New Delhi | In a brand new addition to the scanty chronicles of the Indian soldiers who partook in the First World War from the Allies’ side, a new book takes an intimate look at their lives in the foreign land and the dejections that followed.
For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-18 by London-based journalist Shrabani Basu narrates personal stories of Indians who went to the Western Front, acting as a manifestation of how the war changed India and led to the call for independence.
The book was recently launched by politician and author Shashi Tharoor at the British Council here. When there are such rich stories to be told, there has been total absence of recognition in our country for those who have given their lives in battlefields around the world, Tharoor said.
Most soldiers who had participated in the multiple British battles against the Germans had come back to India expecting a heroes’ welcome, but to their disappointment had found nothing of the sort.
This absence of recognition in their own country was largely a consequence of a national uprising which was in the making then, following the betrayal by the British who had rewarded India’s support in the Great War.
Not with greater freedom but with the repressive Rowlatt Act in 1919 extending the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review enacted in the Defence of India Act 1915.
The Indian soldiers who had gone off to fight for the king, the emperor and for the British were seen at best as people who had merely performed their profession and their deaths were trivialised as occupational hazards in the pursuit of their personal professional interest or at worst were seen as having served the enemy, the very empire that was oppressing the Indians, Tharoor said.
In 1931 however, the British built the India Gate here to commemorate those who had laid their lives in World War I and the Anglo-Afghan war, but it was never publicised much, particularly in the Indian context until very recently.
I think somehow the passage of time has changed and the centenary in 2014 has witnessed a significant change in India’s willingness to face up to and recognise its own history and valour of its own sons, the 59-year-old Member of the Parliament said.
Basu’s book digs into British archives and reinforces this acceptance by bringing to the public, narratives buried in villages in India and Pakistan, recreating the War through the eyes of those who fought it.
1.5 million Indians crossed the oceans, the ‘Kaala Paani’ and went to Europe to fight a war which was not of their making.
They were still in their cotton khakis facing the harshest winter there without enough artillery and they still put up a brave fight. The harshest thing we can do is forget them. It was time for their stories to be told, Basu said.
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