Burnt yellow villas, cobblestones and creole food stand testimony of the imprint of French influence in Puducherry. While the rest of India celebrated its Independence Day on August 15, 1947, Pondicherry, as it was formerly known, remained a French colony.
Fifteen years after India gained Independence, this small French colony was liberated on August 16, 1962 when Pondicherry was officially merged with the Indian Union.
Now 55 years later, despite the significance, ‘De Jure Day’ was celebrated for the first time on Tuesday with Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanaswamy participating in celebrations.
French Indhiya Puducherry Pradesa Viduthalaikala Makkal Nala Narpani Iyakkam, a political party had been protesting demanding the celebration of ‘De Jure Day’ for the last 12 years.
While August 16 has been declared a public holiday, the day has never been officially celebrated by the government.
Explaining the significance of the day, D Shivaraj, the president of the organization said, “This was the day when the rights and laws enshrined in the Indian Constitution were extended to the people of Puducherry.”
But it was at the border village of Keezhur near Ariyalur where Pondicherry secured its independence from the French. A referendum was held by the French administration on October 18, 1954, where 170 out of 178 members of the Representative Council voted to join the Indian Union.
“About four lakh families wanted to join India, councillors were asked to cast their votes to come to a final decision,” said Shivaraj.
Respecting the wishes of the people, the ‘Treaty of Cession’ was signed three days later, on October 21, 1954 ceding full sovereignty the territories of Pondicherry, Mahe, Yanam and Karaikal from the French government to the Indian government.
History was made on November 1, 1954 when the treaty came into effect, with the de facto transfer of Pondicherry and the other colonies to the Indian Union. Many activists believe that November 1 should be marked and celebrated officially as Pondicherry’s Independence Day.
But significantly it was only eight years later, on August 16, 1962 that the rights and laws enshrined in the Indian Constitution were extended to the people of Pondicherry.
Lamenting about the lost history of Pondicherry, Shivraj notes, “Before this celebration, all the pictures of the voting day in 1954 and of the politicians were kept in a bad state, many pictures had been damaged. Only after the celebration was planned this year, the pictures were developed and re-worked, it is a small cemented place where all these things are kept.”
Speaking at the celebrations, Kiran Bedi said that the government will embark on correct documentation of the liberation movement and the importance of Keezhur village. She also promised that programmes would be held every year on August 16 to mark the day.