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  • Ramanjit Singh

Following the Radcliff Line


The Radcliff line was the boundary drawn by the British to demarcate the Indian and Pakistani portions of the Punjab province. I was curious as to how the line was drawn over populations, villages, districts, canals, railways, the economic infrastructure of one of the most populous province of British India. I was also curious as to the type of maps that were made available to Cyril Radcliff in 1947 as he started to draw the boundaries. What thought if any was given on how these towns or villages were going to be allotted to either side.

Agreeing to the theoretical argument of a two-nation theory is one thing, but looking at a map and then drawing a line is completely different and at the same time maddening.

Putting myself in the shoes of Cyril Radcliff, it is an impossible task to see how the task of demarcating Punjab can be feasible or even logical. I used the old British Punjab survey maps of 1943 which probably were the same type of maps that Radcliff may have used. Let's take a look at Lahore, Ferozepur and Amritsar districts which made up the central Punjab area of the province. One of the critical portion of the border, the Kasur - KhemKaran - Ferozepur sector was criss-crossed by canals such as the Upper Bari Doab canal, railway network such as the Raiwind Bhatinda line, communication lines, roads and so on.

Here's the original British pre-partition Punjab survey map of 1943 of this area and an animation of how the line was drawn. Super imposing the current India - Pakistan map on the 1943 survey map of the Lahore district's Kasur tehsil.

The Lahore-Amritsar area is even more populated and it is inconceivable to me how someone can even draw a border in this area. I would like you to take a moment and just look at the original pre-partition map below of this area and think how any boundary can be drawn here. The sheer density of towns, villages, railway lines, canals, communication lines everything that made up Punjab Province of 1947 was cut in two. It is quite obvious that the British in their haste to leave India did not care about the affects of such a border would have on the people who actually lived in this land.

Map 1 - Lahore - Amritsar - 1943 Punjab survey map

Map 2 - Enlarged - Lahore - Amritsar - 1943 Punjab survey map

Map 3: Animation of the line drawn between the two cities.

The boundary in this sector followed the district line between Lahore and Amritsar as shown below. The district boundary went between Wagah and Attari and moved up touching the contours of the River Ravi.

Here's the enlarged border between Wagah and Attari from the British 1943 survey map.

Another key to looking at the district borders is the small legend in this map that shows the Lahore and Amritsar district boundary. In my previous blog, I showed that a portion of the Kasur tehsil went to India. Towns like Khem Karan, Patti, Bhikiwind were originally part of Lahore district. This can also be seen in the map above that shows the boundary between Kasur and Khem Karan.

Another interesting point to also consider is that the danger of moving from one part of the boundary to the other was significantly different by how far you lived from the border. The factors involved in what routes to take were different for a Hindu family in Bannu or Jamrud or a Muslim family living in Panipat or Karnal versus someone living near the border. For those living in the far flung areas of Punjab, the transport was either through railways or trucks.

For families living near the border, the choice was to simply walk to the other side. Factors such as the probability of encountering attacks, whether the chosen route provided a safe passage to the refugees were all dependent upon the terrain, demographic mix of the local area, and presence of the military. For some the prospects of living near the border in districts such as Sheikhupura, Lahore or Sialkot was more horrible than those who were coming to India from places like Bannu or Peshawar. Same is true for the Muslims living in the Amritsar, Gurdaspur or Ferozepur districts. Although the border was nearby, simply walking to the other side was not at all as simple as it seemed.


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