August 15th, 1947, inaugurated one of the cruelest and most enduring ironies of decolonization. India, a British property with over 4,500 years of civilization and a population of 415 million, finally achieved independence. But it was a triumph that opened a social, historical and geographic wound that has yet to fully heal: the new Indian state was partitioned into two.
Violent divisions between the subcontinent's Hindu and Muslim communities, and Muslim League leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah's longstanding campaign for an Indian-Muslim political entity in the event of a British withdrawal, made partition the expedient choice for a weary and overextended post-war British government. On June 3rd, 1947, British Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten announced that, as of August 15, India would be split between separate majority-Hindu and majority-Muslim countries.
The border between the future modern states of India and Pakistan was created under the supervision of Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a London barrister who was given only five weeks to draw the new borders. The resulting armed conflict persists today, from Hindu-ruled yet majority-Muslim Kashmir, to the bifurcation of Pakistan into remote eastern and western haves that later waged war. Millions of Pakistani Bengalis lost access to Kolkata, a regional metropolis that now sits on the Indian side of the border. As political scientist Lucy Chester recounts, the Radcilffe Line was "a failure in terms of boundary-making, but a striking success in terms of providing political cover to all sides."