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Pondicherry (पॉंडिचेरी in Hindi), currently undergoing a name change to Puduchery, is the name of a union territory and its capital in the south of India. The name "puduchery" means "new village" in Tamil. The French spelt it "Poudichéry", which is the closest French approximation to the Tamil pronunciation. At some point, the hand-written 'u' was mistaken for an 'n', and the misspelling stuck.
Pondicherry consists of four small unconnected districts: Pondicherry, Karaikal, and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal and Mahé on the Arabian Sea. The first two are by far the larger ones, and are both enclaves of Tamil Nadu. The territory has a total area of 492 km²: Pondicherry (city) 293 km², Karaikal 160 km², Mahé 9 km² and Yanam 30 km². It has 0,97 million inhabitants (2001).
- See also: French India
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, of the early 2nd century AD, mentions a marketplace named Poduke (ch. 60), which G.W.B. Huntingford identified as possibly being Arikamedu , about 2 miles from the modern Pondicherry. Huntingford further notes that Roman pottery was found at Arikamedu in 1937, and archeological excavations between 1944 and 1949 showed that it was "a trading station to which goods of Roman manufacture were imported during the first half of the 1st century AD".1
Before this period nothing is known with certainty. The "Bahur Plates", issued in the 8th century speak of a Sanskrit University which was here from an earlier period. Legend has it that the sage Agastya established his Ashram here and the place was known as Agastiswaram. An inscription found near the Vedhapuriswara Temple hints at the credibility of this legend.
History continues at the beginning of the fourth century A. D. when the Pondicherry area is part of the Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram. During the next centuries Pondicherry is occupied by different dynasties of the south: in the tenth century A.D. the Cholas of Tanjavur took over, only to be replaced by the Pandya Kingdom in the thirteenth century. After a brief invasion by the Muslim rulers of the North, who established the Sultanate of Madurai, the Vijayanagar Empire took control of almost all the South of India and lasted till 1638, when the Sultan of Bijapur began to rule over Gingee .
Much of the credit for putting Pondicherry into the framework of strategic importance, as far as colonial scheme of things is concerned, should rest definitely with the French. The French East India Company set up a trading centre at Pondicherry in 1673. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India.
Dutch and British trading companies also wanted trade with India. Wars raged between these European countries and spilled over into the Indian subcontinent. The Dutch captured Pondicherry in 1693 but returned it to France by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1699. The French acquired Mahe in the 1720's, Yanam in 1731, and Karaikal in 1738. During the Anglo-French wars (1742-1763), Pondicherry changed hands frequently. On January 16, 1761, the British captured Pondicherry from the French, but the Treaty of Paris (1763) returned the city to the French. It was taken again by the British in 1793 amid the Wars of the French Revolution, but once again returned to France in 1814. When the British gained control of the whole of India in the late 1850's, they allowed the French to retain their settlements in the country. Pondicherry, Mahe, Yanam, Karaikal and Chandernagar remained a part of French India until 1954.
The independence of India in 1947 gave impetus to the union of France's Indian possessions with former British India. An agreement between France and India in 1948 agreed to an election in France's Indian possessions to choose their political future. The de jure union of French India with the Indian Union did not take place until 1962, although de facto, the bureaucracy had been united with India's on 01 November, 1954. It was organized as a Union Territory in 1963.
Pondicherry still has a large number of Tamil residents with French passports, whose ancestors were in French Governmental service and who chose to remain French at the time of Independence. Apart from the monuments pertaining to the French Period, there is the French Consulate in Pondicherry and several cultural organisation, and even the Foyer du Soldat for war veterans of the French Army.
Of the cultural organisations the French Institute, the Alliance Francais and the Ecole Francais d'Extreme Orient are noteworthy.
Independence from France
Right from the time India gained it's independance from British rule in 1947, the issue of the French settlements were raised with the Government of France. It took seven years for Pondicherry to achieve freedom. However, even earlier there were agitations now and then against the French rulers.
Way back in 1787 and 1791, farmers of Karaikal agitated against the heavy land tax imposed by the French. The first war of Indian Independence had its impact in the French settlements but it did not attract the attention of the rulers, as the incidents were few and considered as local. People employed legal means to fight against the French. In 1873, an advocate, Ponnuthammbi Pillai, moved the Paris court and won the case in which he was awarded a penalty by a French Magistrate in Pondicherry for walking into the court with footwear.
There were student agitations in 1927 and 1930 which exhibited their sentiments. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bal Gangadhar Tilak visited Pondicherry and its other enclaves and addressed the meetings. In 1934, "Swatantram", a monthly, was started by veteran freedom fighter and trade union leader V.Subbiah for the cause of workers and the country.
Police atrocities, in which trade union workers were killed, further increased the anger of the people against their rulers. In the late thirties, Mahajana sabhas were opened in Pondicherry and Karaikal. This organisation, alongwith trade unions organised Non-Cooperation Movement. During the second world war, Pondicherry supported France with men and materials. However, the youth became indignant when a large number of French-Indian soldiers died fighting in Europe.
In 1946, the French India Congress was formed with the objective of integrating the French possessions with India. Later next year, the French India Students Congress adopted a resolution on merger. In January 1948, the French People's Convention passed a resolution expressing its determination to merge the French possessions with the motherland. The Communist Party also asked the people to accept only the merger.
The new Government under Jawahar Lal Nehru was anxious to integrate the French Indian territories with the country. India signed an agreement with France in June 1948 which gave power to the people for determining the political status of their land. Accordingly, the municipal elections in Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam were held in October, 1948. The elections were rigged and all municipalities except one were captured by the French India Socialist Party, a pro-French outfit. The new councillors at a meeting accepted the autonomy offered by the French Government. However, their efforts were thwarted by the Indian Government that assured a distinct status and help for Pondicherry after its merger with India.
As the freedom movement gathered momentum under V. Subbiah, the pro-French leader Eduard Goubert switched his loyalty to pro-merger camp. A momentous event in the freedom movement of Pondicherry occurred on March 18, 1954, when the members of the executive council and mayors of Pondicherry and seven adjoining communes proclaimed their decision to merge with India without a referendum. All the communes in Karaikal also followed suit. This decision was to be confirmed by the Representative Assembly and when the Socialist party was preparing to move the merger resolution, the French Governor scuttled it by postponing the session. Provoked by this, the Socialist party planned to capture the outlying communes one by and one and move to Pondicherry. The Communist Party was also ready to launch a campaign of direct action to merge Pondicherry with India. Accordingly, the leaders of the Socialist Party hoisted the Indian national flag atop the Nettapakkam police station on the last day of March in 1954. Subsequently, many villages in Mannadipet and Bahour communes came under the sway of the pro-mergerists. In the Karaikkal region, all the communes and Karaikkal municipality passed a resolution in favour of merger. The National Youth Congress began a Satyagraha. A freedom fighters' procession was lathi charged and the flags carried by the processionists were seized and torn by the French Indian Police.
India and France, following talks, issued a joint statement on March 13, 1954 announcing a modality for deciding the status of the French settlements. Five days later the elected members of the Representative Assembly and the municipal councillors of Pondicherry and Karaikkal took part in a referendum at Keeloor. Of the 178 members voted, an overwhelming majority of 170 members favoured the merger of French Indian territories with the motherland. Three days after, an agreement on the defacto transfer of the French territories to India was signed in New Delhi between the two countries.
A treaty of cession was signed by the two countries in May 1956. It was ratified by the French Parliament in May 1962. On August 16, 1962 India and France exchanged the instruments of ratification under which France ceded to India's full sovereignty over the territories it held. Pondicherry and other enclaves of Karaikkal, Mahe and Yanam came to be administered as Union Territory of Pondicherry from July 1, 1963.
Liberation of Mahe and Yanam
Conditions became intolerable in Yanam ever since its Mayor and other representatives of Yanam adopted the merger resolution. The mayor, deputy mayor and over 200 people took refuge in the adjacent areas of the Indian Union. Police and hired hoodlums from Yanam assaulted the refugees on the Indian soil. It was then that the refugees marched into Yanam under the leadership of Mayor Satyanandam and took over the administration. After hoisting the Indian National Flag, the liberators adopted a resolution declaring Yanam liberated. Close on the heels, in Mahe, the Mahajana sabha under its president, I.K. Kumaran began a picketing programme. Some days later, hundreds of volunteers marched into Mahe to stage a demonstration in front of the administrator's residence. They were joined by the citizens of the enclave. On July 16, 1954, Kumaran took over the administration from the French administrator marking the end of the French rule of 228 years in Mahe.
Under the Indo-French Agreement in June 1948, the first municipal elections were held in Chandernagore, also a French territory. In August that year the Congress Karmaparishad won 22 out of the 24 seats. The new municipal assembly overwhelmingly voted for its merger with the Indian Union and the Government of India took control of Chandernagore on June 9, 1952. Later, it became a part of the Hoogly district of West Bengal. Thus with the liberation of Mahe and Yanam from French subjugation, Pondicherry became a part of the Indian Union.
Government & Administration
Pondicherry is a Union Territory, not a separate State. A Union Territory (UT) has its own government but falls directly under the Central Government in New Delhi. Though a UT also has an elected Chief Minister and cabinet members, laws and legislative regulations made in these areas have to get sanction or need to be ratified by the Central Government (Centre). The Centre is represented by the Lt. Governor, who resides at the Raj Nivas at the Park, the former palace of the French Governor.
The Centre is also responsible for the financial well-being of these Union Territories, whereas the state get more or less a fixed amount and need to balance their budget by their own revenue and income. Hence taxes in the U. T.'s are usually lower than the states.
The city is protected against the sea by a 1.25 mile long seawall, first completed by the French in 1735, which reaches a height of 27 feet above sea level. The sea wall protected the city from the tsunami spawned by the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake as the waves reached only 24 feet above high tide.
Famous people who have lived in Pondicherry include Sri Aurobindo and Subramanya Bharathy who took part in the Indian independence movement. Hollywood film director M. Night Shyamalan was born in Pondicherry. It is also the birthplace and home of the titular character in Yann Martel's Life of Pi, before he emigrates to Canada.
- Official website of the Government of the Unon Territory of Pondicherry
- Freedom struggle in Pondicherry
- The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, transl. G.W.B. Huntingford (Hakluyt Society, 1980), p. 119.
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