The 1950s was the first decade of India as an independent, sovereign country. After the excitement of the 30s and 40s, it is a decade in which the excitement lies in nation-building. This was a decade of nationalisation in which a number of institutions and projects (e.g. State Bank of India (1955), Bhakra Dam (1955), HMT (1953)) were initiated and the making of a national identity was seriously underway. A browse though the photodivision site will indicate many visits by foreign dignitaries – Khrushchev, Eisenhower, Zhou-enlai, Che, Jesse Owens all visited. The decade marked the beginning of the Republic Day parade intended to showcase India’s varied and differing cultures as well as culture as a national project, e.g. the Lalit Kala Academy came into existence in 1954.
India had its first general elections in 1951/52. It set in motion a one-party rule at the centre that only changed in 1977.
1951 onwards we had Five Year Plans, based on the then Soviet Union’s planning model.
1953 marked the beginning of states based on linguistic considerations with the creation of the then Seemandhra leading to the States Reorganisation Act. By the end of the decade, Bombay State split into two to form Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The Hindu Marriage Act intended to bring about reform was enacted in 1955. Amongst other things it increased the legal age of marriage and introduced inheritance for daughters.
India was not the only country to free itself from colonialism. The 1955 Bandung Conference brought together several of these countries in Asia and Africa with the intent of economic co-operation and to oppose colonialism.
At the end of the 1940s India was dependent on imports for many materials. This didn’t change in some areas but textiles of the non-handloom kind were increasingly made in India. You can see this in clothing of the time, with art silk, rayon, georgette and nylon becoming more readily available.
The arts – and in particular the movies – brought about an “Indian look”. While regional differences remained, what we wore was increasingly similar across states, be it the sari or the salwar kameex. The six yard sari drape we are familiar with kind of became the “Indian look” in this decade including longer more Indian hairstyles, the bindi and the gajra.
Usually I try and include a piece on an actress of the decade. But this decade has a long list of well known actresses who are still remembered, amongst them Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis, Vyjayanthimala, Suchitra Sen, Savithri, Bhanumati, so I will pass. Though Bhanumathi gets a honourable mention as a writer, actress, producer and director which was rather unusual for the decade. This was also a decade of strong roles for women, even when the roles are cast in the “ideal Indian womanhood” mould.
Year of photograph: 1956.