Saturday, March 22, 2014

World War I (from an Indian viewpoint)

It has been a hundred years past now. The Indian numbers are pretty impressive, it is sad that none of our JNU educated historians (mostly elite class Bengali Marxists) have dwelt on this aspect of Indian history.

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How many Indians were involved in WW-I, where did they mostly hail from?
Figures differ. Though most estimates say 1.4 million Indians—950,000 soldiers and 450,000 non-combatants— participated in the War, some figures show that almost 1.7 million Indians, including 6,00,000 non-combatants signed up for war between 1914 and 1918, from a then total population of 225 million. The soldiers were mostly from Punjab (which would now include  Haryana), Garhwal and Kumaon, though with the setting up of a Bengali regiment there were recruits from eastern India and elsewhere.

How many Indian soldiers were killed?
Officially, about 50,000 Indian soldiers died, while more than 65,000 were wounded and about 10,000 were reported missing in action.

How do we remember the Indian soldiers who fell in the War?
The India Gate in New Delhi is the most visible symbol of the War in India. It was dedicated to Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War for the British Empire. It commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who fell in defence of the Empire in the War and, subsequently, also other soldiers who died in the Northwest Frontier and the Third Afghan War and had no known grave. ‘The eternal flame’ was installed there in 1971 and has since become the site of the symbolic tomb of the ‘Unknown Soldier.’

Where were Indian soldiers deployed?
They were deployed in the European theatre, Egypt, Palestine and Africa. They fought in many of the major battles of the War.

What impact did WW-I have on India’s freedom movement?
It had a major and fundamental impact on India’s freedom movement. It began with Britain’s decision in 1917 that India  will be granted  “responsible government” like other British “white dominions.” It shifted the leadership in the Congress from the “moderates” to Gandhi’s movement of “Swaraj in one year”. It also brought about a shift in politics from the avowedly “secular” to more strident appeal for religious allegiance.  

The popular outrage movement against the “Rowlatt Act”, seen as a tool to curb freedom of expression, led to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in April 1919 and devolution of power to the provinces in India by Britain.

regards