The Radcliffe Line

What's the name of the boundary demarcation line between India and Pakistan?  

And the answer: The Radcliffe Line.    

Photo credit: TheDiplomat.com

The boundary line is named after a British lawyer named Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was tasked with equitably dividing the territory between India and Pakistan. Radcliffe and his team were given just five weeks to finalize drawing the 3,323 kilometer border before India and Pakistan's independence from England in August 1947.

For nearly 200 years, the British controlled parts of India. But, by 1947, independence movements were swelling throughout the nation, and debt-ridden Britain no longer had the resources to hold on to their colony after World War II. As such, the British began making plans to leave India. During negotiations, British officials agreed that a proper transfer of power would take about five years. Yet, when Lord Mountbatten (the Viceroy of India) arrived on the subcontinent, he made the hasty decision to cut that time to just four months.

British India was to be split into two independent nations: a mostly Muslim Pakistan, and a Hindu-majority (but officially secular) India. To complete the drawing of the border, British officials brought in lawyer Radcliffe just one month before the British were scheduled to leave India. Radcliffe had never been to India before, didn't know much about the region, and had no knowledge about Indian politics. Yet, Radcliffe remained in charge of the staggering task.

During his visit, Radcliffe studied maps and census data that displayed religious identity in India. However, based on the maps, people of all religions (whether they be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or otherwise) lived in pockets side-by-side. So, to draw the line, the British lawyer looked to maps that displayed religion by district, putting any district that had a Muslim majority population in Pakistan, while Hindu and Sikh majority districts would remain in India. Based on this method, the lawyer constructed a border (in just about five weeks). In fact, Radcliffe later wrote that it would have taken years to agree on a proper boundary.

After the publication of the new border, chaos ensued. Fourteen million people were forced to relocate in one of the most harrowing migrations in history. Leaving behind their belongings, lives and even splitting their families, the nation of Pakistan was formed along uncertain, arbitrary lines. Today, remnants of this postcolonial past remain pertinent. Learn more about the creation of the border below.


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