Did Radcliffe Regret the ‘Bloody’ Line He Drew Dividing Indo-Pak?

The Radcliffe line, dividing India and Pakistan, has not stopped bleeding since 1947. 

5 min read
Hindi Female

It was the year 1947. After the freedom struggle spanning over a hundred years, India had been freed of colonialism.

The Indian Independence Act was to replace The Parliament of the United Kingdom that stipulated the governance of British would come to an end in the country on 15 August. The Act also stipulated that the country would be split into two sovereign nation-states, as the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a barrister by profession, was commissioned by the British to examine the territories that needed to be allocated for both countries. He was appointed as the Chairman of Boundary Commission that was to mark a border line – a line that would split one country into two independent nations.

This was the line that led to the largest migration in human history. A line which resulted in 1 million people being massacred. A line that has not stopped bleeding since 1947. That line is the Radcliffe Line.

The Man Who Penned the Line

The Radcliffe line, dividing India and Pakistan, has not stopped bleeding since 1947. 
Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the man who drew the Radcliffe line dividing India and Pakistan.
(Photo Courtesy:

Sir Cyril Radcliffe arrived in India on 8 July, with the onerous task of drawing his pen across the country.

Neither had he visited India before, nor did he have adequate understanding of the sociopolitical culture of the country.

Then why did he agree to take it up, one may wonder.

He considered the task a service to his nation, despite the reservations he had about the job – which included limited time frame and partition based on old data. He left India the day after he drew the line separating India from Pakistan, never returning to see how the country changed after partition. It is believed that he refused the 3,000-pound fee that he was offered by the government and retired to a quiet life.

The Radcliffe line, dividing India and Pakistan, has not stopped bleeding since 1947. 

The ‘Bloody’ Line Dilemma

The line has since then written and rewritten history. Today, we remember the line for its cross border firing, or the ceremonial lowering of flags by jawans from either side of the divide. But the Radcliffe line has been on director Ram Madhvani’s mind for the last 10-15 years.

Director of the national award winning aviation-thriller Neerja, Madhvani returned to screen with a nine-minute short film where he explores the plausible scenario of Radcliffe regretting the line he drew. The film, Madhvani said, was inspired by WH Auden’s poem on Partition, which is a sharp and sarcastic account of Radcliffe’s time in India.

Read the full poem here.

The Radcliffe line, dividing India and Pakistan, has not stopped bleeding since 1947. 
WH Auden’s poem on Radcliffe’s role in partition.
(Photo: The Quint)
I chanced upon the poem about 10-15 years ago. He came to India with no actual knowledge of the country. How could one draw a line overnight? It troubled me a lot, and I wondered if it troubled him too.
Ram Madhvani, Director

In the film, Madhvani imagines a conversation between Radcliffe and his wife, after he comes across Auden’s poem published in a newspaper in 1966.

The Radcliffe line, dividing India and Pakistan, has not stopped bleeding since 1947. 
A scene from the film, with Sir Cyril Radcliffe and his wife Antonia Radcliffe.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube/Screenshot)

Set in a typical English drawing room of the 1960s, the nearly-blind Radcliffe, played by Martin Bishop, asks his wife Antonia, played by Leda Hodgson, to read the poem. Antonia skips a few lines of criticism while reading Auden aloud, but Radcliffe catches on to the skipped part, and tells her the pain has not lessened even after two decades.

When asked if we have forgotten history, the director said:

No, we haven’t forgotten history. We know our history. But, we have forgotten to look at it from a humane point of view. The message you take from the film depends on how one sees the film.
Ram Madhvani

Aftermath of the Line

The Radcliffe line, dividing India and Pakistan, has not stopped bleeding since 1947. 
The partition of Punjab. 
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@1947Partition)

The provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, with a Muslim-majority population, were assigned completely to Pakistan. However, both Punjab and Bengal proved to be tricky as they did not have an “overwhelming” majority of either Hindus or Muslims.

Therefore, the Radcliffe Line partitioned Bengal into West Bengal which was assigned to India and East Bengal to Pakistan. With Punjab too, the eastern part remained with India, while western Punjab was handed over to Pakistan.

Around 14 million people were displaced from their homes and travelled to either side of the Radcliffe Line, predominantly on the basis of religion. As refugees, they travelled by foot and on train, or any transportation available, irrespective of its limited nature. About 1 million people lost their lives due to the exodus.
This is what I will be remembered for, the Radcliffe line... Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, they all told me they wanted the partition before 15 August. So I drew them a line... This was one country... One heart cut into two. When I met Mahatma Gandhi he said partition was going to create a lot of violence. He spoke of ahimsa, and non-violence...
Sir Cyril Radcliffe in the film

“He Was Not Bitter Then...”

When veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar met Radcliffe at his Bond Street home in London, Radcliffe told him that he did not have any regrets at the time of partition.

However, he was sorry that one million lives were lost due to the line, recounted the journalist to The Quint.

When he wanted to draw the line, he couldn’t get any district line. He drew the line on a normal India map. It was only when his assistant pointed out that Pakistan did not have a major city that Lahore was allotted to the country.
Kuldip Nayar

Would Radcliffe do it differently today?

I had no alternative; the time at my disposal was so short that I could not do a better job. Given the same period, I would do the same thing. However, if I had two to three years, I might have improved on what I did.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe to Sunday Tribune

(This story was first published on 7 July 2017. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the day the Radcliffe Line was declared as the boundary between India and Pakistan, after the Partition of India)

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