The French were the last among the European powers that sought to establish their trade stations and their maritime might in India through the new sea-route discovered by the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama. The French first came to Surat in 1666 after obtaining an imperial firman from the Moghul Emperor Aurangazeb. And wandering from the West to the East they finally established themselves in a village on the Coromandel Coast in 1674, with permission of Sher Khan Lodi a governor of the Bijapur Sultan.
With this foothold on the East Coast, which became their main stay over the next 280 years, the French dreams of an Indian Empire began and ended - here in Pondicherry. During this period, but for brief spells when the area slipped in and out of their hands, the minuscule scattered territories which today comprise the centrally administered Union Territory of Pondicherry - to which granting of full Statehood has been announced recently in Parliament, - remained under French administration for well nigh 230 years. Till the time of their de facto transfer to the Indian Union on November 1st 1954 , and the de jure transfer on August 16 the 1963 subsequent to which the Indian laws were made applicable.
The French however did not bring the administration system of their country immediately on arrival. For carrying out the day to day administration, they relied on the existing native infrastructure on which they established and super imposed in 1702 a supreme body called "CONSEIL SUPERIEUR" with both administrative and judicial powers. This Council was presided over by the Governor who was also the Commandant of the Town and the Fort. Occupation and re-occupation of various settlements in India marked the period up to 1815 after which there was continuous French presence.
A civil police system seems to have been in existence in this part of the country even before the arrival of the French - Which apparently, the foreigners merely adapted to carry on their day to day affairs. The "Nayinar" was the native chieftain responsible for the maintenance of law and order, holding the office by hereditary rights. He could only be replaced if found guilty of embezzlement. The expenses were to be covered by levy on goods and foodgrains entering the town by the land or sea. Under this local chieftain were functionaries with varied designations - like Paleyagars (petty chieftains ) and Thalavayes (a term still existence to denote a police official at the level of a sub-Inspector), to Bechecars equated in rank almost on par with the Nayinar under the French.
The local Chieftains detailed night patrolling in the town to prevent robberies and theft. Peons under a chief peon guarded villages, and there was a cadre of night watchmen. There were the Thaleyaries too, an important functionary that carried the edicts and public notices to every nook and corner of the land for public announcement, often through the beat of drum. In Karaikal, the functions of the police were performed by petty landlords known as 'visiadars' who, however, were reputed instead to have behaved like petty tyrants, plundering their own villages, while extorting ransom from travellers.
The appellation sipaye adapted from the Persian word meaning warrior, seems to have been accepted for the first time in 1741, when Governor Joseph Francois Dupleix organised the first units effectively. Sipayees in thousands were recruited exclusively from Muslims whose courage and loyalty were witnessed by the French during the war against the Marathas. But these warriors of the later Sepoy Company with the Republican Guards, from the very inception were also supposed to maintain law and order, and used for Guard of Honour, guarding of palaces, residences, and government offices.In a kind of combined concept of the Armed Police and the Indigenous local constabulary together, the Sipayees as early as in the times of Francois Martin in 1676, were also for combat purposes, with Indian combatants used alongside white troops for the defence of Pondicherry. with Indian combatants used alongside white troops for the defence of Pondicherry . In 1740 under Governor Dumas there was further distinction, giventhese troops the looks of a military Corps with vague resemblance to regular troops.
The Corps of Sipayes was reorganised in 1773 with each company under a 'white' commandant, with Indian subedars and Jamedars. And recruitment then was restricted too purely from among caste Indians, In later days, people came to distinguish the two- the Armed and the Indigenous, by the colour of their Keppe (headgear). While the law and order police wore the bright red cap, the Armed units were conspicuous by their blue Kepees.
Gradually one can seen an admixture of duties for these members of the police force, combining municipal duties with combative ones. In 1790 the 'Reglement General de Police' was established , with the introduction the Lieutenant de Police as the head of the police force responsible not only for law and order, but also to sit on judgement over disputes that came under the purview of the 'Choultry Court' with jurisdiction extending over Pondicherry and its dependencies. Another distinction was also introduced wherein the 'Inspecteurs Municipaux' were empowered to take cognizance of offences - Indicating a mixture of municipal duties alongside law and order functions. The Pondicherry the Gazetteer also mentions that, the Chief local police officer during the early French period was known as 'grand prevot'. And that he maintained a body of mounted police (Mare chausee) for patrolling the town during the night. The nayinar had to report to the Lieutenant de police the notable events of the town.
The treaties of 1814 and 1815 between the French and the British are said to be a land mark because it provided for consolidation of the French possessions and factories in India . In Pondicherry , Karaikal, Mahe, Yanam and Chandernagore. Simultaneously various steps were also taken to streamline the administration in the consolidated territories. At this stage, the entire police set up came to be headed by a 'commissaire Juge de police'. This position however was abolished in 1856, while creating in the same Ordinance two new posts of Inspectors to supervise the policing over the newly created three districts. While proposing to centralise the police administration in this Ordinance, it was also decided to appoint for the first time a Mayor for Pondicherry so as to pave the way for a municipal organisation.
In this reorganisation of the police set up, the Justice of Peace became the Mayor, holding also the office of Directeur de la Police. Functioning directly under the control of the 'Ordonateur' (who represented the Governor a position akin to that of a Chief Secretary), the chief civic functionary while seen to be the Mayor, was at the same time presided over judicial functions as the Justice of Peace, and in charge of the Special Directorate of Police as its chief. This Ordinance also describes the various levels of functionaries in the police administration, indicating the position, duties and remuneration in respect of the Nayinars, Bechecars, Paleyagars, Thalavayes, etc. A distinction is made between the administrative police and the rural police. The concept of 'Police Court' and 'Ministe're Public' gets introduced.
In a subsequent Ordinance within a month thereafter in the same year, the reorganisation is refined further. The existence and superimposition of Muslim influenced Urdu (Persian?) terminology of Thabedars and Thanedars, as also the very familiar North Indian Kotwal concept is noticed, and gets prominently covered. The duties of the Cotwals' as old texts project, bordered more on civic municipal ones in the local Bazaar, than on actual prevention and detection of crime, or maintenance of law and order. The police stations now get referred to as Thanas in this Ordinance, with Pondicherry town divided into five quarters-each designated as a Thana jurisdiction. On 25th April 1876, the set up was widened to increase the size and scope of the police organisation, which hitherto was under the control of the Bureau du Domaine.A new system of hierarchy and unity of command is devised, with a 'Directeur de la police' at the top to be assisted by the two inspectors (commissionaires) - positions created in the Ordinance of 1956 with two additional - one each for Bahour and Villianur. On 1st March 1889 the administrative, the judicial and municipal police of Pondicherry region are brought under a joint set-up concurrently responsible to the Directeur de I'Interieur (Home Secretary), Procurer General and all 'Maires' (Mayors) respectively. The commissaire de Police Central now becomes the highest police official.
In 1906 the strength of the police force was reduced, with also the abolition of the 'Cipahis de I'Inde'in the following year. This was sought to be compensated by the creation of Garde Vicile Indigene headed by a Capitaine Commandant. A 1922 notification thereafter designates the head of the police force as Chef du Service de Police et de la Surete-indicating thereby the introduction of the Special Branch and the Security Police. In 1941 the combined police outfits-both, the local police and the Detachment de la Gendarmerie (Compagnie de Cipahis), together came to be now called as Section de la Gendarmerie 'Auxilliaire Indigene,brought under a unified command to be known as Forces Publiques des etablissements Francias dans I'Inde. The combined force then consisted of 629 men. The Chief is now redesignated as the Commandant des Forces Publiques de I'Inde Francaise. In a write up of 1943, Monseieur Le Chef d'Escadron Petignot the then Commandant les Forces Publiques de I'Inde Francaise, speaks of the Indigenous police constabulary entrusted with ensuring administrative police and judicial police in most parts of the territory where all the castes and almost all races exist, having to make enquiries in as many as eight different languages - French, English, Tamil, Hindustani, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali and Oriya indicating the extraordianry situation which this police force was required to function it.
After the merger in 1954 the entire police force was placed under the command of an Inspector General of Police, who then was an officer of the rank of only a Superintendent of Police in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
The police administration continued to be carried on thought in accordance with the French regulations up to 30th September 1963 . Only with the extension of Indian laws to the territory with effect from 1st October 1963 , the police administration came to be in accordance with the provisions of the Indian Police Act 1861. Then the Anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 that engulfed the entire region and its neighbourhood in Tamil Nadu and brought to the fore the inadequacies of the police force to meet the law and order requirements of this Territory, promoted the government to appoint the Balakrishna Shetty Committee. Pending its report, the functioning was further streamlined through an amendment to the Police Act 1861 in its application to the Territory by the Police (Pondicherry Amendment) Act 1966enacted to suit local conditions, based on the pattern of the neighbouring Tamil Nadu Act.
The new scheme of reorganisation as proposed by the team headed by Sri Balakrishna Shetty came into effect on 1st June 1967 and continues as such till date. For purposes of maintenance of law and order the entire Union territory was divided into 2 divisions, into Pondicherry division and Karaikal division. Subsequently, a Pondicherry Police Commission under Shri Pon Paramaguru was established in 1990, whose Report was submitted to the government in 1991 suggesting various charges, augmentation of manpower, and introduction of various policing wings as are prevalent and is required in any efficient modern police force. The recommendations therein, except very minor ones, are yet to see the light of day. The Government of India , in the meantime, have notified on 3 rd March 1998, upgrading the post of the police chief to that of a full-fledged Inspector General.
Today the bright red cap (in the French Kepi pattern) continues to be retained as the headgear of the constabulary levels-both for the local Police, as also the armed police. This is now the only reminder left, of the French hangover in Pondicherry .