Loyalty and Dissent: South Asia and the First World War



my name is Iqbal Hussain this webinar is about South Asia in the First World War it is part of a project the National Archives embarked upon in 2016 with the historian Rosina vis ram which includes blog posts an education resource and audio plays the webinar will introduce in a little more detail some of the more remarkable documents we uncovered whilst researching for a project called loyalty and descent it will hopefully act as a starting point for others to follow up on their research detailed guides covering some of the files series we looked at are available online and in the library at the National Archives and in published guides the fanfare surrounding loyalty and service of colonial troops during the First World War that ushered in the hundredth anniversary commemorations has drowned out the fact that the period in question was also a period of significant resistance and upheaval this webinar will start with a short introduction then show how you can conduct a search using index cards and the process you can undertake to convert the numbers on the cause into a reference that can be used on discovery and from there for a file to be called up for you to use finally we will look at a number of key documents and use these to bring out in some more detail the issues arising which will help the listener follow up on further lines of inquiry in the year 1858 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India a year earlier the British had faced the most serious threat to their rule following the 1857 uprising the repercussions and echoes of 1857 continued to be felt and heard throughout the remaining years of British rule whilst the British were able to assert their power and authority over India after 1857 in no small way through their control of the military in India they increasingly faced more determined and better organized and tea colonial resistance the change in anti colonial activity was notable at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century during the period of Curzon's Viceroyalty however historians have located the most significant shift to 1905 the year in which Japan defeated the Russians the first time an Asian power had fought and defeated a European power it was also in this year that in India the Nationalists protested against the partition of Bengal however it was not until the eve of the first world war that matters came to a head between broadly two opposing factions those loyal to the British and those opposing their rule the following extract from a translation of the newspaper in our collection includes claims that are being made by Indian anti colonial voices saying the English take a lot of money from India and return spend very little on education sanitation or medical health however it says they spend the majority of it on the upkeep of the army the transnational network had been forming over the decade prior to the start of the wall gradually locating itself outside those areas under British control in influence for these anti colonialists the start of the First World War was an opportunity with the British vulnerable and the Germans ready to aid them to hatch varied schemes including armed invasions mass uprisings in Coos brought together under the banner all good though and its newspaper part of the British Imperial states response was to activate the loyalty of Indians who following the failed uprising of 1857 had joined the British in defending the Empire from both internal and external threat one such group with the Sikhs the Punjab where the Sikhs mainly came from was valued for its loyalty seeks made up a disproportionate number of the troops that the British relied upon compared to their numbers in the population this image of Sikh troops from after the first world war is one of a set of rare images we have that speaks to a sense of loyalty that has been made much of as part of the hundred anniversary commemorations the nature of this loyalty is much contested some arguing but the Indians chose to join the British colonial power whilst others have argued that this was a far more mercenary affair it is certainly possible to draw distinctions in terms of motivations between India's contribution and that of the British dominions at the time at the National Archives records in our Foreign Office files amongst others illustrate the efforts of the Nationalists and work of the British state to monitor and counter their activities in particular it is the file series fo 371 that provides some of the most interesting insights in our records to the coins of opposition to British rule that was taking place in and around the time of the first world war fo 371 is one of the most requested series covering foreign office correspondence it holds three hundred thousand volumes these are bound sets of loose papers with a variety of items included such as newspaper clippings and photos to conduct a search using effort 371 you need to do the following visit our discovery page and from here browse our research guide choose the research guide for the Foreign Office the following research guide fo correspondence 1906 to 1910 structions in using fo double 1 double 1 index cards choose an appropriate letter range for the index cards in my example I have located index cards relating to my search for information about the other party as you will note it refers me to India anti British agitation in u.s. in brackets also censorship once again searching the index cards I am able to locate India anti British agitation in u.s. immediately we can see a number of interesting leads under the code 45 using the term code 45 in our advanced search and the reference fo 371 and a date range 1914 I get a series of results these results provide file references such as fo 3 7 1 forward slash 2 1 5 2 highlighted which can then be ordered to view the National Archives it is worth noting when using index cards but whilst they provide some fascinating leads it is important to remember the variety of spellings that can be employed for example in looking up a term such as whistling using a spelling that we are familiar with today may not be enough to uncover the leads to files that contain the relevant your search you may therefore need to look under various spellings such as modeling or muscleman you would also need to look at related words such as Muhammad or Mohammedan again it is important to try various spellings so as to make the most of your search if you set aside enough time it is possible to browse the index cards to see the variety of entries however as there are many index cards you may still find it beneficial to hanging from spellings and words be familiar to your search the following file includes a report by an informer for the British dadiba duel the draw in his report outlines the concerns of some Indian students who have moved to the US and are increasingly concerned at the anti British views that they are being exposed to by radical ease at the same time he notes that other students have more readily accepted these anti British views and turned to more violent expressions of their discontent the continued colonial rule his report then goes on to say that it is not only students and radicals that are active in the US but also peasants in India who in seeking a better future that confronted racism and immigration restrictions which they resent from the first decade of the 20th century the numbers of Punjabis immigrating near on year was growing significantly for many of the corners it was economic drivers fueled by famine the agricultural discontent at the same time political dissent in India was increasing and the British rulers sought to suppress seditious political activity both in India and wherever else was able to take place the USA at the start of the first world war still remained a place where Indian revolutionaries could be open and active and coming into contact with Punjabi laborers emigrating in search of work and from audience the grievances came into being unable to use military force against these dissident voices the British decided they would try and suppress activity wherever possibly using information to gather evidence of their activities particularly of students and not seamlessly lose this is an image from our collection it is a picture of the creeps and the images epilogue is seat lorries it may have been similar men who enlisted to fight in the First World War some challenges that had been identified in engaging in the surge into the light of these recruits include the low literacy rates film itch the creepy is done and a stronger oral tradition which limits the written record the difficulty in retaining service records as countries changed in records were not preserved for example following the partition of the English sub continent and in the post-colonial period questions raised by newly independent nations about those who served the colonial power and the focus on studying in nationalists came into power one example is the challenge in using what has become a very important source for Indian soldiers in the first world war the letters that the soldiers sent in receive the collection is currently paused the India Office likely part of the British Library the kists and consists of 4,000 pages the censors read the soldiers mailed and then sent a report to various government departments including the War Office and Foreign Office plus the commanders of Indian divisions the objective was not to stop communications it was held to be understated but to monitor morale and ensured the issues arising relating to food and religious observance were attended to in each report the censors appended in the region of 100 translated extracts on the letters and it is from these extracts that the historians have been working Davida Mesa points out that in reading these letters it is not simply a matter of eavesdropping on the innermost thoughts of the soldiers or looking invisibly over their soldiers over their shoulder shoulders as they write layers of filtration took place for example the process of writing itself whilst some of the letters were written by the name the vast majority will written by scribes on behalf of the soldiers since most of the Indian soldiers were illiterate in the Punjab no more than five percent could read and among rural military communities this was even less and the British recruited from the least educated rural population those least likely to be affected by dangerous Western political ideas the letters new cells contain references to the soldiers illiteracy or a furcal describes these names some of the problems identified in using scribes included Bank but they would have a record bar formulaic phrases some suggested to the sender or own to the start to describe themselves another problem in using scribes was it would make the letters a more public record in a simple correspondence between two leaflets for example constraining what people may be willing to say according to Shantanu gas they can be read as palimpsests something we use the wrong word but still bearing traces of its earlier form according to be gender scene whilst Indian nationalism was marginal to the sepoys experience in the First World War and refuse to acknowledge the absent in the sepoys correspondence an atmosphere of this thinking did exist this is an image from a war dolly from our collection relating to the story in Peter Caen an indian Sepoy serving in the first world war buta Singh with a number of colleagues saw it as a matter of shame that our rifle had been left in the field of battle and in an attempt to retrieve it he was killed one of the more fascinating and intriguing aspects of the war has been the motivations in the seat boys who fought in the war Burmese he says that whilst the Indian Army under the British has oftenly were played as a mercenary force if you look more closely at their military service it suggests that recruits also made a deliberate choice after weighing the benefits and drawbacks of enlistment the main source for recruits into the Indian Army the peasants these were men who could not afford to rely on the land alone as a source of income the importance of paid in these groups was also reflected in the fact they would remit much of their pay to their families or save money so that it could help their families when there was a bad harvest there were also those for whom a martial image resonated for example in the case of the Rajput it was an assertion of identity an image they had of themselves as warriors so a martial image or community physician or military service could also influence the choice to serve it is also important to note that recruitment was not necessarily always voluntary and at times a quota system was in operation which led local officials to resort to intimidation bribery and even kidnapping it was not only what motivated the men to find than what kept them funky as amici points out in so many ways the soldiers resembled other groups Indian labor migrants but he also points out that there was something distinct about this group too because when an army goes to war you need something else to sustain them so they are willing to fight anything for a me see this requires an examination of other forces such as honor identity and loyalty which he says sustained the Indian Army not only during war but also in peacetime he highlights the example of the role of Izzard honor as featured in the translated extracts from elective this is the time to show one's loyalty to the circle to earn a name for oneself to die on the battlefield is glory for a thousand years one's name will be remembered the Sepoy wrote also a mother writing to her son in 1917 you went to war in 1914 and are still fighting the king's enemies on the field of battle I am heartily grateful to you for the faithfulness and loyalty and we remember it to my dying breath another strand linked with Izzard or honor was the idea of shame or shehram where disloyalty was seen as shameful permissive a coin recounts of sepoys feared dying shamefully as cowards and Shane was also linked masculine identity that those soldiers behaving dishonorably held to be imperfectly male according to the historian agenda Singh ideals of visit harem Shahidi were widely in both these had existed before colonialism was established however were heightened under imperial rule such as with the promoting of the idea of the marshal races theory the idea that some Indians were more suited to fighting than others of course not everyone could be a soldier Rajendra Singh quotes Malcolm Lyle darling a colonial official the smallholder is faced with two alternatives either a supplementary source of income must be found or he must be content with low standards of living that bondage to the moneylender entails the bolder spirit joins the army more enterprising emigrated according to the agenda Singh there was a shift in revolutionary nationalist activity away from elites in towns and cities to communities of migrants of all abroad those Indians who left and settled for example in North America organized themselves politically to fight against anti-immigrant racism initially attempts were made to appeal to the Imperial State for help but when these fell on deaf ears the Indians turned once again to India as a place it could fulfill their aspirations Maya ramna identifies some of the groups which historians have referred to as the radical diaspora for example intellectuals who traveled to Tokyo and London to study Tokyo became a stronghold according to romnod for an international community of radicals a significant outflow of students from India occurred after the Japanese victory against Russia and the British partition of Bengal or radicals people like sharmaji Krishna Verma who founded the India houses according to Romney it was at the India House in London were one of the more prominent radicals how did they all came after abandoning his studies at Oxford or soldiers they were stationed all over the world charged with securing Britain's interests discharged from service many sought new livelihoods in the US and in cording to ramna constituted a pool of potential other or revolutionary recruits according to a report from September 1917 that we hold in the National Archives baahar Singh whose photo is in the slide is an ex-soldier who won four medals serving the Indian Army the report says he had been in Panama for about five years and is planning to return to India to cause a revolt an accompanying record we have refers to the seditious activity of East Indians in Panama East Indians being a blanket term used at the time the people from India it's a report written by an official at the British Embassy in Panama based on a report by a secret agent nan Co the official writes that there is no way of verifying the agent's statements complaining that the demeanor of the Indians has changed from deferential to sullen and therefore it is difficult to get reliable information from them the official concludes that whilst nan Co sometimes draws the wrong conclusions the official will continue to pass on the agent's observations for the information of the government early immigrants to the west coast found work in a booming economy but by 1907 the economy entered into recession and many of these early settlers faced widespread racial discrimination and political exclusion in 1907 the Canadian government stipulated that all immigrants arriving from Asia would only be permitted if they had $200 and in may 1910 they made entry even more difficult by passing the continuous journey provision this made it possible for Indians to come to Canada as there was no direct journey from India should say this made it impossible for Indians to come to Canada as there was no direct journey from India the early pioneers got together and tried to challenge this but were hindered by their poor level of English and it was the arrival of part of the our on-the-scene that has been recognized as the catalyst for change he was a brilliant student who got to Oxford he left Oxford before completing his studies network with other revolutionaries and planned for an armed struggle for the liberation of India he was effective in mobilizing different sections of the Indian community and helped launch four initiatives firstly with two others he launched the Hudler or Revolutionary Party of India secondly his colleagues purchased a printing press thirdly they launched vernacular newspapers nutriment Punjabi and fourthly they purchased a house in San Francisco it was the house the publishing venture and serve as a meeting place it was here that they printed weekly papers and colleges of revolutionary poetry and the chronicles of Indian heroic figures and past armed struggles like the great rebellion of 1857 this slide is the front page of the Condor newspaper published in the USA and is part of a file that contains information gathered about seditious activities of Indians in the USA around the First World War the godlet paper was part of a movement with its origins in the Punjab that sought to overthrow British imperial rule the various headings at the top of the page include reference to the British Raj being the mortal enemy and that the youth of India should rush to arm themselves one of the headings lower down says Hindustan is for Hindustan 'is above a headline that refers to the chaos of the British Army in Egypt its message was uncompromising on this front page one of the headlines reads the reality of the British Raj has been laid bare and goes on to list in sometimes quite stark and emotive language what the Hutterites were arguing was the cost of being a colony it goes on to say that under the British Raj we are seeing an increase in famines the British do not face any consequences for killing Hindustan ease or raping their women folk there is a constant attempt to create a rift between Muslims and Hindus of Hindustan it has been 58 years since the mutiny of 1857 and now there was an urgent need for a large-scale mutiny the paper was a concern for the authorities and efforts were made to alert people of its seditious impact and to stop its distribution which leads me back to the work we started with the historian dr. Shantanu das and others in 2016 by planning a forum at King's College University London on the topic of South Asia and the First World War Shantanu himself an English literature academic has done some very important work in not only highlighting the cross-disciplinary nature of this endeavor but also the very neat very real need to move away from sanitizing the story of South Asia and the First World War it was the opportunity to work with him and other colleagues that helped me to start to frame our project on loyalty in dissent it allowed us to make the connection dr. Rosine of is Ram and start working with her on developing educational resources and to start to undertake some more intensive archival research starting with our own collection at the National Archives maybe most excitingly we collaborated with tamasha theatre to work with five playwrights who following a visit to the archives and time for independent archival research presented a series of short plays at the rich mix Center in London and in 2017 with the help of the Friends of the National Archives we were able to record all five plays which are now available on our media player pages the objective this webinar has not been to provide a comprehensive outline of what is available there are guides and books that can help the interested researcher pick up lines of inquiry a topic a topic of such a size and complexity is not serviceable by once a webinar alone it will require the individual to follow up on areas of interest and hopefully as this webinar will demonstrate individual documents and pages provide enough space for significant ongoing research for further information to the work produced as part of the loyalty and ascent project please use the links in the slide thank you and can I thank caffeine kyani for kindly translating extracts from the huddled paper

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