11 devastating pictures from the 1947 Partition

Published: April 5, 2015


In 1947, the Subcontinent was divided into two parts: India and Pakistan. Countless people living on both sides of the border were displaced and began to flee from one side to the other. During this massive immigration, several riots broke out and rivalry soared to new heights between Hindus and Muslims.

During the horrific period of partition in 1947, an American documentary photographer, Margaret Bourke-White, captured some of the crucial moments of that time that sum up what partition was like and how it affected millions of lives.

Bourke-White was the first American female war photojournalist, and the first female photographer for Henry Luce’s Life magazine.

The following photographs that Bourke-White took appeared in Indian novelist Khushwant Singh’s book Train to Pakistan:


*WARNING: Some images contain graphic content.


1. Several people board the train to the other side of the border in search of a new life. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


2. A train leaving for Pakistan being given a warm send-off. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


3. Over 10 million people were displaced from their homeland and travelled on foot, bullock carts and trains to their promised new home. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


4. An elderly, abandoned Muslim couple and their grandchildren sit by the roadside. “The old man is dying of exhaustion. The caravan has gone on,” wrote Bourke-White. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


5. During the summer of 1947, over a million people were slaughtered on both sides in the riots. These are the bodies of the victims being picked up from a city street. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


6. Two men carry an elderly woman on a makeshift stretcher. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


7. “The street was short and narrow. Lying like the garbage across the street and in its open gutters were bodies of the dead,” writes Bourke-White’s biographer Vicki Goldberg of this scene. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


8. A young refugee sits on the walls of Purana Qila, transformed into a vast refugee camp in Delhi. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


9. Men, women and children who died in the rioting were cremated on a mass scale. Villagers even used oil and kerosene when wood was scarce. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


10. The migration was a “massive exercise in human misery,” wrote Bourke-White later. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


11. Women were left to fend for themselves after their husbands were killed in riots. PHOTO: MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE


A slideshow of these pictures originally appeared on BBC News

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Reader Comments (32)

  • Hasan Qureshi
    Apr 5, 2015 - 4:55PM

    Some of these pics are not technically from Partition, but from Direct Action Day a year before Independence, mostly from Kolkata. Recommend

  • PakIndian
    Apr 5, 2015 - 5:54PM

    In retrospection, was it really worth it, for both the parties.Recommend

  • sss
    Apr 5, 2015 - 5:59PM

    Its shocking.Recommend

  • usman777
    Apr 5, 2015 - 9:09PM

    Remember their sacrifices Pakistanis. Love your country. Love your people. Recommend

  • Akash
    Apr 5, 2015 - 9:45PM

    Don’t ever forget that all the wars, rivalry. started with this event.All the hindustani, pakistani chants began with this event.
    Mistrust and lack of compassion lead to this, with time it will heal.But please now learn the lesson.Never allow the factionist, hate preachers, war mongerers to have any say in our future.Recommend

  • Maira
    Apr 5, 2015 - 10:01PM

    What heartbreaking photographs..a truth we all forget of the sacrifices our elders made! They lost a lot to gain our beautiful homeland- generations after that haven’t appreciated an ounce of the sacrifices they made..very unfortunate! Recommend

  • Soofiya Malik
    Apr 5, 2015 - 11:09PM

    Please mind your language, ET – it was not partition, it was birth of our beloved nation for which Muslims have given millions of sacrifices.Recommend

  • Pity
    Apr 5, 2015 - 11:40PM

    We are indebted to our forefathers for the sacrifices they made for Pakistan’s creation. Recommend

  • Apr 6, 2015 - 3:33AM

    Unfortunately we have forgotten that many of our ancestors sacrificed their life for promised new country. Started with EastPakistan and WestPakistan, then Islamic Republic of Pakistan later separation with Bangladesh (WestPakistan).

    Where are we now? Except major portion of Punjab and some of Sindh rest of the remaining parts are vulnerable of our beloved country Pakistan.

    Security agencies should change their strategy now, focus on security, eliminate terrorism from the core, need complete overhauling of the system, punish the black-sheeps and let our politicians run the country like many democratic country, particularly our neighbor Peoples Republic of India. Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath
    Apr 6, 2015 - 8:43AM

    As somebody who belongs this generation, I am happy with what had happened, not in the sense of riots and killing, but in the sense of partition…….thanx Jinnah for taking this step and giving us a separate nation called India.. Recommend

  • Bahaha
    Apr 6, 2015 - 9:13AM

    We do injustice to a really tragic event in our collective history when we take-off the silencers on our motorcycles and let young men go hog-wild on the roads all in the name of independence. – “A mass candle light vigil on the Mall would be more in order” Recommend

  • Apr 6, 2015 - 10:38AM

    Grim Jinna & pakistani were Responsible for that. First thay had divided India & people ( Thier hate Against Hindus & sikhs) as muslims are backward & uneducated & they cant challange hindus as hindus are superier than Muslims.so they want separate country for muslims But they failed as pakistan holds only 35% muslims of continent & grim Jinns’s two nation theory has destroyed in just 24 years after fall of daka & still failing everyday.
    One of the greatest Indian astrologer said Pakistan will be diveded into three parts after its 100 years of Independent .already divided in two & baluchistan is next .Recommend

  • Old Ravian
    Apr 6, 2015 - 10:40AM

    Dates and locations are missing in some pics. Recommend

  • Frank
    Apr 6, 2015 - 11:58AM

    The only thing that was ‘partitioned’ was the Punjab. Recommend

  • Abdul Rafay
    Apr 6, 2015 - 12:00PM

    “The migration was a “massive exercise in human misery,” wrote Bourke-White later.

    That’s true, but it could have all been avoided. The British completely avoided any sort of control over the process, which could have been administered properly and just seemed to enjoy the massacre. So if you have some one to blame for the ‘misery’ it is them.

    Pakistan was a need for Muslims of sub-continent, and it is by their sheer determination that we got it. They paid the price with their blood and sacrifices. What we have done with it, or how it now stands is a different debate altogether. But let me tell you “Ms. Bourke” or any other critic of the conceptualization of Pakistan, that the “real” Pakistanis would not have had it any other way. No matter how bad it is, we believe Pakistan is still a better place for us than “United India”.Recommend

  • islooboy
    Apr 6, 2015 - 12:43PM


  • Ganesh
    Apr 6, 2015 - 1:14PM

    @Hasan Qureshi:
    Jinnah called for Direct action day or direct killing Day…Recommend

  • Ganesh
    Apr 6, 2015 - 1:14PM

    @Hasan Qureshi:
    Jinnah called for Direct action day or direct killing Day…Recommend

  • Milind
    Apr 6, 2015 - 1:19PM

    @Pity – “We are indebted to our forefathers for the sacrifices they made for Pakistan’s creation. ”

    Looking at the mess your country has self-created, these days, you can be assured that your descendants will also hail your sacrifices and be indebted to you.Recommend

  • Farouk Khan
    Apr 6, 2015 - 1:22PM

    Alas as ever there is a spin to it. It’s no train leaving for Pakistan and being given a send of with Pakistani( Muslim League) Flags. Its the tarn reaching Lahore.The bridge still exists and the picture can be verified.Recommend

  • Apr 6, 2015 - 3:48PM

    @Abdul Rafay:
    Well said.Recommend

  • MJ
    Apr 6, 2015 - 8:08PM

    Had India not been partitioned it may have been ruled by a party supporting Muslims now. Remember the Second biggest majority almost always makes the government in a democratic system. If we combine the Muslim populations of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, it will not be much behind the Hindu population. Specially considering the fact that how Indian government has always systematically managed to reduce the number of Muslims living within its borders during all the census counts. Recommend

  • wb
    Apr 7, 2015 - 6:58AM

    @Hasan Qureshi:

    You’re correct. But Direct Action Day resulted in the riots that followed for weeks even after partition.

    FYI, Direct Action Day was basically Jinnah’s order for Muslims to massacre HIndus to show their strength.

    Your Hero – Quaid e Azam.Recommend

  • Jag Nathan
    Apr 7, 2015 - 9:08AM

    Thank you Jinnah. Thank you for demanding and securing Pakistan. Do not pay heed ti any of our fundos craving for akhand Bharat, As an Indian I owe you for ever. You * Nehru and not Gandhi saved Mother India.Recommend

  • Hassan
    Apr 7, 2015 - 11:05AM

    @Democratic: well, it seems like as if you were reading a different article and u commented here. I just cannot connect the two i.e, your comment and the Article. lolRecommend

  • Ismael
    Apr 7, 2015 - 12:15PM

    And we believe that Direct Action day was a plan by Congress to thwart ML peaceful protests and massacare Muslims in great numbers. Afterall as many Muslims were killed especially in Bihar and UP.

    Ultimately though the British authorities under Lord Wavell concluded that the Muslim League or the Congress for that matter were not responsible or the mob violence so your charge is baseless.Recommend

  • Kushal
    Apr 7, 2015 - 3:06PM

    @Ismael: I am from the city which bore the brunt of this massacre. You can go through lots of materials are available in internet detailing who started the fire and why.As a first step, why don’t you recall the the ML slogans from that era? (“Ladke lenge Pakistan” etc)Recommend

  • bahadurkhan
    Apr 7, 2015 - 6:56PM

    @Hasan Qureshi:

    rightly said they are 1946 photos of killings thanks to Mohammed Hussein Suhrwardy in noakhali calcutta, one of my relatives went for study in the city. he was stuck for 12 days in his hostel. Needless to say in spite of the communal provocations there were many souls who did their best to prevent bloodshed irrespective of community. It is best to accept, forget, and look forward. Recommend

  • bahadurkhan
    Apr 7, 2015 - 7:00PM

    The creator of partition MAJinnah deserve a peace award. Similarly Abdul Sattar Edhi(Edhi ambulances) deserve protection if not award.Recommend

  • Ismael
    Apr 7, 2015 - 9:39PM


    And as a fist step why don’t you investigate the behaviour of senior Congress officials like Gandhi who claimed “If India wants bloodbath she shall have it … if a bloodbath was necessary, it would come about in spite of non-violence”
    instead of relying on biased nationalist narratives?

    The riots are a fact but do not try to paint yourselves as an oppressed victim when so many innocent Muslims lost their lives to Hindu thugs and vice versa too…Recommend

  • bahadurkhan
    Apr 8, 2015 - 7:50PM

    @Farouk Khan:
    thanks for the input. perhaps old delhi railway station looks same, bridge also same.
    any body else?Recommend

  • Wajahat
    Apr 9, 2015 - 10:49PM


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