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This day, that year: How the world saw August 15, 1947

Adrija Roychowdhury writes: The front pages of newspapers across the world the next day reflected this change — capturing the culmination of India’s fight for freedom, the birth of two nations and the celebrations, as well as the accompanying massacre.

Written by Adrija Roychowdhury |
Updated: August 15, 2021 9:53:46 am
Jawaharlal Nehru addresses the nation from Red Fort on Independence Day, August 15, 1947. (Express Archive)

Indian Independence was a historic moment for the world. Not only was it won by the Gandhian principle of non-violence, the ceding of its largest and most important colony by Great Britain marked the beginning of the end of colonialism — with the imperial powers of Europe left with neither the stomach nor the resources to hold on to territories following the Second World War.

The front pages of newspapers across the world the next day reflected this change — capturing the culmination of India’s fight for freedom, the birth of two nations and the celebrations, as well as the accompanying massacre. Incidentally unlike Punjab’s partition, the pain of Bengal’s division went largely unnoticed.

The New York Times

It carried the map of the Indian subcontinent as it stood on August 15, 1947, with a report including both the celebrations to mark Independence and the horrors of Partition. It also noted that a number of princely states were yet to decide which side to pick — India or Pakistan — meaning that the India map carried by NYT left out the states of Hyderabad and Kashmir. The other headlines on the front page were also reflective of the after effects of the Second World War, from the Israel-Palestine tension to the strained ties between America and Soviet Union.

The Washington Post

It was more subdued in its coverage of India’s Independence, carrying a long double column without a picture, but noting that the celebrations were held “in oriental pomp and splendor — marred by bloodshed, death and terror”. It also gave space to the Tryst with Destiny speech of Jawaharlal Nehru. The newspaper though seemed more interested in a heat wave sweeping the US, noting that it had caused many to “leave jobs early again”.

Chicago Daily Tribune

The focus of this American news daily was Lord Mountbatten taking oath as the first governor-general of India, with a headline saying “Mountbatten new Governor of Hindu India”. On the second page, it had a section dedicated to Pakistan under the headline, “Jinnah frosty as he wins his dream of Moslem state”. It praised the role of Mahatma Gandhi, and carried a large cartoon titled ‘The End of the Story’ showing a ship departing India as a tiger, a snake, a monkey, an Indian and an Englishman watch on. The most eye-catching thing about the front page though was the large banner headline, “Population Up 9 Million”.

The Irish Times

One of the very first British colonies to gain independence, Ireland shared a special solidarity with India. The Irish daily hence celebrated Indian Independence, noting, “The last stroke of midnight, booming from the dome of New Delhi’s Parliament buildings, set off the highest, noisiest and most joyful celebrations ever experienced in the East.” It carried a picture of the flag of the new country of Pakistan. But the pride of place on the page was to a picture of four quadruplets born to an “English war bride” — the term for women who married nationals of other countries during the war — “enjoying a shower-bath from a watering can”.

The Daily Telegraph

The British daily’s front page devoted a large section to Indian Independence, but focused more on the communication between the British and Indian political elite. “Indians praise Britain” said one story, another talked of “British sagacity”, and a third of the Earldom conferred on Loud Mountbatten. The visual was a large photograph of the Residency of Lucknow, with the caption: “The Union Jack flying from the tower of the ruined Residency at Lucknow, from which it had never been lowered since recapture of the town after the siege of 1857.”

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