Today is the 14th of July. Nobody cares about this day in India. It comes and goes every year. But in France, the 14th July is the most important day of the year. The whole France shuts down to celebrate the national holiday. And a student of history, I am always excited on this day.
On the 14th July, 1789 a mob in Paris stormed the Bastille Fort and set free all prisoners. The great French Revolution happened. France was ruled by Loius the 16th. Marie Antoinette was the Queen who famously advised the poor to eat cakes when they clamoured for bread!
The royal couple lived in the Palace of Versailles amidst such opulence as begs description. The poor starved. Something like India of 2019 where rich kids gorge on pizzas and burgers and poor kids die from “chamki bukhar“! When hunger and injustice become unbearable, revolutions take place. Revolutions sweep away mighty monarchs and leaders with 56-inch chests. Some revolutions are bloody. Some are bloodless. When the French proletariat’s cup of woes overflowed, the mob took to streets.
Louis the 16th kept his political opponents behind bars in the Bastille Fort. The Fort was like the Cellular Jail at the Andaman Islands also known as Kala Pani during the British Raj. A dreaded prison where inmates were tortured and their screams rent the air. Some committed suicide, unable to bear indignity. The Bastille Fort symbolised the King’s tyranny. Therefore, on the 14th July, 1789 the Paris mob moved towards the Fort. Even sentries of the Fort joined hands with attackers. Gates of Bastille were thrown open. Prisoners were set free and the French Revolution was set into motion. When the news of Bastille’s fall reached the King, he was aghast. “This is a revolt”: said the King. “No, no. It is not a revolt. It is a REVOLUTION” the messenger corrected the King. The messenger’s sense of history was greater than the King ‘s! Both the King and the Queen were later beheaded.
A gentleman named Guillotine invented an instrument which cut heads without making a mess. Loius the 16th and Marie Antoinette were guillotined. The French Revolution gave the world an immortal slogan: Equality, Liberty, Fraternity. Later, the Revolution degenerated into mindless bloodshed and mayhem. The period is called the Reign of Terror. Robespierre was the man behind the Reign of Terror. He himself was later beheaded. But the French Revolution continues to inspire liberals all over the world.
France has given several gifts to this world. For foodies, French fries are there. Lovebirds can’t do without French kisses. For office goers, French leave is always there. But the French Revolution is France ‘s greatest gift to the mankind. On the Bastille Day, let’s give three cheers to the Paris mob. Long Live the French Revolution!
(Mr. Amitabh Kumar Das is a 1994 batch IPS officer.)