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British Indian army recruited half a million from Punjab in WW1 — Quartz India

British Indian army recruited half a million from Punjab in WW1 — Quartz India

Allow us to begin with a scene of farewell. A son touches the ft of his mom as we see troopers embark on the practice to the entrance. The aged father seems on because the mom wipes away her tears together with her chunni (scarf ). Emotion is usually recommended by means of gesture and color moderately than by way of the artwork of close-up. White, the color of mourning, visually unites the grieving mother and father and spills over via the world of cloth to a comparable scene on the right-hand nook with two distraught ladies, suggesting a wider feminine group of mourning, earlier than the white is carried over to the ready practice—the reason for the sorrow, the harbinger of dying.

The portray, by the Punjabi artist Pran Nath Mago, is titled Farewell and was painted in 1945. The emollient contours and the flowing garments of the civilian figures distinction with the Western army uniform and inflexible gestures of the troopers, whereas the three distant figures on a bridge amidst the billowing smoke of the practice take the portray to a totally different place, totally different time—the world of no-return. The instant set off of the portray was the Second World Struggle, nevertheless it was based mostly on Mago’s childhood reminiscences of troopers taking depart on the Gujar Khan railway- platform for the entrance in the course of the 1914-1918 conflict. The portray fuses the 2 wars as each depleted Punjab of its younger males.

The portray lifts the veil on what nonetheless stays one of many weakest hyperlinks in First World Struggle historical past: the colonial house entrance. Of the over one million Indians who served overseas, some 480,000 got here from Punjab.

Of the over one million Indians who served overseas, some 480,000 got here from Punjab.

The huge recruitment figures from a single province have been the fruition of a course of that had begun in the nineteenth century—the “militarisation of Punjab” and the “Punjabisation of the Indian army.”  Students have famous how Punjab’s frontier location with relation to Afghanistan and the show of Punjabi loyalty in the course of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 influenced the shift of the Indian army’s recruitment centre to this province. Political expediency was quickly welded to Victorian racial ideology. As early as 1879, the Eden Fee Report famous that “the Punjab is the home of the most martial races of India and is the nursery of our best soldiers.” Lord Frederick Roberts—the Commander-in-Chief in India from 1885 to 1893—was an enthusiastic proponent of the idea of the “martial races” and reshaped the category elements of the Indian army, in specific changing males from the “unmartial” south with the “martial” races of the north. The army was additional reorganised by Lord Herbert Kitchener, who turned the Commander-in-Chief in India in 1902. The province quickly advanced into the recruiting floor for troopers and policemen for the empire. In August 1914, Punjab (together with the British districts and princely states) had 100,000 males in its armies, together with 87,000 combatants and 13,000 non- combatants; by the top of the warfare, Punjab had contributed one-third of all of the Indian recruits and over 40% of the whole variety of Indian combatants mobilised. Nevertheless, the traditional concept of Punjab because the ‘exceptional’ colonial state—affluent, loyal and unified—has more and more come beneath strain. As Mark Condos has just lately argued, the “garrison state” was additionally the “insecurity state” par excellence, bristling with nervousness, virtually bordering on panic, about its “warlike” inhabitants.


Combined Motives: Livelihood, Custom and Incentives

In 1914, India had one of many largest voluntary armies in the world. Of the 27,522 new recruits enlisted in India between August and Dec. 31, 1914, 13,400 have been from Punjab alone.  The full variety of males to have served from Punjab, together with the British districts and the Indian states, by the top of the warfare was 480,000, together with 410,000 combatants and 70,000 non-combatants. Of the 282,170 combatants recruited from Punjab from 1915 till 1918, some 156,300 have been Muslims, some 63,900 have been Hindus, and 61,970 have been Sikhs, although the final spiritual group—the Sikhs—comprised solely 12% of the inhabitants. These males have been principally “peasant- warriors” belonging to tribes designated because the “martial races” as talked about in the introduction. Why did they enlist for a overseas conflict? The query has provoked a lot debate. The lads, it was formally claimed, fought for his or her izzat; in his introduction to the letters of the Indian troopers, David Omissi has noticed that “Indian soldiers fought, above all, to gain or preserve izzat—their honour, standing, reputation or prestige,” a notion he goes on to develop in higher complexity elsewhere. However, Kaushik Roy, amongst others, has labelled them “quasi- mercenaries,” pointing to the dense community of “tangible goods and intangible incentives.” A part of the issue lies in the very definitions; can there be extra of a widespread floor, notably if we up-end the telescope and transfer from the colonial archives to in style tradition?

Enlistment was typically intimately associated to the historical past of a specific village, tribe, and caste.

On the outset, it have to be admitted that even inside Punjab it isn’t attainable to impose a widespread motive for enlistment of the 480,000 males from this province, who ranged from members of the huge land-owning households of Western Punjab to the struggling peasant- proprietors of Gujrat, Rawalpindi, and Jhelum to the impoverished Dogras of Kangra. Motives different extensively, from army service being a supply of livelihood to household custom and rank inside the army to how crops had finished that season. Enlistment was typically intimately associated to the historical past of a specific village, tribe, and caste. Furthermore, males from households with a number of generations of troopers would have had a totally different relationship to the army from that of the combatants from “non- martial” races recruited for the primary time in 1917 when the recruiting base was considerably broadened. For every group, financial incentive was a central facet, however one should take into consideration too nuances associated to the extra particular socio-cultural story of the area that intersected with points similar to household and group traditions, livelihood, religion, and masculinity, amongst different elements.

Imperial Struggle Museum, 2Art.IWM PST 12574

Who Will Put on This Uniform?’, warfare recruitment poster.

Within the absence of testimonies, allow us to start with what was promised on the recruitment posters. A standard poster, depicting some scenes from the “early life of a recruit,” guarantees “Good Food, Good Pay, Good Treatment
and a Healthy Life.” One other exhibits a sepoy in full army uniform, rifle in hand. A better look reveals that there isn’t a precise determine underneath the gown; as an alternative, in the place of the face, there’s a massive query mark, subsequent to which is a query in Urdu: “Who will take this money [Rupaiye], rifle [Bandooq], and uniform [Wardi]?” Under the inscription is a cupped pair of arms with a pile of cash, with the reply “He, who immediately enlists in the army.”

One can learn the Urdu poster together with a in style wartime recruitment track, which circulated each in Punjabi (Bharti ho ja ve) and in Haryanvi (Bharti ho lyo re):

Get enlisted, the recruits who stand on the market,
Right here you get damaged slippers, there you’ll get full boots, get enlisted,
Right here you get torn rags, there you’ll get fits, get enlisted,
Right here you get dry bread, there you’ll get biscuits, get enlisted,
Right here you’ll should wrestle, there you’ll get salutes, get enlisted.

Within the Haryanvi model in Jat Gazette, “suits,” “boots,” and “salutes” (talked about in English) are contrasted with an alternate rhyme of “toote littar” (damaged slippers), “phatt chitthde” (torn rags) and “sukhe tittar” (dry bread). Absent in each poster and music is any specific attraction to imperial “loyalty.” Regardless of the official rhetoric round “honour” or “izzat,” did the recruiting authorities know the arduous fact, main them to focus solely on incentives? The music tunnels deep into the historical past of army service in Punjab and interprets financial logistics into the material of on a regular basis life, felt on the pores and skin and in the intestine, and inside the coronary heart.

[A] Victoria or Army Cross, and even a far lesser medal, had a sure aura and status in the group that went past the color of cash.

Army expenditure was the most important merchandise in the colonial price range; 10% of all the governmental price range went to Punjabi troopers in 1912-1913. As soon as in the army, younger recruits, used to tough village khaddar , would put on uniforms of machine-made finer cotton and luxuriate in a higher eating regimen, together with a wider number of greens. The important thing phrase, nevertheless, is “salute,” indicating how such service was perceived in the group. If the thought of an natural izzat-fuelled sepoy is now being more and more dismissed because the product of colonial myth-making, the thought of the sepoy as a hardened mercenary, then again, speaks to a post-nationalist second relatively than to the complicated psychosocial world of the sepoy in 1914. The craved-for “salute,” whereas intimately associated to, and depending on, land and cash, couldn’t wholly be decreased to them; a Victoria or Army Cross, and even a far lesser medal, had a sure aura and status in the group that went past the color of cash.

Whereas army historians have more and more famous the position of “society and politics” in shaping the army, such observations additionally have to be nuanced to a extra intimate historical past of emotions. The colonial patronage, excessive visibility, and consequent status accorded to the Punjabi soldier from 1880 to 1920 created their very own specific affective buildings. Two points, in specific, must be famous. First, in 1914—when Indian nationalism had not absolutely outlined itself and the status of the empire was unmatched—employment in the British Indian army was a supply of appreciable delight and status; on the similar time, there was ambivalence too, acutely aware or unconscious (as each Anand and Ghosh level out) about serving in the colonial army, however held in verify by a vary of things, tangible and intangible. Second, because the financial historian Imran Ali has noticed, army service was far more than simply a “career”: “such ‘professionalism’ had not clarified itself in the consciousness of the Punjabis. Instead, military service was regarded as a vehicle for establishing one’s status, as an individual but more importantly as part of a social group.”


Financial incentive was central, nevertheless it must be thought-about in conjunction with a number of elements. Army service in Punjab was indissolubly related to its agricultural financial system. For a lot of in the arid tracts of Shahpur, Jhelum, and Attock, the army was the primary supply of livelihood; for small-scale peasant proprietors, it supplemented agricultural revenue. In The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt (1925), Malcolm Darling famous that ‘the bulk of cultivators of the Punjab are born in debt, live in debt and die in debt’. A survey executed on the time revealed that 83% of the land-proprietors have been in debt. A land survey executed in 1926 confirmed that 23% of the cultivators had one acre or much less, 33% had one to 5 acres, 20% had 5 to 10 acres and 24% had over 10 acres. It’s revealing that probably the most closely recruited a part of India was Rawalpindi, the place the typical landholding
was lower than 5 acres, whereas a few of the most “disappointing” charges of recruitment occurred in the extra affluent canal colonies. However, in the arid tracts of northern Gurdaspur and the Kangra
districts the place quite a few recruits for the Dogra corporations have been raised, monumental quantities of money flowed in in the course of the conflict years, offering a lifeline to your complete tribe; in Gurgaon, between 1915 and 1917, remittances and pensions for army service exceeded the land income by Rs75,000. Th e army, for Darling, “has not only saved these people from penury but has even made them prosperous.”

Excerpted with the permission of Cambridge College Press from India, Empire and First World Conflict Tradition by Santanu Das. We welcome your feedback at