Look: Rare photos of India's 75 years of independence

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom, the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said

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Photos: AP File
Photos: AP File


Published: Sat 13 Aug 2022, 11:25 AM

Last updated: Sat 13 Aug 2022, 12:33 PM

"At the stroke of the midnight hour,” India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said, “when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”

The historic speech just before midnight on August 15, 1947 turned the hopes of millions into reality. India was a free, independent country. Its British colonial history was in the past. A new future beckoned.

Seventy-five years on, India is a vastly changed country. Its story is told through its throbs of tumult, daunting hurdles, spirited triumphs and terrible tragedies.

This is the story of India.


Before leaving the Indian subcontinent, British colonialists drew an imaginary line that led to the creation of India and Pakistan, a process that triggered massive migration and religious riots. Hundreds of thousands died in the violence. Some 12 million people fled their homes.

That same year, India and Pakistan fought their first war over disputed Kashmir, leading to the region being divided between the rival countries.

The wounds of partition were still fresh when independence leader Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.

India emerged quickly from the tumult and in 1951 took a democratic leap by holding its first general elections.

But soon India met with a crisis on its borders. In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed Tibetan uprising. Three years later, in 1962, India and China were at war.

In 1971, India fought another war with Pakistan, this time over New Delhi's involvement in the independence of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The body of assassinated Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, covered with rose petals, is carried to the site of his cremation in New Delhi, January 31, 1948.

Voters receive ballots from polling station officials for India's first General Election in a rural Delhi state village in India around December 14, 1951.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, left, visits the Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal head of Tibet, at Birla House in the hill station of Mussoorie, India on April 24, 1959. The Dalai Lama fled Communist Chinese-controlled Tibet and is living in exile at Birla House.

Two Tibetans haul long sticks of wood along a mountain road in the North East Frontier Area as they aid the Indians in battling the Chinese Red invaders, Nov. 15, 1962. The Tibetans, refugees from the fighting front, had settled in the area after being driven from their home.


India's democracy went through a major test in 1975 when Gandhi declared a formal emergency. It lasted nearly two years and culminated with her ouster from office.

A 1983 victory in the Cricket World Cup fulfilled a million dreams, but a year later India was shaken by two cataclysmic events.

Gandhi, who had returned to power in 1980 elections, ordered an army siege on the Golden Temple in Punjab in 1984 to crush Sikh extremism. That same year she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, leading to massive anti-Sikh riots.

Dramatic progress came with historic reforms in the 1990s that spurred growth. But it coincided with major upheaval, including an armed insurgency in disputed Kashmir.

In 1991, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber. In 1992, Hindu mobs demolished a historic mosque in Ayodhya city, sparking countrywide riots. And in 1993, a series of explosions shook Mumbai city and killed more than 250 people.

India chose to show its military might in 1998 by conducting a series of five nuclear tests; Pakistan followed with its own tests. In 1999, the two countries fought a limited war in Kargil.

Armed East Pakistan fighters head for the battle front by pedicab, in Jessore, East Pakistan on April 2, 1971. The town, near the border with India, was the scene of fierce fighting between East Pakistan followers of Bengali nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Pakistan Army forces.

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, right, and President of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shake hands after signing and agreement in the Governor's Mansion, in Simla, India, June 28, 1972. After several days of talks, the agreement calls for the withdrawal of forces from their borders and renunciation of the use of force.

Indian cricket team captain Kapil Dev, second from left, hugs Indian bowler Madan Lal while the rest of the Indian team celebrate at Lord's after Gavaskar had caught West Indian, Larry Gomes, for five of the bowling of Madan Lal during the Prudential World Cup Final in London, June 25, 1983. India won the World Cup for the first time in 1983.

A Sikh militant holds field glasses to look at government troops from his perch on the Golden Temple in Amritsar as the Indian Army moved men into positions near the temple complex, June 5, 1984. On June 6, 1984, Indian troops attacked to flush out occupying militants. About 1,200 people died in the fighting. The storming of the temple followed weeks of growing tension between the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Sikhs in the northern state of Punjab. Gandhi was killed in reprisal by her Sikh bodyguards four months later.

Firemen use a hose to wet canvas screens at factory boundaries to prevent the spread of dangerous fumes at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, December, 1984. On December 3, 1984, the pesticide plant run by Union Carbide leaked about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the air, killing an estimated 15,000 people and affecting at least 500,000 more. Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co. took over Union Carbide in 2001.

Separatists come into the streets with guns, defying an army curfew and demanding independence in Kashmir, Monday, January 23, 1990.

Supporters of the anti-reservation movement hoist a colleague in the air during a massive rally near parliament house in New Delhi on Tuesday, October 2, 1990. The affirmative action plan for lower castes have sparked a series of protests by upper caste students who say it will deprive them employment opportunities.

Rajiv Gandhi's wife Sonia, center, and her two children, Rahul and Priyanka, look back from the burning pyre after the body of the former Indian Prime Minister was set on fire during his funeral in New Delhi, Friday, May 24, 1991. Gandhi was killed by a Sri Lankan suicide bomber at an election rally in Sriperumbudur in Southern India.

Fundamentalists walk along the perimeter wall of the disputed site of a temple to be built where the Babri mosque, at rear behind trees, still stood when this picture was taken in Ayodhya, December 6, 1992.

The skeletal remains of a transport bus are seen alongside burning vehicles and damaged buildings outside Bombay's Passport Office after a massive explosion, March 12, 1993. Twelve bombs exploded in less than 20 minutes at various locations, killing hundreds in India's financial capital. According to the Bombay Police, the prime culprit Dawood Ibrahim, who masterminded the attacks, is still at large.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, second left, Defence Minister George Fernandes, centre, founder of the Indian nuclear program A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, centre right, and Atomic Energy Chief R. Chidambaram display the victory symbol during a visit to the Shakti 1 test site, where India tested nuclear devices a week earlier, in Pokhran, India, May 20, 1998.

Indian artillery guns are engulfed in smoke in Dras, some 155 kilometres (96 miles) in north of Srinagar, India, on Saturday, July 10, 1999. The conflict with Pakistan that raged for three months across the disputed Kashmir region had nearly brought the nuclear neighbours to a war.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, left, and his Indian counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee wave upon Vajpayee's arrival in Wagah border, 28 kilometres (17 miles) from Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, February 20, 1999. Vajpayee arrived for talks with Sharif to pave a way to mend the deteriorated bi-lateral relationship between the two nations for the first time since the both countries conducted nuclear testing last year.


The new millennium started on a grim note: A massive earthquake in Gujarat state killed more than 20,000 people.

A year later, in 2002, the state erupted in riots, leading to the death of at least 1,000 people. In 2004, a huge tsunami triggered by a massive undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean killed more than 10,000 Indians.

India signed a nuclear accord with the US in 2008. The same year, the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out a series of attacks in Mumbai, leaving 166 people dead.

The 2010s marked a significant change in India's politics and public discourse.

In 2012, the country saw widespread protests after the gang rape and murder of a 22-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi. The protests led to tougher laws against rape.

Two years later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a landslide victory in general elections. Modi repeated the feat in 2019.

India again convulsed in nationwide protests in 2020 and 2021 against a citizenship law and controversial agricultural reforms. They coincided with one of the country's biggest challenges: a tsunami of coronavirus cases.

Commuters travel on an overloaded truck outside Calcutta, India, Wednesday, May 10, 2000. India's population officially hit 1 billion a day later on May 11, 2000, an event marked with fanfare and concern over the nation's too-rapid growth.

An aerial view shows the destruction in the town of Anjar, India, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Bhuj, Tuesday, January 30, 2001. The 7.9 magnitude quake in Gujarat state killed more than 20,000 people.

Razia, a Muslim woman, cries while praying by her destroyed home near Ahmedabad, India, March 2, 2002. Vengeful mobs torched homes, killing scores, as rioting spread through western Gujarat state leading to the death of at least 1,000 in one of India's worst strife.

Paliyamma grieves on returning to her damaged house at a fishermen's colony hit by the tsunami, in Nagappattinam, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, December 31, 2004. The huge tsunami triggered by a massive undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean killed more than 10,000 Indians. Paliyamma lost seven members of her family.

An Indian soldier takes cover as the Taj Mahal hotel burns during a gun battle between Indian military and militants inside the hotel in Mumbai, India, November 29, 2008. The three days of terror in Mumbai carried out by the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba left 166 people dead.

Competitors from various nations ride in a pack on the promenade at Rajpath in front of the landmark India Gate monument in the men's 168 km cycling road race during the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, Sunday, October 10, 2010. India hosted the Games for the first time in 2010.

India's most famous prisoner of conscience Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike since November 2000 to protest against the Armed Forces Special (Powers) Act, cries by her bed at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, November 3, 2014. The act gives the military sweeping powers to search, arrest and even shoot suspects. Sharmila ended her 16-year hunger strike on August. 9, 2016.

Indian cricketers celebrate their win with the trophy in the Cricket World Cup final match against Sri Lanka in Mumbai, India April 2 , 2011. India won the Cup for the second time, after almost three decades.

Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati, centre, is presented with a gold crown by her supporters at a public rally, in Mumbai, India November 25, 2007. In 2007, Indian politics saw a major shift when the country's most prominent Dalit leader, Mayawati, pulled off a surprise election victory in the country's most populous state. Dalits form the lowest rung of India's Hindu caste hierarchy.

Protesters shield themselves as police beat them with sticks during a violent demonstration near the India Gate against a gang rape and brutal beating of a 23-year-old student on a bus last week, in New Delhi, India December 23, 2012. The attack sparked widespread protests across the country, leading to tougher laws against rape.

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India's next prime minister Narendra Modi greets the gathering at the home of his 90-year-old mother in Gandhinagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Friday, May 16, 2014. Modi won the most decisive election victory the country has seen in more than a quarter century and swept the long-dominant Congress party from power.

A gay rights activist celebrates after the country's top court struck down a colonial-era law that made homosexual acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison, in New Delhi, India September 6, 2018. India’s Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a landmark victory for gay rights that one judge said would “pave the way for a better future.”

An Indian national flag, left, flies next to a Jammu and Kashmir state flag on the Civil Secretariat building, in Srinagar, Kashmir August 9, 2019. On August 5, 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government passed legislation in Parliament that stripped Jammu and Kashmir's statehood, scrapped its separate constitution and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.

Indians wave national flags and shout slogans behind a police barricade during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in New Delhi, India, Friday, December 20, 2019.

Indian farmers wait for the outcome of a meeting with the government at the protest site against new agricultural laws, on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, December 3, 2020. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government had insisted that the laws were necessary reforms to modernize Indian farming and would lead to a deregulated market with more private-sector control of agriculture. The farmers said the laws would drastically shrink their incomes and leave them at the mercy of big corporations. After a year, Modi made a surprise announcement to withdraw them.

A man runs to escape heat from multiple funeral pyres of Covid-19 victims at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Thursday, April 29, 2021. India's excess deaths during the pandemic could be a staggering 10 times the official Covid-19 toll, likely making it modern India's worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research yet on the ravages of the virus in the South Asian country. Most experts believe India's official toll of more than 414,000 dead is a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading.


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