Mid 20th century was clearly a dramatic time for the global order. The trauma of the Second World War had its grip firmly over the psyche of the Western powers and the colonial powers were facing the wrath of the added expenses brought forth by their colonies. As the Western world reeled under its internal and external pressures, one piece of news from the oriental part of the globe had shaken it up further, enough to make its way to the front page of all the major newspapers of the world. The jewel in the crown of the British empire was lost and had found itself a space in the world map, independent of the authority of its colonial masters. Further, this long drawn battle for independence had been won at a cost, as not one but two independent nations had emerged on August 15, 1947, leaving the South Asian region soaked in blood of the Partition riots that had accompanied it.
Indian independence was a historic moment for the world. The largest and most important colony of the British empire was freed. Further, the route to freedom for India was unique in its capacity that it drew on the Gandhian theory of non-violence, something that went on to inspire several leaders across the globe. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the major newspapers of the world had culled out a significant part of their front pages to underline the nationalist aspirations, the birth of the two nations and the celebrations as well as massacre that accompanied the same. Incidentally though, while the partition of Punjab and the bloodshed resulting from it, made its way to the front pages of almost every newspaper, the partition of Bengal was barely ever mentioned at all.
Here is how some of the major newspapers of the world reported on Indian independence in 1947.
The New York Times
Flaunting a large map of the Indian subcontinent, as it stood on August 15, 1947, the front page of the American daily, New York Times reported on the celebration of freedom on one hand and the grief of partition on the other. Further, it also reported on the fact that a number of princely states were yet to decide on the nationality they wished to adhere to. The ambiguity of the status of the princely states was made evident from the map which left out states like Hyderabad and Kashmir that had not yet made up their mind.
The Washington Post
The front page of the Washington Post carried a long reportage on the celebrations following Indian independence. The paper made a keen observation of the oriental pomp accompanying the celebrations. “They began a new chapter of two independent dominions with celebrations in oriental pomp and splendor- marred by bloodshed, death and terror in wide sections of the country,” wrote the paper. The speech of Nehru, the celebratory mood in the Red Fort and the burning of Punjab were all reported under the headline “India achieves sovereignty, amid scenes of wild rejoicing.”
The Chicago Tribune
The focus of the American news daily Chicago Tribune, on the other hand, was on Lord Mountbatten taking oath as the first governor-general of India. While reporting on the increasing death toll in Punjab and the celebration of the role of Gandhi, the Chicago Tribune’s reportage referred to the newly born nations as “Hindu India” and “Muslim Pakistan”. The second page of the newspaper carried a special section dedicated to Pakistan under the headline, “Jinnah frosty as he wins his dream of Moslem state.”
The Irish Times
One of the very first British colonies to gain independence, Ireland shared a special solidarity with India in her long sought after freedom. Accordingly, the Irish daily laid its focus on the Indian accomplishment of independence. “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,” wrote the newspaper under the headline, “India celebrates as Britain hands over control.”
The Daily Telegraph
The celebrated British daily chalked a large portion of their front page to reportage of Indian independence. Large portions of their report were devoted to the communication between the British and Indian political elite, while a significant section was headed as “Indians praise Britain” and another as “British sagacity”. A photograph of the Union Jack at the Residency of Lucknow adorned the front page as well which said that “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. It was hauled down for the first and last time at midnight last night, marking the transference of power to the Dominion of India (Hindustan).”
The Times of India, the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times
Back home, the news dailies like Times of India, Hindustan Times and the Indian Express were paginated with the pride of independence. The front page of each of the papers were basking in glory of the jubilation being observed across the cities of Delhi and Bombay as Nehru delivered his ‘tryst with destiny’ speech. The birth of Pakistan too was given due importance as the paper reported on Jinnah’s communication with Britain regarding the future relationship between Pakistan and its former coloniser. Also reported were the tasks ahead for the newfound nations.
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