In photos: The story of India, an emerging giant 75 years in the making
Born as an independent nation on August 15, 1947, India turns 75 as an emerging powerhouse but still facing daunting hurdles despite its spirited triumphs. Here is its story in pictures.
August 13, 2022
13 August 2022
“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 throes of tumult, daunting hurdles and terrible tragedies, as well as its spirited triumphs.
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.
Images of an infant democracy
Muslim refugees sit on the roof of an overcrowded coach railway train near New Delhi, trying to flee India on September 19, 1947. About five million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan after India gained its independence. (AP Photo)
The body of assassinated Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, covered with rose petals, is carried to the site of his cremation in New Delhi on January 31, 1948. (Max Desfor, File)
Voters receive ballots from polling station officials for India’s first general election in a rural Delhi state village in December 1951. (AP Photo)
Armed East Pakistan fighters head for the battlefront by pedicab, in Jessore, East Pakistan on April 2, 1971. (AP Photo/File)
Two Tibetans haul long sticks of wood along a mountain road in the North East Frontier Area as they aid the Indians battling the Chinese military on November 15, 1962. (Dennis Lee Royle/AP)
India emerged quickly from the tumult and in 1951 took a democratic leap by holding its first general elections.
But it soon 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.
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.
Visions of upheaval and progress
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee wave upon Vajpayee’s arrival in Wagha border, 28km from Lahore, Pakistan on February 20, 1999. Vajpayee arrived for talks with Sharif to pave a way to mend the deteriorated bilateral relationship between the two nations for the first time since the both countries conducted nuclear testing the previous year. (B.K.Bangash/AP)
Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shake hands after signing an agreement calling for the withdrawal of forces from their borders on June 28, 1972. (AP Photo)
Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev hugs Indian bowler Madan Lal while the rest of the Indian team celebrate at Lord’s as India wins the Prudential World Cup Final in London on June 25, 1983. (Peter Kemp/AP)
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 on May 24, 1991. Gandhi was killed by a Sri Lankan suicide bomber. (Denis Paquin/AP)
Hindu fundamentalists walk along the perimeter wall of the disputed site of a Ram temple to be built where the Babri mosque, at rear behind trees, still stood when this picture was taken in Ayodhya in December 1992. Militant Hindus later stormed the 430-year old Muslim mosque and destroyed it. (Udo Weitz/AP)
Muslim separatists come into the streets with guns, defying an army curfew and demanding independence in Kashmir on January 23, 1990. The region’s fury at Indian rule has been long seething. (Ajit Kumar/AP)
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.
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 anti-Muslim riots, leading to the death of at least 1000 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 Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out a series of attacks in Mumbai, leaving 166 people dead.
Faces that tell of a modern giant’s challenges
A man runs to escape heat from multiple funeral pyres of Covid-19 victims at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi in April 2021. India’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be a staggering 10 times the official Covid-19 toll of 414,000, likely making it modern India’s worst human tragedy. (AP Photo/Amit Sharma, File)
Commuters travel on an overloaded truck outside Calcutta on May 10, 2000. India’s population officially hit one billion a day later. (Bikas Das/AP)
Competitors ride on the promenade at Rajpath in front of the landmark India Gate monument in the Commonwealth Games men’s 168km cycling road race on October 10, 2010. (Kevin Frayer/AP)
Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati is presented with a gold crown by her supporters in Mumbai on November 25, 2007. Mayawati, the country’s most prominent Dalit leader, pulled off a surprise election victory in the country’s most populous state. Dalits form the lowest rung of India’s Hindu caste hierarchy. (Rajesh Nirgude/AP)
India’s most famous prisoner of conscience Irom Sharmila, who had 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, Nov. 3, 2014. (Anupam Nath/AP)
The 2010s marked a significant change in India’s politics and public discourse.
In 2012, the country experienced 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, and his rule since has been marked by increased religious polarization and contentious decisions such as scrapping Kashmir’s semi-autonomy.
India again convulsed in nationwide protests in 2020 and 2021 against a religious-driven citizenship law and controversial agricultural reforms. They coincided with one of the country’s biggest challenges: a tsunami of coronavirus cases.