Drawing the Radcliffe line – play review

Closing encore at Hampstead Threatre for Drawing lines

Closing encore at Hampstead Threatre for Drawing lines

After attending the play of ” Drawing the line” at the Hampstead Theatre directed by Howard Davies & written by Howard Brenton, l’ve been thinking about my own family history that got caught up in the drawing the of the ill-fated line otherwise known as the Radcliffe line that would divide the Indian sub-continent forever more.

But first the play itself. It tells the story of the drawing of the Radcliffe line once it was agreed the British Raj will finally quit India in 1947 very well and without favour to any particular historical interpretation on the events.

It illustrates well how the personalities of Nehru,Jinnah,Gandhi Mountbatten & Attle influenced events at this critical stage for the Indian sub-continent. And playfully dealt with the Nehru’s romance with the Viceroy’s wife at the end of the empire while clearly suggesting it may explain the rushed job that partition became.

The script is well written and the acting all round makes the points well and fully to the audience. It provides a new vehicle of teaching people what a momentous event partition was for all on the Indian sub-continent and has huge educational value, so l am glad it is available on a live feed for those unable to see it and in other parts of the world to watch as well.

It sheds light on the choice between Calcutta & Chittagong well for the Eastern part of Pakistan and Bengal, an often neglected part of the story. For Bengali’s its a reminder of who actually determined that choice. Certainly not Bengali’s whether Hindu or Muslim!

As for the subject itself, the creation of religious states are problematic anyway but to create one with two bits some 1500 miles away from each other ( and a large state India in between) was asking for even more problems.

What is really perpexing is that if you’re going to create new states why not on the basis of ethnic & linguistic as well as geographical considerations ( access to the sea, air & water )? Surely these should be considered as much as religious affiliation. But alas the political deal was such and the FCO acceptance of a Muslim state, such considerations were not given the airing warranted. Not surprising in some ways as Radcliffe had been given six weeks to complete this task without any background in the matter.

As for the immediate result of it all the communal violence as Independence was declared on the 15th of August 1947, its often forgotten that the boundaries themselves were not declared till 2 days after the declaration of independence. This certainly didn’t help matters as people wondered what side of the line they were and whether to move as a result, adding no doubt to the overall confusion and the heavy death toll. Certainly not a way to have the curtain go down on the British empire in the Indian sub-continent.

You can still watch on this live feed below, and l highly recommend watching it over the next 72 hours that its still open after the final closing of the curtains last night.


I look forward to having a discussion over its production and contents soon.

4 thoughts on “Drawing the Radcliffe line – play review

  1. Narendra

    As a Labour Party member for nearly 40 years, the complicity of the Attlee government has never been a topic at any meeting that I have been at! Nor have I seen any analysis of the foreign policies of that, otherwise much praised, government. Only within a year of Radcliffe, apartheid was enacted in SAfrica and Palestine was carved up. All monumental events with repercussions still being felt.

    So, we have to address this and also invasion of Iraq!

    1. Murad

      As you well know both Partition & invasion of Iraq are quite different things. As we well know an Attlee govt negotiated independence in the Indian sub-continent, something Churchill would have been loth to do given his imperialist instincts. What clearly has to be called is that it wasn’t gone about in the right way given the rush Mountbatten appeared to be and the whole principle of the partition on the basis on religious affiliation and giving the princely states an option in or out of these two options! Whats was on offer in 1937 was a much better prospect.

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