Indians in World Wars

Indians in World Wars

Forgotten in India after fighting from world trenches

#GS-01 Indian History

For Mains:

Why India doesn’t celebrate the victory of world wars:

  • Indian reticence over these two conflicts arises from the uneasy relationship between the Indian contribution to fighting fascism on a global stage and the nationalist movement for freedom at home.
  • The success of the first is seen to have come at the cost of the second.
  • After the first World War Britain betrayed the hopes of nationalists with the imposition of martial law after the war ended, culminating in the horror of Jallianwalla Bagh in April 1919.
  • This was compounded by the bitterness of Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declaring war on Germany on India’s behalf in 1939 without consulting Indian leaders.
  • Another point of contention was the pitting of Indian against Indian when Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army sided with the Axis Powers.
  • The prevailing impression remains that of wars fought for somebody else, somewhere else.

Why India needs to recognise those fought in these wars:

  • Almost 1.5 million men volunteered to fight in the first World War with the support of nationalist leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi.
  • Indians won 11 Victoria Crosses along the way and lost about 74,000 men.
  • Largest volunteer army of the second World War was from India (2.5 million) and lost more than 87,000 men.
  • Thirty-one Victoria Crosses which was about 15 % of the total went to soldiers from undivided India.
  • Field Marshal Auchinleck, Britain’s last Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army acknowledged that without Indian soldiers, non-combatant labourers, material and money, the course of both conflicts would have been very different.
    In Britain, the contribution of the Commonwealth including the Indian subcontinent is memorialised in the Commonwealth Memorial Gates that lead up to Buckingham Palace.
  • The Gates commemorate the campaigns where Commonwealth soldiers served with distinction; there is also a canopy inscribed with the names of the Commonwealth recipients of the George and Victoria Crosses.
  • Much of India’s recent history is encapsulated in these gates, in a spirit of gratitude and equality.
  • And these were not just European wars to defend foreign lands.
  • India was threatened in the Second World War by advancing Japanese forces who got as far as Burma/Myanmar.
  • They were repulsed in the battles of Imphal and Kohima between March and July 1944.
  • In Kohima, the two sides were at one point separated by the width of a tennis court.
  • A Commonwealth cemetery on Garrison Hill, Kohima, contains this epitaph (by John Maxwell Edmonds): ‘When You Go Home, Tell Them of Us, and Say/For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today’.