. Eight the­atre com­pa­nies that had not been in­vited to take part de­cided to come and per­form any­way, in­clud­ing the left-wing Glas­gow Unity The­atre. Thus Ed­in­burgh ended up with two con­cur­rent an­nual events, the In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val and the Fringe.

En­ter­tain­ment on the Light

The most com­mon en­ter­tain­ment for all was the ra­dio, with such favourites on the BBC Light Pro­gramme (now Ra­dio 2) as

Dick Bar­ton – Spe­cial Agent with 15-minute episodes each week­day evening in which for­mer com­mando cap­tain Richard Bar­ton solved crimes and saved the na­tion. The re­cently launched Woman’s Hour was pre­sented at first by Alan Ivimey, a jour­nal­ist and for­mer of­fi­cer in the Royal Air Force who “spe­cialised in writ­ing for and talk­ing to women”, ac­cord­ing to the Ra­dio Times. Early pro­grammes cov­ered house­keep­ing and child care, but the se­ries pro­gressed to more po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal top­ics.

Another of­fer­ing was Ra­dio For­feits with ‘quiz in­quiz­itor’ Michael Miles, fu­ture host of

Take Your Pick!, invit­ing guests to be silly in games such as ‘ The Yes/No In­ter­lude’.

Cit­i­zens in Cal­cutta cel­e­brate In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish rule

Lord Mount­bat­ten de­clares In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in Delhi’s Con­stituent Assem­bly

This train took 20 hours to travel to Eus­ton Sta­tion from Wolver­hamp­ton be­cause of the weather

Ma­hatma Gandhi cam­paigned for in­de­pen­dence

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.