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The legacy of French rule in India (1674-1954)

Animesh Rai

Chapter 2. The Nineteenth Century

Towards “francisation” or back to Indianization?

Texte intégral

  • 1 Les Faits Marquants de l’Inde Française au XIXe siècle, by Jaganou Diagou, pp. 1-2.

1Following the articles of the treaty of peace, signed in Paris on 30 May 1814, and in the convention of 7 March 1815, the French establishments lost during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were returned to France. However, the official handing over of Pondicherry was made only on 4 December 1816 by Captain Y. S. Fraser to the Governor, Count Dupuy. Chandernagore was returned the same day, Karaikal on 14 January 1817, Mahe on February 22 and Yanam on April 12. In the Treaty of Paris, two articles were of significant importance to the French establishments in India, namely Articles 11 and 12. According to Article 11, the places and forts existing in the colonies and establishments would be returned to France in the same conditions in which they were at the signing of the treaty. According to Article 12, the British government would extend a most favored nation status to the subjects of the French government especially in relation to commerce and to the security of its people and property within the limits of British sovereignty in the Indian subcontinent. On her part, France would not build any fortifications in the Establishments being returned to her and that she would keep no troops than necessary for police duties.1

  • 2 Les Établissements français en Inde au XIXe siècle (1816-1914), Jacques Weber, vol. 1, Introductio (...)

2In the nineteenth century, France resigned itself to playing a subsidiary role vis-à-vis the British in India. British supremacy in India in the nineteenth century resulted in an attitude of prudence and realism on the part of the French. This meant that Pondicherry, Karaikal, Chandernagore, Mahe and Yanam would remain enclaves and nothing more. France would develop trade, and where possible, agriculture and industry. These would be in the interests not only of its navy and its traders but also of the local population whose well-being was to be a constant concern of the administration. As suggested by the king to Count Dupuy, in order to entice the people who have left this territory to come back to it one would have to provide them with the same resources which they found prior to leaving it. The re-establishment of trade in these parts would take a while. In the mean time, presenting them with a friendly government, an equitable administration and the protection, which one could extend to them, could bring the Indian families back.2

  • 3 Weber, vol. 1, Introduction, p. 10.

3While the westerner looks towards the future, the Indian looks towards the past. Nothing is more precious to him than his religious and cultural heritage; nothing is more valuable to him than the honor of his caste. Indifferent to foreign rulers who respect his laws, he would find it difficult to accept those who want to impose upon him their conception of society and its ideal of progress. Talking about the colonies in general, Paul Bert used to say that one should put the native in a position where he would have to choose between either assimilating himself or being wiped out completely. He overlooked the fact that there was indeed a third choice, which was that of revolt against French rule and of its complete elimination.3

  • 4 Weber, vol. 1, p. 11.
  • 5 Weber, vol. 1, p. 98.

4The delicate problem of the delimitation of French possessions, which was almost invariably resolved in favor of the British and in violation of the rights of Louis XVIII would, right from the beginning, poison the relations between the two powers and put France in a position of inferiority and in a state of humiliation from which she would never be able to extricate herself. All the differences, which, under the Restoration and the July Monarchy, between the French and the British whether they related to irrigation or to customs’ duties, were in effect always resolved to the advantage of the stronger party.4 The British had achieved their aims namely to have reduced to nothing a profitable activity, weakened the revenues of the French government and conferred on their East India Company a new monopoly. Gradually the rupee of Pondicherry went out of circulation and the rupee of the British East India Company was imposed on French India.5

  • 6 Weber, vol. 1, p. 128.
  • 7 Weber, vol. 1, p. 133.
  • 8 Weber, vol. 1, p. 138.

5Harassed on the outside by a resolute adversary, French India was, during the ten years of the Dupuy government, gnawed by the venality and corruption of its administrators who were men of the eighteenth century and who were too inclined to sacrifice the interests of the state in favor of their own narrow interests.6 Being answerable only to a distant governor, some of these heads of enclaves did not wait too long before beginning to behave like absolute sovereigns and treating their colony as their personal property. Besides, they had the advantage of the benevolence towards them of Count Dupuy who, in Pondicherry itself, tolerated many abuses of power from his heads of service and from subordinate civil servants.7 While, demoralized by the absence of authority and the economic decline of the colony, the local population migrated to British territory or plunged itself into the darkest of miseries, the governor took pleasure in a thousand trifles establishing a court and an etiquette that were reminiscent of the Court of Versailles.8

  • 9 Weber, vol. 1, p. 177.
  • 10 Weber, vol. 1, p. 177.
  • 11 Weber, vol. 1, p. 177.

6In order to develop education, which had been neglected by the administration of Count Dupuy, the Vicomte Desbassayns established the Collège Royal on October 25, 1826. The latter being reserved for Europeans, he endowed Pondicherry and Karaikal with free schools for Indians (orders of February 1, 1827). Finally, on 21 July1828 he opened, at headquarters, a free school for the pariahs, showing that his concern extended to all classes of the population. Desirous of making French culture accessible to the greatest number of people, he decreed, on 16 May 1827, a regulation for the establishment of the public library of Pondicherry. He was also interested in the cleaning up and the beautification of the headquarters: on 6 July 1827, he gave orders to prolong the canal separating the black town from the white and to construct an esplanade on the seaside: the Cours Chabrol. He endowed Pondicherry with a central bazaar, a large and airy place that guaranteed to the black town especially advantages and invaluable commodities.9 Desirous of taking the Créoles out of poverty, he reorganized, on 24 July 1826, the committee of charity and created workshops of charity. He hoped thus to provide means of employment to individuals, White, Métis or Topas, who had no proper means of livelihood; this was a philanthropic aim if there ever was one and whose achievement has alleviated much suffering and poverty.10 Preoccupied by the betterment of the lot of the Créoles, Desbassayns saw himself above all else as the advocate of the interests of Indians, for whom he endeavored to provide protection of the law, and thus shield them from arbitrariness. He was assisted in this task by the Prosecutor General Moiroud who was, according to Eugène Sicé, his “intimate advisor.” Welcoming the Governor de Mélay, who succeeded Desbassayns, Moiroud declared that with the latter, a new era had begun for the Indians.11

  • 12 Weber, vol. 1, p. 197.
  • 13 Weber, vol. 1, p. 205.

7Filliard used to repeatedly say, “in such a way as to force the deaf to hear him”, that there was “no country which was sadder and more badly governed than the French establishments in India.” He used to attribute this situation to the “monstrous mania” which the governors had, as soon as they had arrived in a country where they were ignorant of everything, to legislate without taking into account Indian laws and the actions of their predecessors. What should be reprehended and stopped, according to him, within the limits of what was possible was this deplorable mania for everyone arriving from France to make laws for the “débotté”.12 For some people, the decree of 27 March 1840 was nothing more than a vengeance perpetrated by a governor against a Créole population, which was more and more critical of his attitude and his politics. They estimated as well that de Saint-Simon, on whom rested many serious charges of despotism, needed to counterbalance the charges by some trickery of liberalism or rather of demagogy.13

  • 14 Weber, vol. 1, p. 224.
  • 15 Weber, vol. 1, pp. 273-274.

8The implementation of the decree of 23 July 1840 calling for the adoption of an assembly where the Indians would have half the seats, which was in favor of the Europeans, was to be at the origin of the first movement of opposition to French presence, indeed of an embryonic nationalism, which du Camper himself admitted at the end of the term of his government. The establishment of this institution had given rise among the most powerful natives by virtue of their wealth or education, to ideas which had till then lain dormant in the shadow of very different laws and customs, and had aroused a competitive spirit and rivalry between the two populations, European and native, which would increase as they became more enlightened. They would put aside the bad advice of some Europeans.14 According to Weiss, the tax collector of Pondicherry, the Indian people, being indolent and superstitious, needed to be supported, and be kept an eye on by an authority, which alone, with its moral ascendancy, could extract some work out of it. Furthermore, he said that a government, no matter which, is always, if it has lasted as long as the governments of India, the moral voice of the populations it governs.15

  • 16 Weber, vol. 1, p. 280.
  • 17 Weber, vol. 1, p. 362.

9It was as much to supply to each service competent personnel as to open interesting careers for the young Créoles that the viscount Desbassayns had created by an order of 29 October 1827, under the name of “children of language”, an institution which was destined to become the breeding ground for the government, for the tribunals, for the police and so on. In the absence in France of a colonial school or of an institution similar to the British “Civil Service”, the “children of language” were meant to remedy the insufficiencies and deficiencies of the workforce. But this institution rapidly became obsolete. It finally disappeared in 1838.16 Desbassayns counted less and less in fact on the Créoles of Pondicherry who had “neither industry, nor capital nor energy.” He doubted even that the important fiscal advantages and the generous allowances that the government was going to offer to the industrialists would get them to come out of idleness.17

  • 18 Weber, vol. 1, p. 290.
  • 19 Weber, vol. 1, p. 304.

10The question of determining who the land belonged to became the object of a sterile debate to the extent that one wanted to find in the Indian tradition a Western concept foreign to the country and to revive, according to the expression of Marcel Mauss, “the native rights of the Code civil.” From the laborer to the sovereign, including the multiple servants of the aldées, the farmers and deputy farmers of the lands, so many people enjoyed a part of the harvest, that it was difficult to declare that the land was the exclusive property of just one person.18 Cordier said that he was convinced from the experience he had acquired at Karaikal, that the black Indian would not do anything unless he was driven, but that when he saw that someone was interested in his fate, that one was seeking ways to improve his situation, he would be re-invigorated and he would no longer be the same man. According to him, in all classes, when the leader took interest in the fate of his subordinates, everything worked with rapidity and advantage.19

  • 20 Weber, vol. 1, p. 323.
  • 21 Weber, vol. 1, p. 411.

11When Joseph Dayot arrived in Chandernagore, he remarked that nowhere had governments demonstrated greater ingenuity in inventing means of obtaining money than in the countries under the domination of Asian sovereigns. Furthermore, he said that not content with subjecting to law everything that the land and water could provide as outputs, everything that the industry could offer as means of subsistence, their cupidity extended to the basest of objects left to the misery of the people.20 It had been said that the phlegmatic British did not like industry in India and that they preferred much more commerce and hence, industry was more suitable for French activities. Furthermore, it was French industry, which had inspired the British to have an industry in India.21

  • 22 Weber, vol. 1, p. 375.
  • 23 Weber, vol. 1, p. 390.
  • 24 Weber, vol. 1, p. 427.

12In conformity with mercantilist principles of which it was an essential component, the Executive system revolved on the idea that the colonies existed only to ensure the enrichment of the metropolis. The latter claimed its monopoly of all commercial relations with the colony.22 The enclaves maintained commercial relations with only one colony, namely Bourbon. In spite of the prohibitive tariffs on goods from India from 1826 onwards, the balance of trade of the five enclaves seemed even more excessive with this island than with France or with other foreign countries.23 For most civil servants, French India was equivalent to Pondicherry. The sole purpose of the existence of an establishment as productive as Karaikal was to cater to the needs of the headquarters; as for the other enclaves, they were the object of contempt of the arrogant Pondicherrian society who viewed them as nothing more than currency of exchange for the enlargement of the territory of the capital of French India.24

  • 25 Weber, vol. 1, p. 472.
  • 26 Weber, vol. 1, p. 476.

13Some sections among Indians were deprived of aid once when a cyclone had caused damage. This led Du Camper to state that the Indian knew often how to suffer without complaining. He attributed his misfortunes to providence while they might be due to none other than the decisions of men.25 There was yet another distribution of funds in 1832. In this allocation the Indians, who constituted the poorest elements of the population, were not the best supplied. The decree of 1826 provided that the class “of Whites would receive more than the Topas and these more than the Indians.” The maximum of the monthly compensation was thus fixed at 15 rupees for the Whites and at 4 rupees for the Topas and the Indians.26

  • 27 Weber, vol. 1, p. 480.
  • 28 Weber, vol. 1, p. 484.
  • 29 Weber, vol. 1, p. 541.

14In India, both the British and the French found themselves confronted with an ancient, original civilization and an apparently dislocated society which nevertheless possessed a profound cohesion.27 The European, who found the Muslim too fanatical and the Catholic too little in conforming to evangelical principles, felt a certain sympathy for the Hindu. No doubt he reproached him for having many defects, but he recognized in him an incomparable softness of character.28 Even if founded on a notion which shocked them, that of the pure and the impure, the structure of the village filled most Europeans with admiration: a member of parliament would write, “the classification of the dwellers by profession means that one lives comfortably; the weavers are assembled in their street; the jewelers, the grocers, the shoemakers in theirs and so on.” A westernized Indian would assert that “this organization facilitates social life.”29

  • 30 Weber, vol. 1, p. 553.
  • 31 Weber, vol. 1, p. 575.
  • 32 Weber, vol. 1, p. 578.
  • 33 Weber, vol. 1, p. 594.

15If it was difficult for the Indian to escape the attraction of as strong a tradition and social organization as Hinduism and the caste mentality, it was impossible for the foreigner to escape its influence. Islam and above all Chistianity had been profoundly “Indianized”. The two communities both Muslim and Christian, seduced by the religious exuberance of the Hindus, had thus adopted certain “Malabar rites.” Far from maintaining a certain cohesion, which is often indispensable for minorities, they had fractured themselves into numerous groups resembling as many castes.30 The Catholic religion, preaching nothing new, had thus not been able to interest the Hindus; a certain sect, out of politeness, had put Jesus Christ among the incarnations of Vishnu, in a haphazard way with Buddha, the turtle, the fish, the boar and the other incarnations…31 In French territory, the Catholic property owners had progressively become city dwellers. While some enriched themselves thanks to commerce, others, owing to their intellectual accomplishments, attained high administrative or judicial positions. Curious about everything, they took interest in French civilization, gave up some of their customs, and became non-vegetarian and ended by converting themselves. Their fellow beings, who dominated the rural regions, remained on the contrary the most solid defenders of brahmanical values.32 India was obviously not the only country where the Catholic Church might have had to allow the survival of pagan beliefs and rites among its proselytes. But nowhere had the clergy had to make as many concessions.33

  • 34 Weber, vol. 1, p. 607.
  • 35 Weber, vol. 1, p. 609.

16The closeness that the Indian would exhibit towards the French had on many occasions been remarked upon by devoted civil servants who would explain it by the affinities which existed between these two people namely having the same liveliness of spirit, the same softness of style, the same sense of humanity and of the primacy of spiritual values, while other European people were more dogmatic and tentative. The Frenchman was equally more informal, more of an obedient child, more accessible than the Englishman for whom the Indian remained the “Native” not admitted to his clubs and very rarely to his receptions. The Indian was very sensitive to the distance between him and the British colonizer.34 The pariahs were the most Francophile along with the Christians, undoubtedly because many found a remunerative job in the big European or Créole houses. In 1828, the head of the pariahs, Tandavayaren, explained to Desbassayns that those of his caste were more inclined and willing to serve the French nation; because in their service with the Whites they were not discriminated against, but were brought up and treated like their children, so that they had always desired the good of European gentlemen. That was why other castes were constant enemies of the supplicant as well as of his caste because he had always differed from their expressed views against the Whites.35

  • 36 Weber, vol. 1, p. 615.

17Some others thought that if Indians lacked energy in general, one could also say that their audacity increased in proportion to the weakness of those whom they wanted to resist and that only one demonstration with fifty or so French soldiers would be enough to make them give up everything.36

  • 37 Weber, vol. 1, p. 616.
  • 38 Weber, vol. 1, p. 617.
  • 39 Weber, vol. 1, p. 680.

18A little after they had settled down in Pondicherry, the French understood that they would not be able to impose their own laws on Indians and that the respect of the Hindu religion and of the laws governing the family and society would be the condition sine qua non for their remaining in the colony.37 The nation committed itself from the beginning of its establishment in Pondicherry to judging the Malabaris and other Indians who would resort to French courts, in accordance with the Malabar moral code, customs and laws. The civil lieutenant in this respect would comply with what had been the practice until then at the civil headquarters of the Chaudrie.38 Later on, the Prosecutor General Ristelhueber took to criticizing the entire republican policy of assimilation by saying that France wanted to do everything in its image and would lose its self esteem if the least bit of French soil did not enjoy somehow this beautiful political organization of which universal suffrage was the basis.39

  • 40 Weber, vol. 2, p. 877.
  • 41 Weber, vol. 2, p. 883.

19Mahe of which one had been able to say that it was “less a town than a garden where one has constructed houses”, was an immense coconut plantation. The exploitation of this tree was, by far, the principal activity in this enclave and it was thought by the French that being slaves of their habits the Indians would not know how to change them under this relationship and even if they wanted to they would not be able to since Mahe was then just a forest consisting of these trees. The sun would no longer have an effect on secondary vegetation. Besides one could not blame them for it in as much as they knew how to especially take advantage of the coconut tree.40 The Indian and especially the Indian of Yanam being the enemy of all innovation, no attempt had ever been made to improve the state of cultivations. One had tried to introduce the cultivation of cotton and of tobacco, but on such a small scale that one would not have been able to say anything about it. Cotton had succeeded, as well as tobacco; but the one and the other were of bad quality.41

  • 42 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1242.
  • 43 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1242.

20Louis de Charolais got to know in Pondicherry a rich, intelligent but also a “strangely Indianized” European who before establishing himself in a house, would look for omens and would get the Brahmans to intervene. A crate had to be placed in an auspicious alignment and in accordance with the state of constellations in the sky. If commerce prospered, everything would be maintained in the same state; not a single nail would be displaced. If, on the other hand, business were to go badly, one would dismantle everything from top to bottom.42 Many Créoles had also adopted the way of life of those whom they considered to be inferior. According to the strict J. de Quennefer, women in particular allowed themselves to be influenced by the “stupid and corrupt” customs of their Indian surroundings. Furthermore, he thought that it was notorious that some among them ate like the natives, chewed betelnuts and areca, applied coconut oil and passed their days squatting on mats, in the midst of black servants who delicately tickled the soles of their feet with peacock feathers.43

  • 44 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1245.

21The dobachi was the first domestic servant of a well organized household, a kind of steward, advocate of Figaro and of Caleb, an intermediary of all business and pleasure transactions speaking either English or French and always accompanying his master of whom he was the trusted adviser; sly, flattering, insinuating with him, but standing up with arrogance in front of the other domestic servants. A person of such talents was indispensable to every European. If the latter went out on foot, his dobachi covered his head under a large parasol; if he went out on a palanquin, the dobachi walked on besides the window, with a bamboo in hand to keep the onlookers at bay; if he was in a car, the loyal servant latched on to him in the vehicle.44

  • 45 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1245.

22The European, if not the Créole, could not bear to eat curries, which would inflame his palate. He wanted to eat “the French way”. One admittedly found all the necessary foodstuffs: the fruits and vegetables “of Europe” were cultivated in the Island of coconut trees not far from the town; cherries, peaches, strawberries, etc., were evidently in short supply but could be replaced by mangoes, guavas, papayas and other local fruits. Game was abundant in the hinterland; the Indian Ocean was full of fish and, in spite of religious taboos, the Hindus tolerated the slaughter of a few cattle for the consumption of the Whites. Abundant and varied, and not in the least bit heavy, this food was nevertheless of a mediocre quality. The butcher’s meat, game and fish were not tastier than these painted wooden dishes one finds in the meals of comedy.45

  • 46 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1250.
  • 47 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1254.

23A minority of Europeans, not interested in social events, still found life in Pondicherry thrilling. Seduced by India, these inquisitive spirits devoted themselves to meticulous research: Perrottet studied botany, Ariel, the secretary of the government, as well as the magistrates Laude and Esquer were interested in Hindu jurisprudence and in the caste system. Laude also published the results of his Statistical studies on the population of the establishments of Pondicherry and Karaikal. It is, however, Doctor Huillet who conducted the best observations on the demographic behavior of Indians.46 One of the main and specific charges the administrators of India leveled against successive metropolitan governments was that they did not accord to this colony the place it ought to have had due to the size of its population and to the revenues that this population generated.47

  • 48 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1353.
  • 49 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1370.

24From the contradiction between the political principles of metropolitan France and the state of Indian society was born a hybrid constitution: liberal and democratic because of the rights it conferred on its population, decentralizing because of the local assemblies it instituted but also conservative, because of the primacy it ensured for the Europeans and paternalistic, because of the absolute power it conferred on the governor.48 The conservatives appealed to the good sense of the government whom they reminded that the near totality of Indians was not only illiterate, as were a great number of voters in metropolitan France at that time, but also that they were ignorant of the French language. Completely alien to French values, the Indians did not understand anything about the institutions that one endowed them with: “the population”, according to Michaux, “does not at all think about institutions which it does not know and of which it does not understand the mechanism.”49

  • 50 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1372.
  • 51 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1374.

25In imposing administrative and political assimilation on the colony before achieving cultural assimilation, France was, according to the conservatives, placing the cart before the horse. One would have needed to initiate Indians to French civilization, “to have placed without bounds at their disposal all the riches of science and of Western culture”, as did the British for decades, to enable them to finally benefit from metropolitan institutions whose “mechanism” would no longer have been a mystery to them.50 The French had succeeded, better than any other nation, in earning the loyalty of Indians while still respecting their traditions. They took care to show the greatest deference for the desires of princes with whom they found themselves in contact and to try to gain their confidence by recognizing their power and authority. In other words, their policy was to adopt as much as possible the customs of the natives… the French were the only European nation for whom the natives had a real sympathy of which they constantly furnished proofs. These principles had allowed Dupleix to build in a very short time a considerable empire. Neglect of these principles had precipitated the loss of Lally-Tollendal. Since 1819, in committing himself to respecting the ways and customs of Indians, Count Dupuy had revived the policy of Dupleix.51

  • 52 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1374-1375.

26The social peace prevalent since then in the entire colony would be compromised, according to the conservatives, if, departing from her secular policy of respect for the mamoul (tradition) and of the hierarchy of castes, France wanted to impose its institutions, and notably universal suffrage, thus placing the pariah on an equal footing with the Brahman. A war of castes would be the consequence of such an initiative.52

  • 53 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1378.

27It is Ristelhueber who best summarized the arguments of those who thought European institutions to be incompatible with the values of Indian civilization. He asked what there was in this world that was more radically incompatible with Indian civilization, which is essentially of a theocratic and feudalistic nature, than the democratic institutions of France, even when finely modified and amended. The system of castes, with its “merciless hierarchy and stupid formalism,” left no place for the principle of equality, an essential basis of the French political and social system. But this was the smallest of the chasms that separated them. The language, the religion, the customs, the composition of the family, still controlled despotically according to the laws of Manu, preceding the Christian era by 800 years, created between them an abyss that was even more insurmountable. The canal, which bisected Pondicherry into a white and a black town, was nothing but an imperfect symbol of these incompatibilities. They the sovereigns, the outwardly honored and respected masters, were in the Indian consciousness, pariahs. Ristelhueber was convinced that this respect, which the Europeans enjoyed, even if it was only outward, would disappear once authority had passed from them into the hands of Indian élites.53

  • 54 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1379.

28As estimated by Ristelhueber, order in India depended on the concentration of powers. Their “scattering can only cause confusion.” According to him, nowhere was the principle of authority more respected than in India. The respect was in some ways in the genius of these people accustomed to obedience by a social organization knowingly put together to facilitate domination. Furthermore, he said that in India, the governor symbolized sovereignty; he was the Sultan and the Raja. “You only need to touch his power; scatter it within the hands of the masses; call everyone to say his word on the things of the other world which are for him absolutely ‘lettres closes’ and you will see what will become of respect.”54

  • 55 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1379-1380.

29As soon as Governor Faron arrived in the colony, there was a concerted campaign against him. His adversaries hoped that the weakening of his power would facilitate the investment of powers in the elected councils. The columns of “Le Courrier de l’Inde française” were sympathetic to the cause of Faron’s adversaries. The conflict began in December 1872, the day after the opening of the first session of the colonial council. In his speech, Faron had declared that “liberal institutions based on universal suffrage” must “operate with great care in a country whose social organization rests on the hierarchy of castes.” “Le Courrier” had responded by saying that universal suffrage would be “an admirably fruitful seed of civilization” and would contribute towards putting an end to the “arbitrary and aristocratic tendencies” of the governor. Even if their duty seemed “very arduous” due to the “least bit of indulgence” on the part of the head of the colony towards them, the elected members of the council were requested by the editors of “Le Courrier” to keep their calm.55

  • 56 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1380.

30They urged the Indian colonial councilors not to be deterred by this attitude which was akin to intimidation; that they should remain calm in the face of the violence which might ensue; that the importance of their mandate, and the sacred interests of their fellow-citizens be incessantly present in their minds: every fit of anger, even as a reaction, would be enough for the administrative authority to act, and it would not help them in the cause of which they were the defenders. They appealed therefore to their councilors to appear as patient, persevering and calm as they were energetic. They asked the councilors to remain “right”, which they were, and that they should leave to others the means of intimidation, which were appropriate only to the defenders of bad causes.56

  • 57 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1389.

31The subsequent support of Paris and the formal denunciation of the colonial council lent some credence to Faron. Confronted by the “rowdy members of the local council and of the colonial council of Pondicherry who, inebriated by their initial successes,” sought by all means to extend their influence, the governor estimated that he could no longer administer the colony unless he enjoyed the full and unconditional support of the minister. Faron stressed that he had even more need of this support so much so that, if he were deprived of it, he would have no more strength left for doing any good. As it was, it was becoming difficult to administer with the help of liberal institutions based on universal suffrage, this small territory characterized by hierarchy, caste privileges, rivalries of religion and three different councils ready to deprive him of any initiative, not to speak of local passions and divisions, nor of embarrassments caused by some civil servants. For the past sixty years, the inhabitants of India had acquired the habit of placing their confidence in the governors which was beneficial to them; but at that moment, with the publication of a French journal printed in Madras and which bore no responsibility and escaped all repression, they were taught not to rely in any way on an impotent authority and even not to respect it any more. What would he have been able to do if he were deprived of the support of the minister?57

  • 58 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1393-1394.
  • 59 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1394.

32For Inspector Trillard, the open conflict between the administration and the elected officials was more serious than the struggles between Whites and Blacks in the Caribbean because it discredited the authorities. Undoubtedly the sessions of the elected assemblies were, notably in Martinique, very stormy. Nevertheless, according to Trillard, one must say that in such a constricted environment as that of the French enclaves, where the slightest incident had immediate repercussions, where everyone knew everyone else, where everything degenerated into personal animosities, where public opinion, having an influence only in a forcibly restricted circle, escaped the fluctuations and currents which could elsewhere modify its direction, these struggles and agitations of political life had a particular importance and influence. They posed a true danger: the weakening of the moral authority of the head of the colony, of his predominance on which the public order had so far depended in a country where the European element was absorbed in the bulk of the native population. Under this relationship, the organization, which was decreed in 1872, had a really defective aspect, even an extreme vice in that, far from preserving the moral authority of the governor, it made it vulnerable to legal attacks.58 For Trillard, the best solution for the colony would have been the suppression, pure and simple, of the colonial council. A municipal organization copied on that of Madras would be in his eyes the response to the “needs and the state” of the colony. The governor would then be given the task of choosing the municipal councilors, of whom some could, if the need arose, be seated in the administrative council in which the official members would largely be in the majority. This solution, while giving the population its due representation, would have dispensed with elections, universal suffrage being barely applicable to a colony divided among different races, religions and castes and where the certification of nationality and of the civil state were impossible. Trillard, however, did not think that the government would have taken a step backward. If the constitution of 1872 were to be kept as it was, it was necessary, according to him, for the minister to extend the governor his full support and to intervene eventually against the councilors who were not duly respectful towards the authorities.59

  • 60 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1395.

33In India, the foes of assimilation had advocated the abolition of the seat of India in Parliament. The rowdy Montclar, who had supported the candidature of Sandouodéar and who mocked the Hécquet committee with the incendiary articles which he published in “Le Courrier”, beseeched the Count de Richemont in December 1871 to be so patriotic as to eliminate the Indian seat in Parliament as her social, religious and political make up did not allow this innovation which would result in the progressive and final decline of French influence in these five dispersed enclaves, at considerable distance one from another, surrounded by the British Indian Empire.60

  • 61 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1396-1397.
  • 62 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1398.
  • 63 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1401-1402.

34While the provisions relating to the Senate in the constitutional law of 24 February 1875 had given the right to be represented in this assembly to the populations of the Reunion islands, of Martinique, of Guadeloupe and of the French establishments in India, the representative of the right, Champvallier, suggested the elimination of the representation of these colonies in the Chamber. Champvallier obviously invoked other arguments in support of his proposition. A native of Martinique, he feared that universal suffrage might confer predominance to people of color, to the detriment of the Créoles: “More than anyone else, the white Créole race needs security, protection to attract European capital, to organize work, to establish enclaves etc.”61 For de Richemont, an adversary of Champvallier, Indians were French, many belonging “to the same race as us” and observing, with a few exceptions, French laws. According to him, Indians were subjected to French law in its entirety, that is to the five codes: the civil code, the code of civil procedure, the penal code, the code of criminal investigation and the code of commerce, with this sole exception that, when they wanted to, eventually, as they had guaranteed to them their full religious liberty, they could claim the application of their ancient laws on marriage and successions.62 Assimilation was neither a chimera, as was suggested by Champvallier, nor a cause of disorder. It would not lead to the crushing of the Whites by the Blacks, as could be demonstrated by the results of the first elections: “of the nine representatives of the colonies, eight are White and of these eight Whites six are Créoles.” At the General Council of Martinique, there were decidedly only eleven Whites out of twenty-four members, but they had the presidency and the vice-presidency. In Guadeloupe they had the majority and, in the Reunion islands, they had all the seats. As he put it, “this is how the negroes and the mulattoes in all our colonies seek to take the place of the Whites!”63

  • 64 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1410.
  • 65 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1410-1411.
  • 66 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1412-1413.
  • 67 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1413.

35Vellaja Ponnoutambypoullé who, in 1877, replaced Hécquet, wanted not only political and administrative assimilation but also cultural and moral. Indians should not have been content with the institutions of metropolitan France and the latter must not have required their submission to the code civil as the distant outcome of their adherence to republican principles of government. For Ponnoutamby, France should have, at the same time that she granted India parliamentary and local representation, encouraged its inhabitants to renounce their personal laws.64 Ponnoutamby began his crusade against the mamoul and caste in 1873. While he was a licensed advocate, he appeared in court dressed in hat and stockings, wearing European shoes, in the process scandalizing everyone. Article 188 of the order of 7 February 1842 with respect to the judicial organization of the colony in fact stipulated that Indian advocates should wear in court the costume appropriate to their caste.65 Ponnoutamby was forbidden from entering the court for ten days for having violated the mamoul, disrupted the order and ignored the authority of the governor in matters of caste. He appealed this decision and was defended in France by Jules Godin who asked the Cours de Cassation to decide the following question namely whether an Indian wearing European shoes was committing an irreverent act in not taking off his shoes in front of the people to whom he owes reverence.66 The Court replied negatively; the judgment rendered in Pondicherry was nullified and Faron was criticized by the Minister, d’Hornoy, who, in his dispatch of 3 June 1873, recommended a policy of progress in the matter of customary laws. According to him, the thinking of the French government had always been to respect the customs and beliefs of Indians, but not to impose this respect if they would rather distance themselves from it. Consequently, he should have thought of intervening only in a case where trespasses committed by one caste against the prerogatives of another, gave rise to complaints on the part of the latter. Other than these cases, the natural role of the government was abstention.67

  • 68 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1414.

36“The ridiculous matter of ‘footwear’” had in fact divided public opinion: all of French India took a position either for or against the wearing of footwear. The question of assimilation, which until now was of interest only to Europeans, henceforth began agitating Indians. Everyone had understood the significance of the incident of shoes, which was ridiculous only in appearance. There was henceforth in the colony, facing the majority of traditionalist Indians, a minority, tiny but undoubtedly very decisive, whose ambition was to substitute the Code Civil for the laws of Manu.68

  • 69 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1417-1418.

37Desirous of breaking away from morals and customs which were “outdated and no more in use”, Samymodéliar and Annassamy invoked the judgment of the Cours de Cassation in 1852 and the ministerial dispatch of 3 June 1873, written to Faron by d’Hornoy the day after the publication of the decree nullifying the judgment rendered in Pondicherry in the matter of the “stockings and shoes.” They reminded the colonial councilors, whom they were addressing, that “never has it entered the consciousness of the government to restrict them to vegetate in that from which they would like to come out.” It was high time “to let them quickly accomplish the moral revolution which had proceeded step by step for nearly a century.” It was necessary, at least for Christian Indians, to emerge from the control of the clergy and to enter the common law of French citizens and to marry according to civil law. In 1855, the government was pleased to order a religious marriage to be entered in a civil register. The institution of civil marriage would constitute the end of a long evolution tending to bring Indian Christians closer to those of France. They were of the view that even though a large number of their ancestors had been converted to Christianity, many Indians progressed only haltingly towards the adoption of another order based on the values introduced by the Gospel, the principle of equality before the law, humanism and European civilization. They had, in a manner of speaking, arrived at the end of a transition. From then on the duty to address their legitimate aspirations, both in legal as well as philosophical matters, was incumbent upon the French administration.69

  • 70 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1418.
  • 71 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1419.

38Civil marriage had never been imposed on Indians because of the impossibility for women to appear in public, and consequently to go to the town hall, before the birth of their first child. Furthermore, brahmanical rites forbade young couples from leaving their houses before one had removed the kappu, the cord which was tied on their forearm on the eve of marriage. However, according to Samy and Annassamy, the fastening of the kappu was not the custom among Christians and their women went out freely to receive the nuptial benediction at the church and to attend the “many celebrations of the Catholic cult.” There was, however, one custom that the two Indians were not yet prepared to “shake off”: they favored the continuance of the custom of cosanguinary marriages between uncle and niece which the Church and the Code Civil condemned and authorized only under special dispensations. The belief that the mother was not of the family of the uncle was enough to remove any doubts: in this case, the niece was in effect “a completely foreign object.”70 Trillard judged that France needed only to encourage the desire of these Indians to commit themselves to the path of progress. One would not be able to resist those who would want the right conferred by the Cours de Cassation to prevail and to submit oneself freely and voluntarily to French laws and to reap the advantages of doing so while at the same time observing the commandments; and it must be said that until then, nothing had been done to urge people to do this. The exercise of this right would, according to him, be true progress towards the assimilation of this nation to France and an important triumph of its immutable institutions.71

  • 72 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1429-1430.
  • 73 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1443.

39Elaborated by Vice-admiral Pothuau, Minister of the Navy and of the Colonies in the Republican Dufaure cabinet, the “decree stipulating the reorganization of the elected Councils in the French establishments of India” was in effect signed by Mac-Mahon a few days after his resignation and the election as President of the Republic of Jules Grévy. For Alfred Martineau, this decree of 25 January 1879 was incontestably the expression of the will of the Republicans to assimilate India to metropolitan France. In India, a country too old-fashioned in the eyes of this majority, it seemed to him useful to take a new step towards the reforms announced in 1871 and 1875.72 As a result of the election in April 1879 in accordance with the decree, a Créole committee was composed, “as well as an opposition party of merchants, attorneys’ councils, civil servants, and a certain number of Topa electors of a mobile and changing nature.” Its heads were, besides Ponnoutamby, Emile Hécquet, Albert and Arthur Chatelier, Auguste Faciolle, Alcide Duchamp and Alcide Pochont. In a declaration addressed to members of the committee and to their “dear fellow-citizens”, they expressed their principles and their agenda whereby they would do their best to ensure calm and unity, to help the administration to implement all possible reforms, to control without holding up and to improve without destroying, in order to assist the government on its liberal path, in a measured and cautious manner. They would also sincerely commit themselves to assure the regular and beneficial functioning of their elective assemblies, to avoid making mistakes, so that progress and freedom might result to the advantage of the entire population in general, of the European element and the Créole in particular through the development of interests of all groups.73

  • 74 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1460.
  • 75 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1460-1461.

40A commission in France was charged with the responsibility of preparing a plan, of which the General Council of India was seized in its ordinary session of 1879. Ponnoutamby saw in this initiative a new proof of the generosity of France and a decisive step towards total assimilation. According to him, France did not particularly like the demarcation between groups of citizens and subjects in India. Furthermore, he said that they were not from a conquered country but that they were adoptive children and that France, which treated them generously on a par with its children, had invited them to the kindness of its municipal institutions.74 Against this plan, representatives of the old Pondicherrian and Indian committees found in Chanemougam a spokesman who was as eloquent as he was decisive. Belonging to the Vellala caste, Chanemougam was the son of Nadou Sidambra Modéliar, the influential Indian who was credited with the election of Lecour to the Assembly in 1849. From his father, he had inherited the title of “nadou”, or head of the upper castes, which conferred on him enormous prestige. In posing himself as the defender of the dharma and of the caste system against innovations and assimilation, he rallied behind him all those who found that Ponnoutamby went too far and too quickly. He declared to the General Council that the institution of municipalities would provoke a “commotion” among the people and would perturb the morals and society. The rivalries of caste would in no time override the public interest. Finally the pariahs, profiting from the “advantages of universal suffrage” which they would be after, would not hesitate to question a hierarchy in place for centuries. In his response, the Director of the Interior Lacascade denounced the “acrimonious recriminations” and the “sad pages” of Chanemougam.75

  • 76 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1461.

41In spite of these criticisms, Chanemougam resumed his discourse and asserted that education had not been sufficiently developed in the colony to allow “a convenient recruitment” of municipal councilors. For Lacascade, such “pessimism, inspired exclusively by political hatreds”, was refuted by the facts, the colony having elected twenty-five general and thirty-four local councilors. If it was true, added the Director of the Interior that the pariahs and the lower castes were vegetating in ignorance, the upper castes were responsible for it. He asked after all whose fault it was if the people of the countryside were not more enlightened than what Chanemougam said. Lacascade added that his assertion was his own condemnation.76

  • 77 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1476.

42Governor Drouhet, who was very favorable towards the cause of the liberals, referred in strong terms to certain reservations on the part of the Department of Navy the day after the promulgation of the “assimilationist” decree of 25 January 1879. He cited Admiral Jauréguiberry who wrote in his dispatch of 15 May 1879 that it was important to monitor agitations of this kind in a country where the experiment of these liberal institutions could be misunderstood and exploited to serve caste interests or cause unfortunate protests. He added that events had but justified these anxieties. Universal suffrage had become within the hands of Brahmanism an instrument of oppression and the spirit of our institutions found itself subordinated to a whole social system contradictory to that spirit.77

  • 78 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1477.
  • 79 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1487.

43Citing also the Essay on the general history of French Law, in which Dalloz asserted that “the responsibility of having fixed injustice, immobilized vengeance in the most inhuman code that despotism has ever produced”, lay on Brahmanism, Drouhet let it be known that the only way to prevent the restoration of Brahmanism was to remove the right to vote to Indians subject to their personal status.78 Indians did not believe any more in the word of France and were persuaded that the policy of metropolitan France was not to impose assimilation but to make it acceptable by a series of imperceptible measures. The remarks of some of the fiercest assimilationists could justify their apprehensions. “Two societies opposed in customs, ideas and religion can be assimilated only by the absorption of one by the other”, wrote a jurist. De Ménerville, the author of Dictionnaire de législation algérienne, asked himself what their objective should be in Algeria. He thought that it should be the absorption of the indigenous people. “When people from the North implant themselves in a country, it is in order to remain there. The Arabs may revolt but they will be absorbed.”79

  • 80 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1513.

44Drouhet said that the supposed “superiority” of the European “civilizing element” had no corresponding reality in India. The European element was here as much an enemy of progress, as imbued with prejudices as the native element. It was not more inclined to favor the emancipation of the natives than the colonizers had been at other times to favor the emancipation of their slaves. There was a striking analogy between the two periods and the two situations. In fact, the term European was not the most suitable as, apart from forty civil servants or so who “ne font que passer” and sixty or so real Créoles, the category of Europeans consisted only of Topas. Deprived of all means of existence, ignorant and apathetic, the latter were at the mercy of three or four merchants on whom they depended for their livelihood and of whom they formed the electoral clientèle.80

  • 81 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1516.

45In June 1882, La Porte and his friends signed a petition to show to the government and to public opinion the patriotism of the renonçants provoking from the Brahmans a hostile reaction to military service. This would be a proof of the warmth of their feelings for France. Calling itself the “democratic party”, the clique of La Porte addressed itself to the minister by indicating that they would be happy to pay the tax of blood, but in other conditions than those under Dupleix and La Bourdonnais, a period when the rigors of caste recognized under the same flag two armies, an European army and a native army and from the latter the pariah was excluded.81

  • 82 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1517.
  • 83 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1518.

46During the summer of 1883, a conference on castes was organized in Paris: it was followed by the publication of a brochure, Bulletin de la Société progressiste de l’Inde française, which reproduced the text of the proceedings of the conference. This society was founded on 1 March 1883 in Pondicherry by a certain Mourougaissapoullé, and had very quickly solicited and obtained the support of men as eminent as Deloncle the son and of Paul Déroulède. Article 2 of its statutes stated its objective: “to develop progress in the Establishments of India by the propagation of French language and culture”.82 This “société,” which called itself progressive, was in reality profoundly reactionary: “one cannot have a more splendid label for a bag of tricks”. Far from wanting to develop the French language and culture these pseudo-progressive people did not refrain from creating hindrances. The French language was what was the most neglected in the French establishments. As for French culture, it was well known what obstacles the fanaticism of Brahmin priests placed in its way.83

  • 84 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1520-1521.
  • 85 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1522.
  • 86 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1523.

47One way of escaping the oppressive hierarchy of the caste system was to become a renonçant. However, the author of a brochure called Les Indigènes de l’Inde française et le suffrage universel, Moracchini, explained the failure of this renunciation by the attachment of Hindus to the religion of their fathers and of the consequences of this act, which implied severing all social and economic ties with others in their milieu. It is not surprising that the majority of renonçants were pariahs who, in fact, were not giving up much. Just like conversion to Christianity, this renunciation was in fact for them “a possibility of social ascent.” If there were so few renonçants in the smaller establishments, this was because the class of pariahs existed neither in Mahe nor in Chandernagore and that in the last two enclaves, as in Yanam, there were hardly any indigenous Christians.84 Moracchini suggested that it was out of political ambition that some Indians of the upper castes had renounced. A few years later, a governor would corroborate this judgment and would add that the ambitions of the leaders of the renonçants had contributed to the failure of this attempt at assimilation: “by belittling this movement to make it a party instrument, they succeeded in aborting it.”85 The leaders of the renonçants, instead of combating the prejudices, which endured among their followers, endeavored to convert the Brahmans by any means to their new religion. Moracchini asserted having seen some civil servants exercise pressure on certain natives in order to constrain them, “in the interests of a supposed progress, to eat beef, drink wine or “to abandon their very secular costume in order to don the costume of Europeans, appropriate at most for cold climates.86

  • 87 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1523-1524.

48The Member of Parliament, Pierre Alype, argued that it would hurt the cause of the French if they attempted proselytism by coercion. Moracchini, on the other hand, thought that assimilation would be possible in the more or less long term. According to him, France would be successful in it, not by recognizing the right to vote only to those who would renounce their personal status or by conferring on the latter an influence, which would be out of proportion with their number, but by on the one hand, initiating Indians into the exercise of political rights and by expanding on the other hand education by the creation of French schools and affluence by economic development. In this regard, he cited the example of British India where, according to him, the establishment of schools and of a large railway network was more beneficial for the leveling of castes than money spent profusely by protestant missionaries in obtaining “hypocritical and precarious conversions.” The Brahmans, concluded Moracchini, had always been respectful of universal suffrage. They had never revolted against this institution, but against those who attempted to exclude them from the Republic. Even the men of upper castes had accepted universal suffrage. It was the poor and ignorant men of the lower castes, the pariahs, who were opposed to it. To satisfy their desire would have been like replacing the ancient limited suffrage of the “censitaires” by the limited suffrage of the ignorant proletariat.87

  • 88 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1524-1525.

49At the end of October and in November 1883, the renonçants won two elections, which gave them much to hope for. Fourteen of them had signed a petition earlier that year claiming that they should be registered on the first list as they deemed themselves on all accounts to be French citizens. Even the Topas were registered on the first list. The Topas claimed that they were not any less good Frenchmen than the mixed population which was European only in name and which was of Indian origin like them. Furthermore, they argued that when the Republic had emancipated slaves and had made them French citizens, they were all subject to the same laws. Had it not registered them on the same lists as their former masters? They asked. What would have been unreasonable would have been to put on different lists Frenchmen who were governed by the same laws, under pretext that some of them had a few drops of European blood flowing through their veins and that the others were Indians of pure blood.88

  • 89 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1536.
  • 90 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1537.

50For Victor Schoelcher, the registration of the renonçants on the first list was a mistake, but in wanting to avoid making this mistake, the government made an even greater mistake. By the creation of a unified list, it handed over French India to a clerical-brahmanical coalition of people resistant to the moral emancipation of its inhabitants. Schoelcher proposed the setting up of three lists of electors, the first consisting of Europeans, the second of the “non-renonçants” and the third of the renonçants. Blancsubé approved this solution right away. The situation in India, he said, was in no way comparable to that in the Réunion islands and in the Caribbean where there were only Frenchmen and “completely assimilated people.”89 Peulevey categorically opposed this project, which formalized “the impossibility for the renonçants to assimilate themselves to Europeans” and would make of them “hybrids.” He asserted that there must be only two lists since there were only two groups of people in India: those who were governed by the Code Civil and those who were governed by their personal status. In addition, the project of Schoelcher would give to the “clerical party” an “impregnable citadel”, that is, the first list and would be dedicated to the existence of a “European caste” which would be “outside the native castes.” He stated that Schoelcher’s project would imply the racial superiority of Europeans and that the natives, and in particular the renonçants, would be incapable of ever becoming Europeans. The decree would thus condemn the politics of assimilation. One would witness the reestablishment in one of their colonies of this division by race that was so aptly condemned everywhere else.90

  • 91 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1579.

51Universal suffrage whose aim was to assimilate India to France had produced the opposite result. It would henceforth allow the most traditionalists of Indians to consolidate the mamoul (tradition) and caste and to combat French influence. Universal suffrage had had the result of starting an unceasing struggle between French influence and ideas and Indian civilization. As the Indians were more numerous, and consequently, the masters of the electoral corps, it had given them a weapon through the vote to destroy everything that was French in the country. According to the French, it was out of line to think in fact of some day bringing together the two civilizations; the social condition of India was worse than slavery as “slaves can be freed and the Indian, planted in his caste can never come out of it.”91

  • 92 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1747.

52On 13 September 1877, while reading “Le Gaulois”, the French became aware of the gravity of the physical situation in this distant colony. This journal in fact published an article by the senator of India, Count de Richemont, who cited at length a letter, which he had just received from Pondicherry. According to this letter, the sufferings of people increased every day. The harshness of the famine increased little by little as the drought continued. The misery was horrible and the rate of mortality frightening. People coming from neighboring localities, lacking absolutely in everything, and in a deplorable state, had invaded the town. Every day, one found corpses of individuals dead from hunger on the streets. The free distribution of provisions continued; but they had often no strength left. They were often in pain, looking at those who had lagged behind at these places of distribution, exhaling while eating the meager rations given to them.92

  • 93 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1855.

53As was explained in 1879 by the Councilor, General Bayol, the distinctiveness of each establishment argued in favor of decentralization. According to him, it would be pure fiction to consider and to treat the five establishments as a department or a colony such as the Reunion islands, Martinique or Guadeloupe. Furthermore, he said that one could not in fact forget that the five establishments were separated one from the other by considerable distances, that the inhabitants of those territories differed in their origins, their language and their customs and that they were united only by the links which tied them to metropolitan France. He said that there hardly existed general interests really common to Pondicherry and its dependencies and, in these conditions, in the study of the institutions to be given to these establishments it would be more logical to be concerned with their exceptional position and of their special needs rather than with the desire to still assimilate these institutions to those of France or of the other great French colonies which differed from these in so many essential aspects. In his opinion, the dependencies had not ceased to demand autonomous control over their budget, that is their use of their own resources, diminished only by their share of the expenses incurred on the general administration of their colony. His conclusion was that one could not but acquiesce in the face of the fairness of these demands.93

  • 94 Weber, vol. 4, pp. 2047-2048.

54With the seizure by Chanemougam of all the institutions of the colony, the pariahs lost all hope of seeing the improvement of their fate. In 1897, according to Governor Girod, the castes which had always dominated and whose authority was so carefully preserved in British India could at any time react against any movement to favor the pariahs and could create great difficulties for the French. He told the Minister of the Colonies that under the agitations and the electoral competition hid a more elevated question of general politics which it would be incumbent upon the minister to resolve namely if the French should conserve the secular supremacy of the castes as was done by their neighbors the British or if, on the contrary, they should let power be transferred to inferior castes. Furthermore, Girod said that for whoever had lived in India, it was indisputable that there was a gulf between a man of caste and a pariah. Finally, Girod said that the future might tone down these divisions, which are at the same time both religious and social, but this future was perhaps too far off to have a significant influence on their manner of administering.94

  • 95 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2051.
  • 96 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2057.

55The integration of the pariahs into Hindu society not being possible, the administration endeavored therefore to ensure for them a separate development. It was conscious that this policy for the time being sanctioned the segregation of which they were victims. It was hoped that time, affluence and education would help pull them out of the state of abjectness in which they still found themselves and that the prejudices against them would diminish. According to Governor Angoulvant, the economic development of the colony should have been of benefit to the pariahs and to all the deprived people of the colony.95 Subsequently, if it was difficult to reproach to the French party the timidity of its policy of “material and moral improvement of the pariahs” or to attribute to it the relative failure of the development of the colony, one could however accuse its leaders of having played apprentice sorcerers in setting up the pariahs against the “people of caste” and the Muslims against the Hindus with the aim of eliminating Chanemougam and of maintaining itself in power.96

  • 97 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2061.

56In 1904, an incident between some Hindus and Muslims occurred over the possession of a paddy field and of some uncultivated land. The Muslims felt that the land belonged to them owing to its proximity to the tomb of a saint whom they revered. The Hindus felt that it was their right to derive revenues from this land for their temple. Some violence and casualties ensued as a result. A “matter of processions” was added to the dispute and poisoned a little bit more the relations between Hindus and Muslims. Processions were perhaps the most important part of professed cults in India, whether they be Catholic, Muslim or Brahman. One spent a great deal of money on these solemnities, which were accompanied by pomp and ostentation.97

  • 98 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2079.

57In 1908, agitations against the pro-French party of Chanemougam took place in Karaikal. In Pondicherry, the Chanemougamists also seemed to want to “avenge their last defeats and to regain in part the influence they had lost to the advantage of the Europeans.” Once more, they put the unity of lists at the center of their concerns. They repeated that the Indians, who were by far the most numerous, must not be subordinate to a tiny minority of Europeans. Governor Rognon was convinced that these radical Indians, who so skillfully invoked Republican principles to restore their hegemony, were in contact with the nationalists of British India.98

  • 99 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2082.
  • 100 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2084.
  • 101 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2092.

58After a reversal of fortunes during elections in 1909, the radicals placed their hopes in new electoral reform. They did not despair of obtaining the unity of lists, which would allow them to perhaps reconquer the majority in the different electoral councils. For Félix Falk, the duality of lists, which was based on a racial distinction, had “a strong odor of the Old Régime and is reminiscent of the era of ghettoes and of corporations.” It was contrary to Republican principles and was humiliating for Indians considered “overall as being an inferior product of the human mind.”99 Henri Mager was aware that the unity of lists would be a fatal blow to French influence in the colony. But it was, according to him, what should be aimed at. In the interests of the colony, one must “remove from the center of affairs the few Europeans who, in order to satisfy their personal interests, moral as well as material, have taken to maintaining the status quo.” Governor Lévecque considered this demand at least premature. According to him, one must recognize that the European or the assimilated element, however small it might be from different points of view, held in this country too important a place for it not to be allowed to distinguish itself from the great Brahmanical mass which was confused and ignorant one way or another.100 Sadassiva left Pondicherry and decided to await the results of an election in Mahe. The day of his departure, he declared to Lévecque that he would fight with all his energy against Lemaire in order to make Brahmanism triumph over Catholicism.101

  • 102 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2106.

59A decree of 19 September 1910 banned, on the entire territory of Karaikal, “the carrying of arms of any kind and principally of any firearms, sticks and projectiles of whichever kind.” For the Brahmans, this decree was contrary to the policy of progress defined nearly forty years ago by Admiral Pothau, a policy that was beginning precisely to bear fruit. According to some petitioners who were against this decree, the Hindu had resolutely embarked on the path of progress, thanks to his marvelously gifted nature. The petitioners furthermore said that owing to Western civilization, the nature of the land, the economic traditions of the countries, the religious ideas, the moral sentiments, as well as the social habits and the political aspirations of a great many classes of the population had changed, which led, according to them to a British statesman saying that: “marvelous in its past and its present, India cannot fail to surprise Europe in the near future.”102

  • 103 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2111.
  • 104 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2112.

60There was a political assassination on 12 April 1911. The morality of the political parties was such that Governor Martineau could not rule out the hypothesis that here in the East and even the Far East the history of these countries was full of intrigues and of plots where men did not hesitate to organize against their friends real attacks which could not be explained, and “where they will leave the odious parts for their adversaries while themselves assuming the morally beneficial part.”103 Martineau recognized that beyond the rivalries of the leaders, the objectives varied. The Gaebelé party, which was an assemblage of the Europeans (with the exception of the Pierre family), the Créoles, the Topas, the renonçants and fifteen to eighteen thousand Hindus and Muslims, was “a party of conciliation and of understanding between the interests of Europeans and of Indians; its name changes and it becomes the Indo-European party.” The Pierre party consisted of two to three thousand more Indians, who, according to Martineau, had no hatred for France, because in the situation of encirclement by the British, “this hatred would have been sterile;” but he also said that they did not love France either and, as much by their preoccupation to avoid all contact with their compatriots as by their distant aspirations and their certain desires, they constituted a nationalist Indian party of which Mr. Pierre had been the leader since the death of Chanemougam.104

  • 105 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2132.
  • 106 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2135.
  • 107 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2138.

61Like the previous régimes, the Third Republic contemplated on more than one occasion the exchange of the enclaves of India. The earlier projects, elaborated in the 1880s, were limited to the lodges and to the secondary establishments. But, in the years preceding the First World War, the government agreed even to the cession of Pondicherry. In spite of the memories, which were associated with it, in spite of the refusal of its population to come under the yoke of the British, in spite of the industry of guineas and of the trade of groundnuts, which prospered then, the capital of Dupleix was threatened. The perpetual anarchy, which was present, more than the compensations offered by the British, explained that Paris was ready to abandon one of its oldest colonies.105 In France, the “Indo-Chinese academic society,” resuming the arguments of the “Petit Bengali,” was opposed to the cession of Chandernagore. These arguments reiterated that the territorial enlargement of the headquarters could never compensate for the loss of political influence which France retained in the province of Bengal by the possession of this small patch of land called Chandernagore, with these small lodges which were like so many forward sentinels, reminding the people of India that there was in this world someone other than Britain and the people of France, of the glories and errors of the past which it must turn to its advantage in the present and in the future in its dreams of colonial empire.106 In 1855, the press, the “Morning Chronicle” and the “Journal du Havre” for example, had reported a supposed plan to exchange Chandernagore with the Dominican islands and Saint Lucia.107

  • 108 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2141.
  • 109 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2143.

62Even though, personally, he was not in favor of the cession of Pondicherry, Georges Trouillot, the Minister of the Colonies, did not reject this eventuality as categorically. The enclaves of India had incontestably less value in his eyes than the small island of Mangareva. If nevertheless, as he told his Foreign Minister, he thought like the French ambassador in London that the exchange of all French territories in India would not be too high a price to pay for the acquisition of Gambia, he would not be opposed to this question being submitted to the Council of Ministers. He would only want to emphasize his arguments to those of his colleagues who seemed to have been opposed to making such a sacrifice.108 The petitioners of Mahe who were against its cession used arguments of a sentimental and patriotic nature. They stressed that Mahe, “in a green and flowery state,” was the most “enticing of the French colonies,” capable “of rivaling in salubriousness with the best of sanatoriums of the Presidency of Madras.” They also saw themselves furthermore as convinced that France would not cede to the British a colony conquered by the La Bourdonnais and Dupleix’s of unforgettable fame.109

  • 110 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2144.
  • 111 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2292.

63If there was one establishment, which Paris desired more than any other to give up, it was Chandernagore. In addition to the political struggles which were witnessed by Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam one saw in this enclave the manifestation of a nationalism which was more and more vicious and the infringements of French sovereignty by the forces of the British in the pursuit of Bengali terrorists who found refuge there.110 Governor Martineau confirmed the judgment of Bourgourd when he stated that everyone knew and recognized that Chandernagore was a French town only in name: all its interests were British and could only be British. Furthermore, he said that Mr. Bourgourd could also have added that not only were Chandernagore’s interests British, but, what is worse, it was as if the French were not even at home there.111

  • 112 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2216.

64In an article published by the “Colonial Annals,” the local councilor of Yanam, Tota-Narishinhassoimy (Narasimhaswamy), asked the French government, which had “banished slavery, human sacrifice and the ‘sahagamanna,’ which meant burning alive a woman with the body of her deceased husband,” to ban child marriage, as the British had done. According to him, colonization could only be understood if the colonizing people contributed by all means and in all domains to the well-being of the people living in the colonized country. Pauperization, the development of alcoholism and of prostitution proved that “the colonizing people” did not fulfill their mission in India. The weakening of the body, which resulted from malnutrition and from an excess of alcoholic drinks, favored the recrudescence of epidemics.112

  • 113 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2248.

65Even if the number of free medical consultations was in rapid increase, many Indians were wary of western medicine and took to it only as a last resort. The Indian Pariah certainly took less care of himself than the Kanak of Oceania or the African “negroe.” Furthermore, constrained by difficult living conditions, the occasions for being traumatized were for him more frequent. Also, every day, in the free dispensaries, there was an uninterrupted procession of wounds several months old, of varied ulcers and of endless suppurations. All these lesions brought with them general health problems, deformities, vicious scars, and functional impotence; the patient generally decided to consult the doctor only after having exhausted the entire series of applications of empirical schemes.113

  • 114 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2283.

66The uselessness and failure of the open professional school in 1896 were also as obvious. The French had established an industrial school; however, manual labor was not well regarded in India; it was the lower castes which were engaged in it; the students whom these schools recruited were of the lower castes (with their supposed “superstition and ignorance”) but were not the castes of laborers, because these had no use for French education and would in fact be reproachful of it. They were thus condemned to have workers of inferior quality and they were in fact setting up a competing center for those with hereditary training instead of favoring them; this was not a very “skillful form of colonization.”114

  • 115 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2284.

67As a result, it was necessary to dedicate to primary education that is popular education, funds earlier allocated uselessly to secondary and professional education. Such a reform was bound to face resistance on many fronts. Popular education would not go very far. The French would get into conflict with the dominant castes because they would always try hard to prevent the dissemination of education; these castes, as commonly perceived, were afraid that education would uplift the humble people, give them appetites and turn obscure and servile workers into formidable rivals. The upper caste, the Brahman caste, had always tended to conserve the privilege conferred upon it by sacred texts, of receiving education while the other, warrior or laboring castes were in the habit of observing rules made by the Brahmans.115

68From the onset, French rule in the enclaves during the nineteenth century was to be constrained by many adverse factors. The humiliating terms imposed upon it by the British would define the limits within which French colonization had to operate. In sharp contrast to the previous century, France could no longer wage war on England to enlarge its territory. There was to be no Dupleix or La Bourdonnais who would be tempted to view the existing French enclaves as merely toeholds on Indian territory for the establishment of an empire in India. If the French failed during the previous century to realize their dreams of empire, this was rather due to the interpersonal rivalries between their leaders where Dupleix was in favor of the development of a hinterland for the expansion of the activities of the French East India Company whereas La Bourdonnais favored the development of the French navy to facilitate its mastery of the naval routes to India and also due to the inability of the French East India Company to support the statesman-like vision of Dupleix. To a certain extent the differing objectives pursued by leaders of France cancelled each other out. In this sense, ironically, the very narrow confines within which the French operated owing to British domination is perhaps not less than what the French as a whole strove for in the previous century.

69It is perhaps not surprising that the French government was more than eager to let go of Chandernagore, which, in its eyes, was increasingly coming under the British sphere of influence. The actual cession of Chandernagore in 1948 by the French government to India before that of the other enclaves in 1954 can be better understood in the context of this situation in the nineteenth century. Furthermore, as was earlier pointed out, as each of the enclaves with the exception of Pondicherry and Karaikal which are both in Tamil Nadu is very different one from the other due to their geographical locations in different parts of the country with widely differing languages, cultures and ethnicities the development of colonization in these parts would imply a determination of the optimal institutions which could be set up in each of the enclaves. This determination, in theory, was perhaps a more arduous task than contemplating either the assimilation of these institutions to those of France or to those of other colonies or to the exchange of the enclaves as a whole with, for example, the island of Mangareva as was suggested by the French Minister of Colonies, Georges Trouillot.

70The attempted assimilation of local territories by France met with some formidable problems and obstacles. The Brahman, or members of the upper caste, would not be an easy prey. The Pariah, or outcaste, would be their most loyal follower and would represent the triumph of French ambitions. But the tensions between the outcastes and the people of caste would far outweigh the positive outcome of a successful conversion by the French of the Pariah. The plight of these Indians, as has earlier been pointed out, was worse than that of slaves as slaves could and would be emancipated. The caste system was an inherent part of Indian society, an essential constituent of its fabric. It could not be obliterated or dismantled. A foreign culture could at best try to come to terms with it.


1 Les Faits Marquants de l’Inde Française au XIXe siècle, by Jaganou Diagou, pp. 1-2.

2 Les Établissements français en Inde au XIXe siècle (1816-1914), Jacques Weber, vol. 1, Introduction, p. 6.

3 Weber, vol. 1, Introduction, p. 10.

4 Weber, vol. 1, p. 11.

5 Weber, vol. 1, p. 98.

6 Weber, vol. 1, p. 128.

7 Weber, vol. 1, p. 133.

8 Weber, vol. 1, p. 138.

9 Weber, vol. 1, p. 177.

10 Weber, vol. 1, p. 177.

11 Weber, vol. 1, p. 177.

12 Weber, vol. 1, p. 197.

13 Weber, vol. 1, p. 205.

14 Weber, vol. 1, p. 224.

15 Weber, vol. 1, pp. 273-274.

16 Weber, vol. 1, p. 280.

17 Weber, vol. 1, p. 362.

18 Weber, vol. 1, p. 290.

19 Weber, vol. 1, p. 304.

20 Weber, vol. 1, p. 323.

21 Weber, vol. 1, p. 411.

22 Weber, vol. 1, p. 375.

23 Weber, vol. 1, p. 390.

24 Weber, vol. 1, p. 427.

25 Weber, vol. 1, p. 472.

26 Weber, vol. 1, p. 476.

27 Weber, vol. 1, p. 480.

28 Weber, vol. 1, p. 484.

29 Weber, vol. 1, p. 541.

30 Weber, vol. 1, p. 553.

31 Weber, vol. 1, p. 575.

32 Weber, vol. 1, p. 578.

33 Weber, vol. 1, p. 594.

34 Weber, vol. 1, p. 607.

35 Weber, vol. 1, p. 609.

36 Weber, vol. 1, p. 615.

37 Weber, vol. 1, p. 616.

38 Weber, vol. 1, p. 617.

39 Weber, vol. 1, p. 680.

40 Weber, vol. 2, p. 877.

41 Weber, vol. 2, p. 883.

42 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1242.

43 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1242.

44 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1245.

45 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1245.

46 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1250.

47 Weber, vol. 2, p. 1254.

48 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1353.

49 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1370.

50 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1372.

51 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1374.

52 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1374-1375.

53 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1378.

54 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1379.

55 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1379-1380.

56 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1380.

57 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1389.

58 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1393-1394.

59 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1394.

60 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1395.

61 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1396-1397.

62 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1398.

63 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1401-1402.

64 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1410.

65 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1410-1411.

66 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1412-1413.

67 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1413.

68 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1414.

69 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1417-1418.

70 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1418.

71 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1419.

72 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1429-1430.

73 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1443.

74 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1460.

75 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1460-1461.

76 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1461.

77 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1476.

78 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1477.

79 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1487.

80 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1513.

81 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1516.

82 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1517.

83 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1518.

84 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1520-1521.

85 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1522.

86 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1523.

87 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1523-1524.

88 Weber, vol. 3, pp. 1524-1525.

89 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1536.

90 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1537.

91 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1579.

92 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1747.

93 Weber, vol. 3, p. 1855.

94 Weber, vol. 4, pp. 2047-2048.

95 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2051.

96 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2057.

97 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2061.

98 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2079.

99 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2082.

100 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2084.

101 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2092.

102 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2106.

103 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2111.

104 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2112.

105 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2132.

106 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2135.

107 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2138.

108 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2141.

109 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2143.

110 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2144.

111 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2292.

112 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2216.

113 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2248.

114 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2283.

115 Weber, vol. 4, p. 2284.

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