RSTV – India & World War 1

  • IASbaba
  • November 28, 2018
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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India & World War 1


TOPIC: General Studies 1

  • Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
  • The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.
  • History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars

In News: Approximately 1.3 million Indian soldiers fought with valour and distinction during world war 1 as part of British Indian Army designated as Indian expeditionary forces the bravery. About 75000 Indian soldiers laid down their life, and their sacrifice in this war was acknowledged by the armies and people of the allied nations on whose soul they fought.  

Almost a century after the first world war came to an end, these Indian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice finally got their due with Vice President Venkaiah Naidu inaugurating the Indian war memorial in France on the occasion of 100th armistice day.

Points to remember:

World War I ended on November 11, 1918 at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This day marks 100 years of the Great War ending.

Mahatma Gandhi, who returned to his homeland for good from South Africa in January 1915, supported the war, as he had supported the British in the Boer War.

  • India was wrecked by high taxation – and the high inflation accompanying it – to support the war, while the disruption of trade caused by the conflict led to widespread economic losses.
  • All this while the country was reeling from a raging influenza pandemic – the 1918-’19 Spanish flu was the most devastating in history, with estimates of global mortality ranging from 20 to 50 million, and the focal point of the pandemic was India, with an estimated death toll of between 10 and 20 million.
  • Poverty, disease and suffering all worsened in India during these years.

Yet Indian nationalists did not seek to take advantage of Britain’s vulnerability by inciting rebellions, or even disturbances, against the Empire. But nationalists widely understood from British statements that at the end of the war India would receive the Dominion Status hitherto reserved for the “White Commonwealth”. Instead, Indians rallied to the British cause:

  • There were no mutinies against the British, though political unrest did continue in Punjab and Bengal.
  • Mahatma Gandhi launched the Champaran satyagraha in 1917 in defence of farmers forced to grow indigo, and the Kheda satyagraha, against iniquitous taxes in Gujarat, followed, but both were protests against specific iniquities and not yet a mass movement against the Empire as a whole.

After the War ended –

When the war ended in triumph for Britain, India was denied its promised reward. Instead of self-government, the British imposed the repressive Rowlatt Act, which vested the Viceroy’s government with extraordinary powers to quell “sedition” against the Empire by silencing and censoring the press, detaining political activists without trial, and arresting without a warrant any individuals suspected of treason against the Empire. Public protests against this draconian legislation were quelled ruthlessly.

The worst incident was the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre of April 1919, when Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to fire without warning on 15,000 unarmed and non-violent men, women and children demonstrating peacefully in an enclosed garden in Amritsar, killing as many as 1,499 and wounding up to 1,137.

The fact that Dyer was hailed as a hero by the British, who raised a handsome purse to reward him for his deed, marked the final rupture between British imperialism and its Indian subjects. Sir Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood to the British in protest against “the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India”. He did not want a “badge of honour” in “the incongruous context of humiliation”.

Of Forgetfulness and shame, really?

When the world commemorated the 50th anniversary of the First World War in 1964, there was scarcely a mention of India’s soldiers anywhere, least of all in India.

India’s absence from the commemorations, and its failure to honour the dead, were not a major surprise. Nor was the lack of First World War memorials in the country: the general feeling was that India, then freshly freed from the imperial yoke, was ashamed of its soldiers’ participation in a colonial war and saw nothing to celebrate.

The British, however, went ahead and commemorated the war by constructing the triumphal arch known as India Gate in New Delhi. Built in 1931, India Gate is a popular monument, that commemorates the Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the war.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. “The Indian soldiers who died in the First World War gave their “todays” for someone else’s “yesterdays”. They left behind orphans, but history has orphaned them as well.” Comment.

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