The Controversial Radcliffe Line And The ‘Begum Jaan’ Reference

The Radcliffe Line is a demarcated boundary line between India and Pakistan. It was published after the partition of India, on 17 August 1947. It has been named after the Border Commissions chairman and architect of the line, Sir Cyril Radcliffe. He had the task of equally dividing an area of 450,000 square kilometers, which was home to about 90 million people, between the two newly formed independent countries.

The Radcliffe Line still currently serves as the border between India and Pakistan on the western side and as the Indo-Bangladesh border on the eastern side.

History of the Radcliffe Line

The Indian Independence Act 1947 was passed by the British parliament on July 15, 1947. Among varied provisions, the act stipulated the end of British rule in India on 15th August 1947 and partition of India into 2 new independent sovereign nations, i.e., India and Pakistan. India was designated to be a country for Hindus while Pakistan was a homeland for Muslims. The British provinces located in the north with Muslim majority populations would become the foundation of the new country of Pakistan.

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The Viceroy of India, Lord Wavell, had already drawn up a crude border before getting replaced by Lord Mountbatten in February 1947. In June, the UK appointed Sir Cyril Radcliffe to demarcate the boundary line and decide the exact territories that would be assigned to India and Pakistan. Instructions for the commission stipulated demarcation of boundaries of the 2 areas of Punjab and Bengal as per continuous Muslim and Hindu majority areas as well as other factors like socio-political elements, communications, natural borders, irrigation systems, and waterways, etc.

Radcliffe arrived in India on July 8, 1947, and finished demarcating the borders 2 days before independence. The casual and hasty division was justified by Radcliffe that suffering of people was inevitable irrespective of what he did. Radcliff destroyed all his data and papers before leaving India on 15th August 1947.

Outcome/Aftermath of the Radcliffe Line

The provinces of Sindh with a Muslim majority of nearly 73 percent and Baluchistan with almost 92 percent Muslim population were assigned fully to Pakistan. The provinces of Punjab and Bengal did not have an overwhelming majority of either Hindus or Muslims. The Radcliffe Line partitioned Bengal into West Bengal (India) and East Bengal (Pakistan). Punjab was also divided; the eastern part was granted to India and the western part went to Pakistan.

Radcliffe drew up the boundary partitioning Punjab and Bengal in such a way as to minimize forced relocation of people and separation of farmlands from farmers. But the outcome of the partition was completely different. About 14 million left their homes on either side of the Radcliffe Line and traveled on foot or available transport options, to be with people of their religion as refugees. About one million people died due to diseases, starvation, murder, etc., during this mass exodus.

The Radcliffe Line in Begum Jaan movie

Begum Jaan is an upcoming Hindi movie starring Vidya Balan. The movie tells the story of the struggles of the protagonist to protect her house and her fight against the administration which wants to demolish the house as the Radcliffe Line ran bang through the middle of the house after the partition of India.

Radcliffe Line – Map and Images


Is Begum Jaan real or fiction?

Begum Jaan is a Bollywood movie based on a hit Bengali movie ‘Rajkahini’. Both movies are directed by Srijit Mukherji. The movie is not a true story, it is a fictional work based on true events, revolving around the partition and the Radcliffe line. The concept of the movie was based on the director’s reading of the book ‘Mottled Dawn – Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition’ by Saadat Hasan Manto. The story is based on Radcliffe Line, a boundary that divides India and Pakistan; and houses a brothel run by eleven women, headed by Begum Jaan.

The story cannot be still deemed accurate because the story of just one house stationed on the border and demarcating two nations does not come across as convincing. As Radcliffe Line was not a straight line, the problem could have been easily resolved. Having said that, Begum Jaan is a commendable job.