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  • Ramanjit Singh

How the lines were drawn


On June 3rd 1947, the British put forth a notional boundary to partition Punjab based on the 1941 census and as most of the districts or tehsils touching rivers Sutlej and Beas were Muslim majority districts, the approach of how to split Punjab with any semblance of logic became next to impossible.

Here is the notional boundary as outlined in June, 1947.

You can read the logic behind the boundary decision in Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed's article here

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Wavell’s reasons for giving the three tahsils of Gurdaspur to India was to protect Amritsar from being surrounded on all sides except the east by Pakistani territory. This is easily understood by looking at the maps. The most interesting point to note is that the Radcliffe Award was almost identical to Wavell’s Boundary-Demarcation Plan of 7 February 1946. Only a very tiny portion of Kasur tahsil of Lahore district was given to India to make the international border equidistant between India and Pakistan.

In the Punjab, the only Moslem-majority district that would not go into Pakistan under this demarcation is Gurdaspur (51-per cent Moslem). Gurdaspur must be attached to Amritsar for geographical reasons and Amritsar, being sacred city of Sikhs, must stay out of Pakistan.

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Based on the notional boundary outlined in June, I have drawn how the India-Pakistan border would look like had this draft been implemented.

Part of Kasur tehsil and 3 out of 4 tehsils of Gurdaspur District went to India. Three tehsils of Gurdaspur that went to India are Batala, Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Shakargarh was given to Pakistan.

It's also interesting to note how the current boundary goes up from Ferozepur and does a diagonal, moves backwards into Kasur and then moves north, up to Wagah/Attari and touches River Ravi, and then it follows the Ravi's path east and ends at Jammu district of Kashmir.

Here's the enlarged map of the portion of Lahore District's Kasur tehsil that went to India. Major towns of this area are Khemkaran, Bhikiwind and Patti. Before Partition, Patti tehsil was part of Lahore district. The notional boundary (line in blue) follows the Sutlej and only gives Amritsar to India and its boundary starts roughly at the intersection of the Sutlej and Beas rivers.

Now let's look at the Gurdaspur District boundary. The actual or current border uses Ravi river's contours as the natural boundary between India and Pakistan. The notional or initial maps as drawn in June puts Beas river as the border between India and Pakistan. See map here.

Here's an enlarged map of the Gurdaspur district that went to India.

Difference between the notional and actual boundaries is quite significant in this part of of the India-Pakistan border. The notional boundary follows the Amritsar district boundary from Ravi down to Beas river and then the border follows the contours of the Beas river all the way to Jammu and Kashmir. The Radcliff Award, as announced on Aug16th-17th, puts the border north at river Ravi and gives the Gurdaspur district to India. See map here.

Here's the terrain view of the Gurdaspur district and the boundary difference between notional and actual boundaries. See the terrain map here.

Boundary award was announced on Aug 17th 1947 (British delayed the announcement for couple of days after Aug 15th). This has raised controversy as to why there was a delay. A lot of writers on both sides mention that in the days prior to the release of the map, the Radcliff award was tilted in India's favor. Indian argument is that for all the economic loss that the Hindus and Sikhs suffered in losing their major business hubs of Lahore, Rawalpindi and Sialkot, plus the large tracts of Sikh owned farms in Lyallpur and Montgomery, that this "tilt" was a small token of recognition of their loss, a sort of consolation prize for the Indians. Also the award provided a buffer to protect Amritsar in case of a war, and thus the border is equidistant from Lahore and Amritsar.

Pakistanis think the Radcliff Award was completely unfair and that the borders were re-drawn despite having Muslim majority in Kasur tehsil, parts of Ferozepur and Gurdaspur district and that the final decision was different than what was originally discussed in June of 1947.

Article in Times of India on the boundary award:

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The boundary commissions held public sittings in which lawyers on behalf of the Congress, the Muslim League, the Sikhs and other interested parties presented their cases. It is significant to record that Radcliffe did not preside over the public sittings, but only studied the records of the proceedings. As both the commissions did not reach an agreement, Radcliffe alone gave the awards, demarcating the boundaries of Punjab, Bengal and Sylhet. Radcliffe made his awards for Bengal and Punjab on August 12 and for Sylhet on August 13. Mountbatten, however, did not release the Awards till the afternoon of August 16, 1947.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah's comments on the Radcliffe Award were: "We have been squeezed in as much as it was possible." The most significant objections regarding the Radcliffe Award were that the tehsils of Ferozepur and Zira in Ferozepur districts, Nakodar and Jalandhar in Jalandhar district, Ajnala in Amritsar district and Gurdaspur and Batala in Gurdaspur district had Muslim majority and were almost contiguous to West Punjab, yet they were given to East Punjab or the Indian Punjab.

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For further reading, I would recommend "An Analytical Study of the Punjab Boundary Line Issue" by Zulfiqar Ali Sialkoti. In this study, he describes the political events that were triggered after the initial announcement of the notional map and the reasons that led to the final drawing of the boundaries.

Also worth reading is Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema's The Politics of the Punjab Boundary Award. This study argues Pakistan's case on how the British unfairly granted parts of Muslim dominated areas of central Punjab to India.

Tahir Kamran from Government College University, Lahore writes about the Kasur tehsil and how a large part of this tehsil was allotted to India.

In this study by Ghazala Nawaz from National Institute of Historical & Cultural Research writes the following.

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For instance, from the district of Gurdaspur, Radcliffe transferred to East Punjab not only the non-Muslim majority tehsil of Pathankot, but also two Muslim majority tehsils-Gurdaspur (population 328.819, Muslim majority 52.1%) and Batala (population 380.053, Muslim majority 55.06%) as also a portion of the third Muslim majority tehsil of Shakargarh (Muslim majority 51.3%).105 It enabled India to have a land link with Kashmir. Besides, from the Muslim majority district of Lahore, Radcliffe transferred to East Punjab portion from two of its tehsils, Kasur (Muslim majority 57.2%) and Lahore (Muslim majority 62.05%). In contrast, Radcliffe did not transfer to the West Punjab any area from non-Muslim majority districts.

Cyril John Radcliffe, who was entrusted with the grand responsibility of drawing the boundary lines of Pakistan and India, did not act honestly. He deprived Pakistan of its sources of irrigation water. Three-fourth area of the Gurdaspur, a Muslim majority district, was awarded to India. That area provided India with a vital land link to Kashmir. By and large, Pakistan was the main loser. Jinnah was possessed with an overwhelming sense of Justice and impartiality. Perhaps, he could never accept that his faith in British justice would be deceived. He was greatly disappointed with the Award, but he accepted it with some reservations.

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Indian Army's Maj Gen Kuldip Singh Bajwa in his book "Jammu and Kashmir War 1947-1948" writes about the Radcliff boundary award.

Here is another research paper by Narendra Singh Sarila and Patrick French on the boundary debate.

They write the following in their article, also read their entire paper here.

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Neither the Wavell line of February 1946 nor the notional boundary attached to the Second Schedule of the Indian Independence Act placed any of Ferozepur district in Pakistan. As the Maharajah of Bikaner told Mountbatten, an attempt to put the salient under Pakistani control would 'gravely prejudice' the water supply into northern Rajputana. Even an apolitical cotton farmer a hundred miles south at Khanewal could refer in late June to a Bahawalpur canal-head as being 'in Ferozepur district i.e. in Hindustan'. It never occurred to anybody- except Radcliffe and some local Muslim League activists- that the nominally Muslim-majority revenue divisions of an essentially Sikh district might be transferred to Pakistani control. There is no way of knowing the precise reasoning behind Radcliffe's original decision. It appears from anecdotal evidence that he was particularly anxious to avoid disputes over water, given that the fertility of the Punjab depended on irrigation channels. He made various attempts during early August to have all common canal systems put under joint control but this proved politically impossible. Placing Ferozepur in Muslim hands may have been an attempt to give Pakistan some degree of control over one of its water sources, since the main headworks of the Sutlej Valley canal system were in Ferozepur. It is also likely that Radcliffe wished to compensate for having given a small portion of Lahore district and most of Gurdaspur district to India, which had been done to prevent the Sikhs of Amritsar from being isolated. It is certainly true that in general the Radcliffe line favoured India. In the eyes of Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, not only was their homeland being partitioned, but even the fringes were being gobbled up by Congress. Yet in practice it is hard to see how this could have been avoided, given the need to placate the justifiable anger of the Sikh minority. If the Sikhs' holy city of Amritsar was to be located in India, it was essential that it was not cut off in a hostile Pakistani sea. This inevitably meant that surrounding pieces of territory had to be allocated to India, to the detriment of Pakistan. The Ferozepur salient may have been an attempt to redress the balance, but it was a dangerously misguided one, and Radcliffe was right to alter it. Pakistan would in the long term have gained little benefit from having to defend a strip of land that was in such a strategically vulnerable position. . .

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