Actupondy, the Guide to Pondicherry

What meaning ?

The Independence Day in India is a national commemoration of August 15th, 1947, historic day when the country became officially sovereign from the British colonizer. This celebration hasn't the same meaning and the same historical influence that January 26th, the Republic Day when the Indian constitution was adopted in 1950. August 15th is the founder date of modern India.

Yesterday and today

stageThe Partition of the Indian subcontinent and the independences of India and Pakistan come from the will of eminent personalities of this time: Mahatma Gandhi wishes to preserve the historical unit of the Indian Territory above all, Jawaharlal Nehru looks for the independence at first, Ali Jinnah desires a country for the Muslim minority, and Louis Mountbatten seeks for a fast and peaceful decolonization. The division of historical lands with Pakistan, and the massacres that follow mark the birth of modern India: Punjab, Kashmir and Bengal are separated between the two Nations. Today, August 15th is a public holiday. The central moment of the day is the Prime Minister's speech to the Indian Nation, in the Red Fort of Delhi, the old palace of Moghul Emperors. All the cities are covered with green, white and saffron yellow flags and have several demonstrations: military parades, fireworks, concerts, shows, games ... And Pondicherry joins the celebrations!

From trade to colonization

governor palaceSince the beginning of the historic period of the Great Discoveries initiated by Spanish and Portuguese vessels in the 15th century, European Nations generally had opportunities to trade with the various empires and kingdoms of India. This economic dynamism passed by an important and diversified production in the Indian subcontinent, by the willingness of the local regents and the implantation of European trade posts. If the business was prosperous, the following colonization was logically more arduous. The Portuguese colonial expansion in actual Karnataka at the beginning of the 16th century, then the development of the British East India Company in the 18th century were always characterized by the opposition of local populations. The Independence movement is thus hardly definable over time; the subcontinent always experienced libertarian revolts.

The movement for Independence

sri aurobindoThe pro-Independence movement was really organized around the Indian National Congress during the second half of the 19th century. Its leaders are moderated: instead of a total independence, they look for more autonomy on the example of the Canadian and Australian dominions. A dominion is an independent State at the national level; its international relations stay under the exclusive sovereignty of the British Empire. The political demands become more radical with the failure of the claims and the obstinacy of the colonial administration at the turn of the 20th century. Thinkers like Sri Aurobindo develop a more militant nationalism by their speeches. The First World War stimulates the pro-independence movements by the human and financial sacrifices imposed to the colonies by the metropolis. Claims become more legitimated. Mahatma Gandhi takes the lead of the National Congress and establishes a policy of civil disobedience, based on nonviolence face to the British repression. Others personalities, diverging from this political line, will bring a military dimension to the conflict.

Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah and Mountbatten

gandhi statueA Second World War is however necessary – with all the new sacrifices – for the colonies political claims to be finally accepted by the British crown. To the French inflexibility, which will lead to new devastating wars in Africa and South-East Asia, British government opposes its foresight. The dismantling of the Empire is already acted from several decades on the dominions example; the Indian independence is just a question of time. A majority of Britons had understood the end of "their" India during the 1930s. But in this case, the multiplication of points of view and demands are considerably going to influence the process of decolonization. Three personalities represent this diversity of position. Gandhi profoundly marked the behaviour of Indian crowds by his speech of disobedience and nonviolence; the independence is his purpose, but his ultimate will is to protect the millennium unity of India. Disciple of the Mahatma, Jawaharlal Nehru followed for a long time this peaceful speech. He will be increasingly confronted to the Muslim demands and the ultra-nationalist speech of Indian extremists, and will seek at the end for a fast independence, whatever it costs. Ali Jinnah is a supporter of the Indian-Muslim unity during more than twenty years, as leader of the Muslim league; with the Second World War he draws the conclusion of the impossibility of cohabitation between Hindus and Muslims. Although he's a non-practicing Muslim, he establishes his project of a Muslim Pakistan, the "land of the pures".

The Partition ...

Beyond the Indian subcontinent, the British crown still reigns over a major party of Middle East. The political claims are also more urgent in this part of the world. As in the Palestine case, the British administration has just one objective left: pack up and leave as fast as possible. To set the Indian question, the British government send a member of the royal family as new governor. Cousin of the future Elizabeth II, Lord Louis Mountbatten became famous for his military exploits in Burma during the Second World War. He is sent to India to set as fast as possible the question of independence and find an agreement between the multiple claims. Due to his narrow relations with all the actors, he brings the problem to a solution in 1947: the Indian subcontinent will be devised into three. Muslim Pakistan will be based on the two new Northwest and Northeast territories (future Bangladesh); the modern India, with an ultra-majority of Hindus, will occupy the rest of the subcontinent and will be a political union. This two new States will be dominions of the British crown during their first years.

... and its consequences

The Partition of August 1947 is going to lead to the biggest population movement of the world. Indians and Sikhs of the new Pakistani territories try to find refuge in the Indian union; Muslims flee the violence of extremists and take the direction of new Pakistan. The separation decided by the British administration (the "Radcliffe line") rift many families, fields and villages. Between August and September 1947, the opposition to Partition lead to important community exterminations: estimations vary between 200.000 and 1.000.000 victims over these two only months. In September, a new hunger strike of Gandhi in Calcutta's slums calms the bloody frictions.

August 15th, 1947

indian flagThe transfer of powers between viceroy Louis Mountbatten and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru takes place on August 15th, 1947 in the Red Fort of Delhi. The Mahatma Gandhi doesn't assist to the ceremony, symbolizing his refusal to the Partition, which will be effective on August 17th by a new hunger strike. Since this day and at the same date, the Prime Minister perpetuates the tradition to speak to the Indian Nation in the same Red Fort, following the track of Nehru and his famous radio speech.


ajantha hotel2The inhabitants of modern India invade streets to celebrate the "revival" of their country and the leaving of British troops. In spite of the Partition of millennium India in two different political entities, in spite of communities' violence and future massacres, Indians celebrate the end of the British colonization and the new autonomy of their country. Since then, the Independence Day is usually a festive event for the people. Festivities were less animate during the 1990s because of the population defiance against the political class, seen as corrupted and incompetent. Although this feeling is always present, the economic dynamism of the third millennium and the extended period of Indian nationalists in power develop the Indian patriotism, and thus the symbolic events.

Changes in Pondicherry

Pondicherry was a French colony and consequently hadn't the same experience of foreign domination. Moreover, the Pondicherry territory was related to Indian Union several years after the national independence. In 1948 the new Indian State and the French government agree to organize a referendum in all Indian territories controlled by France. The beginning of 1950s is characterized by the hardening of relations between both countries. The Indian nationalists take control of French territories by the strength in 1954, protesting against the lack of referendum. French government organizes "consultations of local counsellors" to keep a high profile: they vote for the attachment with Indian union at an overwhelming majority. Pondicherry passes officially under Indian government in August 1962.

The preparations

exhibitionThis particular history makes the Independence Day a special event in Pondicherry. Indians celebrate the Independence Day on August 15th, then the attachment of Pondicherry on the 16th! It's a whole weekend of commemorations and parties in the city streets. A military parade takes place in the municipal stadium on 15th morning, whereas pupils of both public and private schools meet in the courts and form rows to sing the national anthem. On the afternoon, the streets are covered with flags and banners; stages are erected for the festivities. A small crowd of inhabitants already covers Goubert Avenue; traditionally quiet during the hottest hours of the day. Mahatma Gandhi statue is invaded: adults rise beside the bronze of Indian leader and take pictures, when children use the sloping foundations as toboggans. Behind the custom building, there is a photography exhibition about Pondicherry, the Tamil Nadu, India and the Indian culture around the world.

Thousands lights

aayi mandapamIn the evening, the city center is illuminated! The Governor's palace is opened for the occasion to the curious who wandering in gardens decorated with thousand garlands and bulbs. In a clockwise direction, the crowd walk and take pictures in a place traditionally forbidden to visitors. Close to the palace, the Bharathi Park is filled of all these illuminations. Above its long paths, tinsels have been tightened in the shape of a V inverted. Two paths have the colours of the French flag, another one those of the Indian flag, and the last is fully golden. In the center of the park, the Aayi Mandapam – the symbol of Pondicherry with its French colonial architecture – is completely lightened by projections going from pale pink to dark blue. Indians take pictures, sit down on benches, discuss between them and stay a moment to enjoy the night.

The crowd

religious danceOn the Gandhi Thidal place, in front of the Indian leader statue, a stage was erected to welcome a whole succession of dance shows, singings and facetious artists. The crowd is important in front of the stage to enjoy the show. During several hours the loudspeakers replicate songs and rhythmic at a high volume! On the way back to Goubert Avenue, you join the Indian inhabitants walking along the sea. Except religious commemorations, Pondicherry never knows so much affluence in its main streets: it becomes a real anthill, like all the Indian cities this night.

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