15 August 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the partition of the Indian subcontinent into two independent states – Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. The movement to establish an independent Muslim state was a result of the two-nation theory, which posited that religion, rather than language or ethnicity, is the determining factor in defining nationality.

Archive footage marks 70 years since bloody partition of India Reuters

After the 1946 elections, it became clear that British rule had lost its legitimacy, and in early 1947 Britain announced its intention of transferring power no later than June 1948. However, new viceroy Louis Mountbatten brought the date forward, allowing less than six months for a mutually agreed plan for independence.

Mahatma Gandhi and India's independence leaders had proposed a secular federation where Hindus and Muslims would live together. However, the Muslim League, representing the region's 30 percent Muslim minority, said it wanted a separate nation to be free of perceived oppression by the Hindu majority.

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The decision to divide the country along religious lines was finally agreed to by leaders of the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities in June 1947. Predominantly Hindu and Sikh areas became part of India and predominantly Muslim areas became part of the new nation of Pakistan (split into West Pakistan and East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971). The contested provinces of Bengal and Punjab were divided along hastily drawn up lines based on often slender Hindu or Muslim majorities.

The separation came into effect at the strike of midnight on 14 August 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru was appointed the first prime minister of the Dominion of India, while Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the first Governor General of the Dominion of Pakistan.

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August 1947: People celebrate India's independence from British rule in the streets of CalcuttaKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
August 1947: Jawaharlal Nehru becomes premier of the Union of India, and asks members of the Constituent Assembly to take a pledge of loyalty to the new stateKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
15 August 1947: The new flag of India is raised to mark independence at India House, Aldwych, LondonCentral Press/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
15 August 1947: Muhammad Ali Jinnah is sworn in as Governor-General of the Dominion of Pakistan at Government House in KarachiKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
17 August 1947: Muhammad Ali Jinnah takes the salute during a military march-past in Karachi, having been sworn in as the first Governor General of PakistanKeystone/Getty Images
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15 August 1947: In the absence of an embassy building in England, the High Commissioner of the newly-created independent state of Pakistan performs the first flag-raising ceremony at Lancaster House in LondonGeorge W. Hales/Fox Photos/Getty Images
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14 August 1947: British soldiers and their families arrive in Southampton after being evacuated from BombayKeystone/Getty Images

What followed was one of the greatest migrations in modern history, as around 12 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims found themselves on the wrong sides of the partition line.

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17 October 1947: Indian refugees crowd onto to trains after the creation of two independent states, India and PakistanGetty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
9 October 1947: Hindu and Sikh women and children arrive in Bombay after fleeing PakistanKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
7 August 1947: One of the special trains leaving New Delhi station carrying the staff of the Pakistan government to KarachiKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
August 1947: Muslim women board a train at New Delhi in India to travel to the newly independent PakistanKeystone/Getty Images
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August 1947: The driver of a special train leaving New Delhi station to relocate Muslim residents to Pakistan following partitionHulton Archive/Getty Images
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23 August 1947: A Muslim man smiles onboard a train departing from New Delhi to PakistanKeystone/Getty Images

Partition also triggered devastating sectarian violence, rape, abductions, and looting, resulting in the deaths of between 200,000 and two million people. Entire trainloads of dead bodies crossed the border in both directions. Less than two weeks after Independence Day, the Indian city of Amritsar, just 40 kilometres from Lahore in Pakistan, became the centre of communal violence with angry crowds going on a rampage, indulging in widespread arson and looting.

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Communal violence erupts in AhmedabadPublic domain
Partition India Pakistan 1947
Vultures sit on a wall as bodies line an alleyway after riots in CalcuttaPublic domain
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
12 March 1947: Three wounded Indian policemen receive treatment following riots in Lahore, when Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims clashed over the decision to incorporate the region of Punjab into the state of PakistanKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
March 1947: A nurse holds two child victims of communal violence in Amritsar. The children's mother was stabbed to death during rioting and they were rescued by a British military patrol and taken to a hospital for safety. Fighting took place between the city's Muslim population, anxious for Punjab to be incorporated into Pakistan, and the other half, Sikh and Hindu, who supported incorporation into IndiaKeystone/Getty Images
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March 1947: Burned-out and ruined buildings in the Katra Jaimal Singh area of Amritsar after violence over partition of PunjabKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
March 1947: Refugees gather at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine of Sikhism, after rioting over the destiny of PunjabKeystone/Getty Images
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March 1947: Afghan traders leave Amritsar with all their belongings, after rioting in the city over the fate of PunjabKeystone/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
8 August 1947: A delegation of Sikhs leave Downing Street in London, after presenting a petition calling for the whole of the Punjab region to be included in the state of India, rather than PakistanKeystone/Getty Images

Thousands of refugees fled to the Indian capital New Delhi from the contested Punjab state and were put up in makeshift tents for months before they could be allocated any alternate accommodations. The overcrowded camps struggled to cope up with acute water and food shortages and fighting diseases.

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Crowds of refugees gather in Delhi, having fled the rioting in PunjabKeystone/Getty Images
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1947: Refugees who fled Pakistan line up at a camp in Delhi as they wait for waterPublic domain
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
22 September 1947: Mahatma Gandhi visits Muslim refugees at Purana Qila in New Delhi, as they prepare to depart for PakistanAFP
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A ramshackle refugee camp on the outskirts of Karachi for Muslims who fled IndiaPublic domain

Gandhi, who hadn't wanted to divide the subcontinent along religious lines, was assassinated in January 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical, who held him responsible for weakening the country by allowing the partition of India into what is now Pakistan.

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February 1948: A crowd watches the funeral procession of Mahatma Gandhi, who was assassinated in DelhiFox Photos/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
30 January 1948: Pakistan's national flag flies at half mast outside the Pakistan Legation in Fitzharding Street in London, after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinatedReg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images
Partition 1947 India Pakistan
30 January 1948: Young women read a newspaper outside India House in London after hearing of the assassination of Mahatma GandhiReg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images

As we reach the 70th anniversary of India-Pakistan Partition, relations between the two nations are as broken as ever. The neighbours have fought three wars since independence, two of which were over the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir which both sides claim in full but rule in parts. In some ways, their violent birth pangs dictated their future course through suspicion and animosity.