In the words of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” Upon independence on 15 August 1947, when the British left the subcontinent after 300 years of colonial rule, India was partitioned into two dominons: the Muslim state of Pakistan, comprising East and West Pakistan, and Hindu-dominated India. It was believed that the consequential large population transfers (such as Muslims from Rajasthan transferring to Pakistan, while Hindus left Pakistan for India) were a necessity and would result in peaceful co-existence between two very different religions. Other religious groups, such as Sikhs, Buddhists and Jainists remained in the newly partitioned India. The relationship between the Hindus and Muslims was already fragile and each found it difficult to tolerate the other’s religious customs. Collective communal violence between Hindus and Muslims was widespread; villages were razed to the ground, people were butchered on the streets of towns and cities, and trains overloaded with fleeing refugees were attacked, their passengers massacred. Some of the worst riots in 1948 took place in Bengal and Bihar. It is estimated that, in the course of Partition, some 15 million people were uprooted, and over 2 million died.
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