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  • Writer's pictureDean Clark

French Colonialism in Pondicherry

Many people do not realize that until 1954, France had colonized some Indian territories, causing some key differences to the formerly British Indian territories that most have heard of.

To begin, the Compagnie de Indes, similar to the British East India Company, was established long before colonization in 1644. They acquired a French trading post in an area in 1674 around Putucéri. Fittingly, France called it Pondicherry. Despite a few years of European rule throughout the years, up until 1954 France had owned the colony, and pictures of it show the inspiration. French buildings, Government Square, libraries, language, food, and even some art still shows inspiration from the time and area.

François Martin, the governor of the French East India Company, set up a trading center in Pondicherry, becoming the chief of French settlement in India. Moving forward, in the early 18th century, the company acquired other territories in Mahe, Yanam, and Karaikal. The Dutch had captured the land for some time, as well as the British during the French Revolution, but by 1814, the land was once again in French hands.

Great Britain eventually captured all of India in the 1850’s, however allowed the French to keep all of their territories. Once India gained independence in 1947, this contradicted that all of India was under their own rule. The inhabitants of Pondicherry and the other territories were to choose what they wanted to do, and to no surprise, they would choose to be a part of India.

The whole time, however, India and Pondicherry was being used by the French to try to expand trading and subtly fight against the power that Britain had in India. The maritime commerce and trading that Pondicherry brought were a benefit, and education, industry, and some infrastructure was a step up from the previous system. While treaties were being written between the French and British fighting over who owned what land, in Europe, the two countries were feuding, especially during the French and American Revolutions.

Pondicherry was actually used as a spot for Indian revolutionaries to trade and stay away from British forces in pursuit to become a free nation. While France did not help either side, actually being revolted against once India gained independence, it helped Indian citizens and people coming in as a place to operate away from British rule.

Formed by three centuries of French rule, Pondicherry and its other territories under French rule were impacted greatly by it. Not only did the culture and look of it change, but was a place to plan an eventual rebellion that would free the entire country of India. Under multiple European rules, these territories reaped a better education system, favorable trading with Europe, and a new style of life (linguistically, culturally, etc.) that cannot be found anywhere else in India. Overall, while colonization is not the best, especially for countries that want to become their own nation, in this instance, French colonialism in Pondicherry was a cultural change that partially benefitted natives, and now that it is under Indian rule, creates a vastly different area in Southern India to look at for French culture of the past.

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