In this lesson, we will learn about religious tensions in India and the partition of India and Pakistan following British rule.
We will see what led to these developments, and we will explore their context.
Religious Tension in India
India has a long tradition of religious tension. While there has been historic tension between Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Christians, and numerous other sects, one of the most significant, sustained religious conflicts has been between Hindus and Muslims. This struggle has raged since Islam spread into the Indian Peninsula in the early 700s. In the 20th century, this tension was a major factor in the partition of the British colony of India into the new states of India and Pakistan.
Hinduism vs. Islam
Before we go any further, however, we very quickly need to provide a basic context. Let’s begin with Hinduism.Hinduism is considered one of the world’s oldest religions.
It predates Christianity and Islam by centuries. Hinduism is a difficult religion for many Westerners to understand because it doesn’t have a rigidly structured and prescribed set of beliefs. In many ways, Hinduism is inclusive toward other religions.
It is often considered more of a way of life or a philosophical framework rather than ‘religion’ in the traditional sense. In a nutshell, Hinduism regards life as a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, with Karma acting as a guiding force.Islam is a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Muhammad, who lived between 570-632 BCE. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Muslims worship the Supreme Being, Allah, and follow his revelations contained in their sacred text, the Quran.
Religious Tension and the Partition of India
So, as I mentioned, Hindu-Muslim conflict in India has been going on for centuries; it is nothing new. Throughout the Middle Ages, Muslim expansion into the Indian Peninsula threatened the Hindu way of life.
In time, some Indians converted to Islam. Throughout the Modern Age, Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus coexisted within a fragile system, with violence often breaking out between the two groups.In the 20th century, Hindu-Muslim tension played a vital role in the partition of British India.
While Hindu Indians dominated the central and eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, Muslim Indians dominated the western part of the region (in what is now Pakistan). This is important to remember as we move forward!In the early 20th century, many Muslim Indians belonged to the upper classes of society. But as democratic thinking grew among the poor and lower classes, which had a large composition of Hindus, many Muslim Indians became concerned.
Hindus were increasingly coming to power. The Muslim League, technically called the All-India Muslim League, was established in 1906 to protect the civil rights of Muslim Indians, particularly those of the upper class.Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress, a political organization and party established in 1885, worked to secure greater autonomy from the British Raj. The term ‘British Raj’ simply refers to British rule over the Indian subcontinent.
While the Indian National Congress contained some members who were also members of the Muslim League, by the 1930s it became increasingly dominated by Hindus. By this time, many Indians also began demanding complete independence from British rule.Enter Gandhi. Mohandas Gandhi was the leading figure of India’s independence movement. He became famous for his acts of civil disobedience toward British authority. Gandhi’s vision of a free India consisted of a secular democratic republic, in which all Indians regardless of religion or class lived together in harmony. Gandhi’s program of satyagraha, or passive resistance, helped inspire a mass movement, which finally convinced the British to grant Indian independence.
As British authority in India was rapidly deteriorating, the Muslim League began demanding the formation of a separate nation-state for Muslim Indians.The viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, favored partition, and following World War II, the British government agreed to the Mountbatten Plan. Under the plan, the British government approved the creation of two brand new nation-states: India and Pakistan. The exact boundary between the two states would be determined by a commission sponsored by the British government.Certain disputed regions were also given the option of a referendum to decide which state they should be absorbed into. The Mountbatten Plan was formally accepted on July 18, 1947, when Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act.
A month later, on August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan officially came into existence.
So, the bottom line concerning this lesson is that Hindu-Muslim tension resulted in the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. Pakistan was especially created for Muslim Indians, while India was religiously pluralistic but tended to be mostly Hindu.Let’s review the key terms contained in this lesson.
Hinduism is an ancient religion centered on the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It is an inclusive philosophical outlook that generally lacks a dogmatic set of prescribed beliefs. Islam, on the other hand, is very rigid in its belief system. Islam is a religion based on the teaching of Muhammad.Religious tension in British India prompted Muslim Indians to form the Muslim League.
Formed in 1906, this organization worked to protect civil rights for Muslim Indians. At the same time, the Indian National Congress worked to promote greater political autonomy from British rule.Mohandas Gandhi emerged as the leading figure of the Indian independence movement. He is remembered for his vision of an India not bound by religious and class differences and for his courageous acts of civil disobedience.Named after the viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, the Mountbatten Plan outlined the partition of British India into two separate states, divided along religious lines. The plan was accepted by Parliament on July 18, 1947.
A month later, Pakistan and India came into existence as nation-states.
This lesson could provide you with the facts necessary to:
- Differentiate between Hinduism and Islam
- Summarize the conflict between these two religions
- Identify the purposes of the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress
- Remember Mohandas Gandhi’s important actions and impact on the Hindu-Islam conflict
- Detail the Mountbatten Plan and understand how India and Pakistan became two separate nation-states