In view of the forthcoming 74th anniversary of the partition that accompanied independence in British-controlled South Asia, the call for a better understanding of what the end of empire there entailed is very timely and welcome (Letters, 1 July). But we should note that there was no state of “Bengal” created in August 1947, though East Pakistan did later become Bangladesh, in 1971, following a bloody liberation war. And estimates of the number of people displaced thanks to partition now stand at around 12 to 14 million (precise figures will never be known) rather than 3 million, making it the 20th century’s largest such migration with long-lasting political and human legacies in the region and beyond. Moreover, the suggestion that communal violence only happened because the restraining hand of the Raj had been lifted is to ignore how far the Raj’s policies were directly responsible for the deadly breakdown in intra-community relations. The events of 1947 and their impact are clearly part and parcel of British history – losing its so-called “jewel in the crown” reshaped the UK’s global position after the second world war – and help to explain subsequent South Asian migration to this country.
As initiatives such as the Partition History Project and its successor the Partition Education Group have highlighted, and as a parliamentary debate on 28 June flagged up, much more engagement with this country’s complex past is needed in UK schools, together with support for the history teachers who would be providing it.
Professor of history, Royal Holloway, University of London