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Au revoir, French gendamerie

No one seems to have noticed that a historic colonial influence is fast waning, writes Rahul Singh.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2007 03:14 IST

Petanque — a French game — still lights up the faces of young men at the Cercle Sportif de Pondicherry and the policemen sporting the uniform of French gendarmerie (military police) provide excellent images of the history of this seaside town.

The culture of Pondicherry remains steeped in its French heritage, but no one — except former French combatants — seems to have noticed that a historic colonial influence is fast waning.

The tradition of joining the French Armed Forces is not far from being consigned to history. The decision by France to become a professional military in 2001 did away with conscription or compulsory military service.

Today, Pondicherry hardly has any takers for French military, which was a sought after career option since France introduced national service in 1905.

After Pondicherry gained independence from French rule in 1954, citizens were given the option to retain their French nationality or become Indian citizens.

The French nationals had to serve the military. As of now, Pondicherry has at least 7,000 French citizens, exclusive of unregistered voters. S Sattianandame, a former Sergeant Chief in Armee de Terre — the land forces component of the French Armed Forces — and President of French Under-officers' Ex-servicemen Association, told HT: “It is saddening that more than a century of French history is coming to an end.

The last conscripts did their turn in 2001.” Pondicherry accounts for about 145 French ex-servicemen, including three officers and about 100 soldiers are estimated to be serving in Armee de Terre, Armee de l’Air (air force) and Marine Nationale (Navy).

By Indian standards, France offers attractive retirement packages to combatants — ranging from Euro 600-800. But times have changed and children want more now.

Bertrand Moganaradjou, an aged social worker, proudly walked in his father’s footsteps and served Armee de l'Air for 21 years. But his 20-year-old son had no plan to follow suit. Moganaradjou said: “I feel bad that a great tradition is ending. But let us face it, youngsters have better avenues right here in India.” But Sattianandame’s association is not giving up just yet. Programmes are being organised to motivate young men. An ex-corporal chief said, “I dread to imagine that after the current crop of soldiers is gone, there would be no one to relive a glorious past at the Foyer du Soldat (a meeting ground for ex-combatants)."

Email Rahul Singh: rahulsingh@hindustantimes.com