Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

A Library Divided

with 6 comments


During the Partition of India, a librarian divides the books between two piles. The partition led to the creation of the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India on August 14-15, 1947 and included not only the geographical divisions  but also the division of other assets, including the British Indian Army, the Indian Civil Service, the Indian railways, and the central treasury. This partition (Mountbatten Plan) was based on a misguided border secretly drawn by the London lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe from August 9-12, and the actual geographical details are not released until 2 days after the partition. 

Radcliffe was to grant the majority Hindu regions to India and the majority Muslim areas to Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan came into being with two non-contiguous enclaves, East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, separated geographically by India. However, Radcliffe was not consistent in his division–he gave Chittagong to Pakistan, although the area was non-Muslim. Why he did so remain a mystery, since Radcliffe destroyed all of his records and Mountbatten expressly denied any special-knowledge or favouritism.

Nonetheless, the massive exoduses from both sides (about 14.5 million people in total) occurred in the months following Partition crossing the borders into the state of religious majority. The newly independent states were unable to keep public order in these exoduses. One of the largest population movements in recorded history was therefore subsequently followed by complete breakdown of law and order, riots, starvation and massacres. 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Politics

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6 Responses

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  1. The picture shows late Mr. B.S Kesavan, India’s first National Librarian as the hapless librarian wondering how the National Library’s collection could be partitioned between two countries.

    The story is that after partition, Pakistan wanted the collection of Govt. libraries in undivided India also to be partitioned. Kesavan in the photo is shown as the hapless librarian finding away to divivde the collection. I believe the labels,’India’ and ‘Pakistan’ were added (probably by Time Magazine)for dramatic effect.

    Importnatly, Kesavan by careful analysis followed by forceful arguments showed that the collection of the National Library (earlier known as the Imperial library) belonged to the citizens of Calcutta since a great part of the collection was donated by the Calcutta Public Library and that the Govt.of Bengal regularly funded the library.

    L J Haravu

    July 8, 2009 at 6:24 am

    • Wow. I didn’t know that. Thanks for the input.


      July 8, 2009 at 6:26 am

  2. wow very informative post indeed. and yes, I too think the labels might have been added later because there seems to have more books on the side of Pakistan than India.

    Sandhya Menon

    April 1, 2014 at 3:27 am

  3. Wow very informative post indeed. Time of partition was such a painful moment.:/

    Books From India

    December 6, 2014 at 10:37 am

  4. Thanks for your post. It helped us to know the history.

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