Meet the men who drew the line that divided India from Pakistan


A new book - Partition: The Story of Indian independence - examines the division of India 70 years ago. Former Yorkshire Evening Press feature writer ROBERT BEAUMONT, whose father was involved in drawing up the line which separated the two countries, gives his verdict

The aftermath of the Partition of India, whose 70th anniversary has been “celebrated” this summer, was shocking. The number of civilians who died following independence is estimated at one million – and they died in truly horrible circumstances.

Arson, torture, mass rape and indiscriminate, senseless rape were commonplace as India was divided into two separate nations along religious lines. The last Viceroy of India, the arrogant, intellectually lightweight Lord Mountbatten promised that there would be no bloodshed once the partition line had been drawn. He could not have been more wrong.


Inevitably, in the wake of such a humanitarian catastrophe with also saw 12 million people uprooted in the largest human migration in history, the blame game has been in overdrive ever since.

There have been few nuanced, contextual reactions, with the Mountbatten camp trying to excuse his folly by saying he was under intense pressure from the British Government to oversee partition as quickly as possible, while films such as ghastly The Viceroy’s House and some strange, lop-sided coverage from the BBC have perpetuated the myth that the bloodshed was all the fault of years of British colonial ambition and misrule.

So Barney White-Spunner’s new book Partition is timely, since it is essentially objective, with a proper regard and respect for historical truth.York Press:


Well-researched, with a number of original sources, and written with clarity and empathy, it is required reading for anyone who wants to fully understand one of most significant political and cultural events of the 20th century. What happened in India in 1947 has created a cycle of revenge, which has resonated through the decades and still defines the sub-continent today.

White-Spunner is especially strong on the personal stories, the farmer from the Punjab, the citizens of Lahore and Calcutta and the soldier in the divided and largely passive army, which was supposed to keep the peace but was helpless in the face of a tsunami of violence and bloodshed. He is also correct (unlike the recent BBC Radio 4 programme The Man who Drew the Line) to discuss and examine the fact that the fact that the partition line between India and Pakistan through the Punjab was changed at the last moment in favour of India.

The simple facts are these: Lord Mountbatten, under pressure from Nehru, forced Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had the thankless task of drawing the partition line, to change the line, giving the strategically important sub-districts of Ferozepore and Zira to India when they were originally going to be part of the new Pakistan. This reflects very badly on Mountbatten and Nehru and, to a lesser extent, on Radcliffe. The Boundary Commission’s deliberations were supposed to be in secret, impartial and isolated from political pressure. The original map came into the hands of Pakistan shortly afterwards and added to that country’s sense of grievance.



I should declare a personal interest here. My father Christopher Beaumont, latterly a leading Yorkshire Crown Court judge, was the private secretary to Radcliffe and the Boundary Commission and was with Sir Cyril day and night for those six long, hot weeks from June to August 1947. As a senior Indian Civil Servant, my father knew India intimately, having worked and lived there from 1938 to 1947. He was deeply shocked by this last-minute change of mind and went public in 1992, concerned that the truth about partition would never be known. White-Spunner’s even-handed examination of Mountbatten’s duplicitous act of treachery is exemplary, as is the rest of this meticulously-researched and eminently readable book.









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