India is a fascinating piece of land. Historically, it’s been the dream of many conquerors, rulers and the European explorers. I started reading about the history of India last month during my long winter break and, the more I read about my country’s history, the more fascinated I became with it, though what the country is today is still worthy of a facepalm.
It all starts with the migration of early humans from Africa, through Persia and the Hindu Kush valley in present day Afghanistan and Pakistan. First ever evidence of civilization in the subcontinent points to archeological ruins around the Indus river, more digging led to the discovery of Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished around ~3300–~1300 BCE. Think about it, for over 2000 years, a civilization thrived in the present day terror/issue ridden Pakistan/parts of India. Mind blowing to think about.
The Map of Indus Valley Civilization
And then, the spread of Islam from 1000 AD onwards, changing the landscape forever. Then, a period of Mughal/other Islamic Rulers commanding most of the subcontinent for ~1600 years until the conquest by the British. Of course, things were a lot more complex than this, I’m vastly oversimplifying events here.
Map of Mughal Empire
Then come in the British. They first start off as people extremely interested in trading with India, through the East India Company and then slowly spread their wings across the subcontinent. In the first half of the 19th century, they expand rapidly, forming in their own army and operating more like a Kingdom rather than a trading company. Then, many Indians started getting really pissed off about a lot of things and this let to the first try to cede India from the East India Company (It was not British Raj yet) in the First War of Independence in 1857.
Artistic depiction of 1857 rebellion. (Fine art America©)
I read about the 1857 revolt in great detail because, if observed closely, it could be seen that this was the tipping point and the first ideas of Swaraj started to emerge during this time period. Of course, the entire revolt was crushed within a year and The Queen of England officially took over from the East India Company and India became a ‘colony’ of the British Empire.
And yes, there were no Gandhi, Nehru or Jinnah at this point, still decades away. There were many reasons for the failure of 1857 revolt, mainly because it was not a subcontinent wide revolt, things were mainly concentrated in areas around Delhi/Meerut/United Provinces (present day Uttar Pradesh). Revolt had little or no effect down south, in Bombay/Madras/Calcutta. Also, there was a lot of disagreement about the ruler who’d be ruling India if the revolt were to succeed. Many sepoys unilaterally declared Bahadur Shah Zafar to be their leader, but this didn’t go well with other religious communities, especially with the then Sikh community, who had fought with the invading Mughal army.
Of course, the whole idea of INDIA was still very fragile. If you jumped into a time machine right now and traveled back to say 1860 and ask a random person on what the term ‘India’ meant to them, you’d get thousands of different replies. India was vastly composed of Princely States with their own rulers. But things were about to change soon, within decades to be precise.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi were two very prominent London educated barristers who in a few decades would radically change the face of the Indian subcontinent. Of course, apart from these two, there were also many others from the Indian National Congress, Muslim League and independent revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and others, but these two played a massive role in mobilizing people and resources against the British Raj and they instilled a sense of belonging to the people of India. Gandhi especially was responsible for defragmenting the idea of India, making it more ubiquitous and familiar.
And, things took a turn during this period, post World War 1/the Great Depression Era. The call for Independence got louder and louder and during all this while, Hindus and Muslims were still as united as ever, but in the leadership of course, cracks started appearing and Jinnah broke away from the Indian National Congress and joined Muslim League.
At this period, first calls for a separate state started getting attention. Things started appearing even more bleak when INC and Muslim League were divided over India’s participation in the World War 2 as a British Colony. INC opposed the idea whereas Muslim League supported it.
The last nail in the coffin came when Jinnah called for Direct Action for a separate state on 16th August 1946. It was on this day when the entire subcontinent was shocked by the massive communal riots, starting in Calcutta (present day Kolkata). Then things started moving very rapidly with the war torn British Empire announcing the they would withdraw from India on a date no later than June 1948.
But to everyone’s surprise, the British preponed the entire Transfer of Power by almost 10 months to August 1947. The British also announced that there would be a separate state created for the Muslims along the Western and Eastern areas of Punjab and Bengal respectively. Lord Mountbatten was charged with responsibly transferring the power from the British to the Independent states.
Mountbatten with a countdown calendar to the Transfer of Power in the background
And, just hold on tight for the dumbest part of the entire story, which was responsible for the largest mass migration in history and the death of over a million people and the destruction of millions more livelihood, the Radcliffe Line.
The dumb part here is that a guy called Cyril Radcliffe was given approximately 40 days to divide a nation of over 350 million into two separate parts on the east and west and also he was given outdated census data and information. Also, the entire border was not announced until after the independence, just so that the British cannot be held responsible for the mess. How clever.
Radcliff line and the migration trails of Hindus and Muslims
In the end, the massive subcontinent was separated into the Republic of India and The Islamic Republic of Pakistan with a part of it on the East called East Pakistan (Part of erstwhile Bengal Province.).
East Bengal became Bangladesh in 1971.
And of course, everyone know what happened since then.
Anyway, this post was just to highlight the story of India, which has been extremely compressed and oversimplified in this post. I wish more people realized the richness of India’s history. Of course none of it would justify the present day crap it has become and also basking in historical glory is not exactly the best thing to do, it still is good sometimes to understand where we all came from, that just is fascinating.
Sources and Further reading!
All the images used are under CC license unless stated otherwise.
Next up will be some more DotA 2 stuff. :)