exotic lands

Postcards from Pondicherry: When French ideas of égalité encouraged Dalits to assert their rights

Snapshots from an era of colonial pride.

Pondicherry, known today for its Aurobindo ashram and street signs in French, was once the pride of French India. At times, however, it might have seemed as if the French public did not know much about the Indian colony, which is perhaps where these postcards, printed between 1890 and 1930, come in.

Their images capture a brief period of French colonial enthusiasm between the city’s economic decline at the end of the 19th century until its eventual integration into India.

The drawings might seem stiff to a modern eye, but in their time, they were a part of a larger lobbying campaign in France to stir nationalistic pride and bring approval to fresh military missions in Europe and colonies across the world. The postcards, it would seem, were to make the colony familiar to residents of distant France – and with that bring a sense of ownership over it.

The lobbyists were members of the Colonial Party, comprised largely of industrialists and journalists who very often had commercial interests in keeping colonialism alive. The party recruited members from intellectual families. Significantly, it had no electoral ambitions, but had members important enough to influence national policy. The party championed the cause of promoting explorers and expanding the French empire. As with their contemporaries, they spoke grandly of their duty to wean “natives” from superstition to French-style scientific thinking.

This and more is explained in Pondicherry that Was Once French India, a book by Raphael Malangin. Malangin, a teacher at the French Lycée in Pondicherry and long-time associate of INTACH Pondicherry, draws together a comprehensive illustrated history of the city, of which the postcards are a small part.

A quick history

Pondicherry was among France’s first settlements in India. France got the official right to settle in the town in 1672, on the agreement of the ruler of Pondicherry, at the time a representative of the Bijapur sultanate. But by the closing decades of the 19th century, the author wrote, Pondicherry became something of an “old family heirloom that one does not want to part with”.

At the time the Colonial Party rose, Pondicherry was at the tail end of a severe economic decline. Though it was hotly contested by the English and French through the 18th century, by the 1800s, the region was unable to compete with the global market then dominated by the United States and Britain.

Though the French retained Pondicherry as a symbolic site of their ambitions to build an Indian empire for several decades longer, it faced other problems – that of assimilation. The French, unusually high-minded for a colonial empire, granted universal male suffrage to all its citizens across the world in 1873, even as it upheld upper-caste Hindu laws for the residents of Pondicherry.

Since Napoleonic France was founded on the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, and the people of Pondicherry were ostensibly equal to native French, this led to clashes when Dalits began to legally assert their rights, and in some cases renounce the caste system altogether to take shelter in French laws.

These issues did not seem to concern the Colonial Party, which was more interested in portraying the colonies as idyllic refuges. Their strategy did indeed influence a great race for colonial expansion, supported by German Chancellor Otto Bismarck.

But by the beginning of the 20th century, public focus shifted away from colonies, particularly after the death of Jules Ferry, a French politician who had been a vociferous promoter of colonial expansion. By the First World War, the party’s influence declined entirely.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900


If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.