The welcome mat pulled from under their feet, the British left India in August 1947. The country split into an awkward two, left the people to pick up the pieces. India comprised the larger area and the new country of Pakistan straddled it in two parts, West Pakistan and East Pakistan.
The division of India was based on religious majorities, Hindus and Muslims: Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. There were minorities. Christian stayed neutral, the Sikhs joined Hindus for their antipathy towards Muslims dated back to the Mughal Empire.
A homeland for Hindus made Muslims feel unsafe and similarly for Hindus in the newly formed Pakistan. Thus a modern exodus ensued as populations crossed borders. Tempers flared and riots and bloodshed followed.
The leaders on both sides were educated in England. Nehru went to Harrow, an elite British private school, and Jinnah was a renowned London educated barrister who spoke flawless English with a distinctly British accent. Their calls to the public to stop the mayhem went unheeded.
Before it was all over, hundreds of thousands had perished in the sectarian killing. Estimates run as high as a million plus, and the mass movement of frightened people seeking refuge among religious kin was new to the country and numbered in the millions (10 to 20).
Imagine, people leaving ancestral lands, houses, property, goods, to travel with what could be carried. A disorganized police force and army where regiments were assigned to one new country or the other based on religion left few to maintain order.
It was a transformation for a land in which a mixture of Hindus and Muslims had lived together for centuries, sharing many aspects of culture and education with frequent interaction in daily commerce. In schools, children had friends of different religions, and growing older, the same held true in college and beyond. Ninety years prior, the two faiths had together attempted to drive out the British and almost succeeded. All became past history.
India celebrates independence on August 15, and Pakistan on August 14. Bangladesh constituted East Pakistan but distanced itself as an independent country a half-century ago after an uneasy 25 years as part of Pakistan.
So how have these countries fared? In comparison with contemporaries who threw off colonial yokes, the per capita GDP, adjusted for purchasing parity, gives an indicator. Malaysia leads at $27,887 far ahead of the rest. Pakistan is the lowest at $4877. The World Happiness Index ranks 153 countries. Here India is at the bottom ranked 144. Malaysia is at 80 and Pakistan leads at a rank of 66. Clearly, per capita GDP does not allow for a host of other factors that are involved in the quality of a person’s life.
Armaments and oversized militaries do not help in improving the life of ordinary people. Something worth remembering as Pakistan and a day later India parade military hardware at Independence Day celebrations. For example, 39.3 percent of Pakistanis and just over half of Indians live on less than $3.20 a day.