Why did Indian soldiers not revolt against the British during WW-I?

By Sunil Kumar

World War I or what European academics terms as the ‘Great War’ was early days for the Indian revolutionary movement.

If you remember, India’s most famous icon M.K Gandhi also supported the British in this war, as he still trusted them and probably had not recovered from his Empire drilled loyalty.

It is very easy to speculate and question a hundred years later, as this country does not value its hard fought freedom. For all their faults. the British Empire was one of the most ruthless and efficient colonial enterprises in the world. And, it is difficult to imagine now the absolute control they had over the Indian subcontinent.

From appeasement of Muslim landlords in the Partition of Bengal, to creation of faultlines in the Scheduled Castes, the Aryan-Dravidian divide, crushing of Indian revolutionaries and their networks around the world, capturing every major country and port on the way to India, propping up fawning and servile princely states(Mysore, Hyderabad, Kashmir – a 563 long list)- London left no stone unturned to keep the ‘Jewel in the Crown’.

Since Indians were drafted in every major conflict around the world the British were involved in and usually acted as cannon fodder in the frontlines, the more intelligent and perceptive must have realized that they were lesser paid than the British and discriminated against.

In fact, in one of Raghu Karnad’s books, I read of an incident in the Second World War, the British cut off electricity provided to British Indian soldiers barracks in the North West Frontier Province. This was solely a result of racial bias, as one of the whites realized that they had been providing ‘electricity’ to the Indians ‘by mistake’ after one of the Indian soldiers had brought it to their attention.

Standing up against such a vicious band of colonial bigots was not an easy task, and many famous pseudo-intellectuals nowadays who shout from the rooftops about their ancestors in the freedom struggle should realize that actual history reveals that many were in fact boot-lickers and co-operated extensively with the ruling elite.

Motilal Nehru existing as a famous lawyer in pre-independence United Provinces would be impossible if he didn’t have the requisite social connect with the British ruling class.

Over 800,000 Indian troops actually fought with 1.5 million volunteering to fight against Germany. Approximately half were from the Punjab which continues to provide a large proportion of the armed forces to the present day in India and Pakistan.

Most of them were from economically underprivileged backgrounds, and this was their only means of livelihood. Also, the British forcibly enlisted many soldiers from the martial races(Punjab again at the forefront) to fight their war when they suffered losses in the French and other trenches and Indians were unwilling to come forward.

Bengal at the time was a hotbed of revolutionary activity primarily due to the rise of self-respect among Anglicized educated ‘Babus’ that were initially cultivated by the Empire to manage the clerical business of ruling India. The British Empire operated on a racist ‘self-interest’ policy, and their policy w.r.t India was solely ‘use and dispose.’ Token gestures were always useful in manipulating people’s emotions and crushed spirits under the yoke of imperialism.

Since the country was known as ‘Hindustan’, they were greeted with cries of ‘Vivent les Hindous’ when they arrived in Marseilles under the command of Sir James Willcocks. Indians won the first-ever Victoria Crosses in this war. Also, Hindu sepoys were singularly targeted for brutality when they fell in the hands of the Turks including a 500 mile march to Ras-el-Ain.

Germany under the Kaiser was not as devious as the Nazis in fomenting discontent among the British Indian army. The only revolt worth mentioning was by a Muslim Rajput regiment in Singapore, that responded to an Islamic appeal to the ummah by the Turks.

See here: A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent

All of this fructified to some extent more than 20 years later at the time of the Second World War. India’s freedom movement had now gathered steam and was more famous globally, even though the Empire as a formidable force. Darth Vader had to exit the Subcontinent, but not before causing a final implosion and creating the Sith that continue to attack us from within.

This entry was posted in Books, Culture, Geography, History, Languages, Literature, People and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *