The Legacy Enclaves of Portuguese and French India

It’s safe to say that India has one of the most distinct shapes of any country, thanks mostly in part to the Partition of 1947 in advance of independence from the United Kingdom, splitting British India into India and Pakistan. In its current form, India consists of 28 states and 7 union territories. One of those states and three of those territories do not trace their origin to British India, however, but to France and Portugal. Rather small in area compared to the other Indian states, these units existed as tiny semi-enclaves dispersed around the Indian coast and were not absorbed into India proper until 1962. France gave up its holdings voluntarily after protests led to a 1954 referendum. Prompted by India’s desire to integrate all colonial possessions on the subcontinent and by internal resistance movements with the colonies, the outwardly pacifistic Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru authorised the use of force to take rest of the colonies when negotiations with Portugal failed. Portugal’s remaining holdings (the Estado da India) were taken by force in 1961’s Operation Vijay, a 36-hour Indian air, land and sea offensive on Goa, Daman and Diu The victory was decisive, with 45 000 Indian troops quickly overwhelming the 3-4 000 Portuguese forces stationed in India. Even after integration, the old colonial boundaries still persist, and thus so do the enclaves.


The state of Goa (6), and the tiny territories of Dadra and Nagar Hiveli (C) and Daman and Diu (D) were formerly Portuguese possessions; Puducherry (G) is a widely dispersed territory consisting of former French possessions in India.


View Larger Map

The smallest of all Indian states (it received state status in 1987), Goa occupies 3,702 km² on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It’s also the richest state in the union with a GDP of US$1 500. Tourism is the key driver in Goa’s economy; the state handles 12% of Indian foreign tourism. Mining and manufacturing also are major industries here. The Portuguese influence is still very present, as evidenced by the name of the state’s largest city, Vasco da Gama (named for the Portuguese explorer). Among the sizeable Catholic population (over one-quarter of Goa’s 1.5 million residents are Catholic), Portuguese surnames such as da Silva, Fernandes, Rodrigues, Carvalho and D’Souza are quite common; many of these surnames have spread to other countries in Goan emigrant communities.

For many people, the first thing they think of when they hear the word ‘Goa’ is people tripping out on various substances listening to trance music. Others think of extensive beaches and exotic churches and temples. Goa’s initial role on the world stage, however, was as Portugal’s first holding in South Asia. In 1510, Portugal’s holdings in India were small and the empire was in need of a port city it could control and defend easily. At the same time, the prosperous west coast city of Goa had been under Ottoman control since 1504. When Portuguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque was sent by the Portuguese government to capture various Asian trading ports at strategic locations, he was invited by a local chieftain wary of Ottoman rule to take the city. Albuquerque did, but was driven out three months later. A return expedition in December 1510 recaptured Goa in a day. would hold Goa and the land immediately surrounding it for the next 450 years; Goa would serve as the capital of Portuguese India.


Vagatore Beach. Source: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Daman and Diu

Daman and Diu are two very small but densely populated pieces of land on either side of the Gulf of Khambhat, 200 km apart. Both are virtual enclaves of Gujarat. Daman is just 72 km2, while the island of Diu is ever smaller at 40 km2. Combined, they have a population of around a quarter-million, mostly in Daman; the population has doubled in the past decade. As mentioned above, Daman and Diu were also attacked by India during Operation Vijay. Upon annexation by India, the two small ports were included in a union territory along with Goa until Goa’s 1987 promotion to statehood. The two districts are considered to be much less touristy than Goa. Daman was a Portuguese possession dating from 1523. Between 1535 and 1541, Portugal built a fort on Diu Island that stationed 350 soldiers right up to the end of the colonial period, and whose walls and cannons are still present today. From an architectural standpoint, Diu retains its Portuguese flavour perhaps more than any other part of India. Unlike neighbouring Gujarat, alcohol is legal in Daman and Diu, making them popular destinations for locals. Daman is a popular beach resort, but also had a more infamous reputation after being named to the Blacksmith Institute’s 2007 list of the most polluted places on the planet due to the effects of the effluent emanating from the neighbouring Vapi industrial estate in Gujarat. Blacksmith removed the area from the list two years later after reviewing ongoing clean-up efforts.


Diu Fort today. Source: Aotearoa, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Dadra and Nagar Haveli

On the other side of Vapi from Dama lies the landlocked, largely rural 487 km2 territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, population 350 000. The vast majority of the territory is made up by Nagra Haveli, which is wedged between Gujarat and Maharashtra. Dadra is a tiny exclave just inside the Gujarat border. The territory came into Portuguese hands much later than Goa, Daman and Diu. Nagar Haveli was a compensatory gift from the Maratha Empire for Portuguese military assistance in 1783; Dadra was purchased two years later. The territory emancipated itself from Portuguese rule in July and August 1954 when resisters of Portuguese rule assassinated the chief of police and forced the rest of the police forces to surrender. Self-rule by the resisters persisted for the next eight years until integration with India; the ultimate goal of the movement. Today, manufacturing fuels the economy. The standard of living is not nearly as high as the other territory (compare the Human Development Index here of .618 to the .754 of neighbouring Daman). Even the government is rather pessimistic; the territory’s website may be the only time you’ll see a government call 88% of its population ‘backward’ and lacking in ‘industrial skill and discipline’.


Puducherry (known as Pondicherry prior to 2006) consists of the four ports that made up France’s possessions in India: Puducherry, Karaikal, and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal and Mahé on the Arabian Sea (a fifth, Chandannagar, was absorbed by West Bengal in 1952). Together, they have a population of 1.5 million. Unlike Portuguese India, the post-World War II public calls for integration with India successfully led to a relatively peaceful merger (although in Yanam, it did involve a coup), with power transfers occurring in 1954 and a treaty between France and India signed in 1956. Full integration came in 1962. French remains an official language along with Tamil (Malayam is recognised in Mahé; Telugu in Puducherry city and Karaikal). While not a full state, Puducherry does have its own legislative assembly and cabinet, to which normally only states are entitled. The French street grid system predominates in the capital, and colonial-era buildings are protected in law by the Indian National Trust (INTACH). Similar to Goa and Daman, the standard of living in Puducherry’s four sections tends to be higher than that of the rest of India. Tourism, manufacturing, agriculture and fishing provide the backbone of the economy.


The capital of Puducherry, for which the territory is named after, is fragmented into several enclaves surrounded by Tamil Nadu. Source: Aotearoa, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Further Reading

Bradnock, R. and R. Bradnock (2007). Gujarat. In Footprint India, 1219-1292. Bath: Footprint Handbooks.

Dabke, S.V. (2007). Vapi, India. In Blacksmith Institute, The World’s Worst Polluted Places: The Top Ten (of The Dirty Thirty), 18-23. New York: Blacksmith Institute. Available at Accessed 28 May 2011.

De Souza, T.R. (1994). Goa to Me. New Delhi: Ashok Kumar Mittal.

National Informatics Centre (NIC), Dadra & Nagar Haveli (2011). Industry. Dadra & Nagar Haveli. Available at Accessed 28 May 2011.

Singh, S. (1998). Peaceful and quickly over. Indian Express, 24 December 1998. Available at Accessed 27 May 2011.

Nearby Articles