Remembering Indian heroes of the Great War
NEWDELHI: Few visitors to Delhi’s India Gate would have paused to read the names of the Indian soldiers, who fought in the First World War (1914 – 1918), etched on it. Today might be a good day to do so; it is the centenary of the end of the Great War.
The declaration of war, and especially Britain’s joining in, was momentous news in preindependence India. “The whole country rallied to the King-emperor,” records a publication by the Government of India in 1923, titled ‘India’s Participation in the Great War’.
As Captain Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab and author of the book, Honour and Fidelity - India’s Military Contribution to the Great War 1914-18, writes in today’s edition, over the war years, “The grand total of the British and Indian officers, other ranks and non-combatants sent on service overseas from India was 1.38 million.”
India “rallied to the British cause” writes Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament and author of ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India,’ in his article for HT today. There was hope that the country would get Dominion status after the war – a privilege hitherto reserved for the ‘White Commonwealth’. “Mahatma Gandhi, who returned to his homeland from South Africa in January 1915, supported the war,” writes Tharoor, adding that while there were protests against specific inequities, as in Champaran and Kheda, there were no mass movements against the Empire during this time.
Yet, after the war, the British rewarded Indian loyalty with even more repressive laws. Peaceful protestors were killed in Jallianwala Bagh.
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