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The gift of India

At the beginning of the Great War people wrote and the The Times published a lot of poetry. The main themes were glory and sacrifice. By 1915 The Times was publishing a lot less poetry and what it did publish was a lot less upbeat. Even so, I was a bit taken aback when they published this:

The Times 16 December 1915 p11

The Times 16 December 1915 p11. Click for full page.

There is nothing about glory. There is a lot about death. There is a bit of empire bashing. And there’s a bit of: “You owe us.” Frankly, I was a bit surprised that the pro-war, pro-empire Times had anything to do with it. And, oh yeah, there’s the author:

Not a lot of Indians wrote to The Times in 1915. Or, if they did, they didn’t get published.

I thought I’d google the name just in case. Interesting. The writer, it turns out was a woman, a graduate, an Indian nationalist thick with the Indian nationalist bigwigs and, after independence, a state governor. My guess is that that last bit means she did a lot of bad.

19 comments to The gift of India

  • Perhaps it’s just me, but I read it differently.

    Certainly there is a political message here, but no different from that raised by others during WW1.

    It seems to me that the message is “We’ve yielded our sons to the fight in France, but when peace comes again that sacrifice should be recognized”. Somewhere in the region of 1.3 million Indian soldiers fought in WW1, 74,000 of them died there and 6 of them served with such valour in Flanders that they earned the Victoria Cross.

    Indian Home Rule, which was the proposal at the time would have been an appropriate recognition and provided a transition from the patronising regime of colonial imperialism. In the process partition and the many of the consequences of that fatal mistake may have been avoided.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Gee, John, when will the Americans give back all that land of the amerindians? You’ve been holding onto it for a while.

  • Patrick Crozier

    If partition was such a bad thing why didn’t they undo it? They’ve had 70 years after all.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Partition was demanded by the muslims, who wanted, if they couldn’t rule the whole of India, to rule their own patch. Some verse in the Koran makes them think they should always be in charge. So the timing of Partition wouldn’t have mattered- it would still have happened.

  • Rich Rostrom

    John Galt – January 15, 2016 at 1:39 am:

    It seems to me that the message is “We’ve yielded our sons to the fight in France, but when peace comes again that sacrifice should be recognized”.

    ISTM that this ties in with the campaign during the American Civil War to let blacks serve in the Union Army. Military service has long been viewed as a basis of citizenship – of full status in society. Frederick Douglass wrote:

    Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters “U.S.”, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.

    Ms. Naidu was suggesting something similar. Indian soldiers had long served under British command, but only rarely outside India. Now India’s service in the Great War being fought by the British Empire deserved equal recognition, and by implication equal status in the Empire.

  • I’m with JG (and not just via blogidarity) but because he is right. I dunno what could have stopped the partition but it led to death, chaos and slaughter on a scale rarely appreciated in the West. It was a tragedy of Biblical proportions. And it went on and on and still trogs on. The Pakistani “civil war” which resulted in Bangladesh breaking away was a reboot of the horror. Of course the East/West Pakistan idea was idiotic from conception. It was never going to work due to things like a different version of Islam, geography, a different economic structure…

    Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” is a good read here.

    Could a united multi-faith (by which I mean no faith in the US sense*) India embracing what is now India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been possible?

    I think yes in principle but considering those pesky circumstances probably no.

    *The deep irony here of course being that the western country that establishes complete religious freedom in the heart of the constitution is more religious than say the UK which is seeing the CofE pishing it’s last.

  • Gee, John, when will the Americans give back all that land of the amerindians? You’ve been holding onto it for a while.

    Is there a difference between European invasions of North and South America and the British imperial expansion in India? Certainly there was a lot more negotiated settlement that went on between the English and the Indians (Clive of India’s famous Battle of Plassey being more about Clive’s craftiness than his tactical approach to warfare).

    The population of pre-Colombian America was somewhere between 50 and 100 million, so they would have had the absolute numbers to repel the Spanish, Portuguese, British and French invasions had they the culture and organisation to do so. However, as native, nomadic tribes who were in conflict with themselves as much as the white settlers they failed to do so over a long period of time until they were brought to the edge of extermination.

    The British takeover of India was a much more sophisticated affair, initially it was about trade, but after a while it became about armed usurpation, using the tactic of ‘divide and rule’ to gradually subsume India. The Raj didn’t happen overnight, it took from the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 until the Indian Rebellion of 1857 to finalise British India.

    The big difference between the two is that the Native Americans were either subjugated or destroyed in North America, but the white settlers outnumbered the Native Americans by as early as 1830, this was never the case with British India, where about 200,000 military and colonial civil servants ruled over 700 million Indians at the height of the Raj. Indeed if it wasn’t for the catastrophic costs of WW2, the Empire could have continued for much longer than it did, certainly in India.

    This is not an argument for or against colonialism which I find repugnant, but just highlighting some of the differences between the settlement of North American and the development of the British Raj.

  • Mr Ed

    Not quite all of India was under British rule, the Portuguese held parts until 1961.

  • Not quite all of India was under British rule, the Portuguese held parts until 1961.

    True and there were some French enclaves which lasted shortly after Indian independence as well. These were treated as Allied ports by the British Raj (and occasionally occupied as Goa was during the Napoleonic War – but only temporarily and as part of the alliance). The Anglo/Portuguese alliance remains in force today although largely as a function of NATO.

    As for the French possessions in India, these were again largely symbolic and time and again seized by the British during Anglo/French conflicts, usually to be returned after the war was over (e.g. Treaty of Paris in 1763, the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15 and to a lesser extent protected through the Entente Cordiale of 1904 – although this was more about avoiding conflicts than a formal alliance)

  • David Roberts

    Patrick thank you for an illuminating series of articles, particularly this one, but having read the poem and followed your link, I am baffled by your last sentence.

  • Mr Ed


    I would suggest that Patrick was alluding the the socialist kleptocracy that took power (in the main) in India upon independence.

  • Alsadius

    John Galt: The other huge difference between the two was the impact of disease. India shared the terrifying Eurasian pool of diseases(smallpox, typhus, typhoid, black death, influenza, cholera, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, etc.), while the Americas didn’t. As a result, when Columbus showed up he set off a bomb that killed the vast, vast majority(estimated at over 90%) of those American natives over the next few decades, leaving the European settlers to conquer a largely empty, effectively post-apocalyptic society.

  • Alsadius

    Oh, relevant video that I forgot to link above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEYh5WACqEk

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray
    January 15, 2016 at 1:57 am

    Gee, John, when will the Americans give back all that land of the amerindians? You’ve been holding onto it for a while.

    When the amerindians present the deed to their tribal lands, duly transferred by the previous owners?

    Ownership by right-of-conquest doesn’t survive subsequent conquests. And while we don’t know, it seems very unlikely that Siberian settlers filed into the Americas in an orderly process and lived in harmony with their neighbors until the Europeans arrived.

  • staghounds

    Yes they did! And they lived in harmony with the Earth, too! Just like in Avatar!!

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed on all points of your post Patrick.

    Yes – the British Raj was statist (James and J.S. Mill and other Scottish intellectuals had ensured that there would be no private land rights and so on AGAINST the state) and Governor General Dalhousie (whilst doing some good things) rather put in India on the wrong track even in the early 19th century (although with the best of motives), but “independence” was even worse. More taxation, more government spending, and (above all) endless regulations – rightly it has been said that the British Raj was replaced by the “Permit Raj”.

    As for the Princely states (about a quarter or a third of India – they varied, but all were under British influence.

  • Paul Marks

    As for American Indians – the reservations (such as Pine Ridge) show the failure of socialism.

    The American government not only hands out welfare and so on – it has actively (since the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s) discouraged any private ownership among Indians – insisting on the collective ownership of land and so on by the tribe.

    American Indians are perfectly capable of running ranches and other business enterprises – but the tribalism (backed by the United States government) stifles most of them.

    Contrary to what is often thought the United States did not ran a “racial” policy as such – people always left tribes and intermarried with Europeans.

    HOWEVER, if people choose to stay a member of a tribe (rather than formally renounce it) they were often treated ruthlessly by the government in the 19th century. After all the tribes were enemies of the United States – therefore all members of the tribes (who did not formally renounce the tribe) were enemies to….. This was NOT always the American government position – but it sometimes was (at least unofficially).

    Indeed it was not possible to be (at the same time) an American citizen and a member of an indian tribe till 1924.

    And the Great Depression hit in 1929.

    Therefore American Indians (who stayed members of tribes) had five years (5) to assimilate into wider American society – before first the Great Depression hit and then (1933) the collectivist New Dealers (“everything must be owned by the tribe – private enterprise is evil”) hit.

    The socialism of Pine Ridge (wherever thing is “free”) contrasted with the wider society of South Dakota is very instructive.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Paul Marks- January 16, 2016 at 2:37 pm:

    the collectivist New Dealers (“everything must be owned by the tribe – private enterprise is evil”)

    The New Dealers were statists and collectivists, but not socialists. Like the Progressives before them, they wanted state direction in relative detail of the economy, but they didn’t attempt or even advocate general confiscation and redistribution, nor even direct state ownership of industry in general.

    Consider the career of Jesse H. Jones, a very wealthy Texas businessman and political insider. Like nearly all Texans in that era he was a Democrat.

    In 1933, FDR tapped him to head the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (created by Hoover a year earlier), which became one of the largest New Deal agencies. Over the next six years the RFC provided about $6B in loans to recapitalize banks, mortgage lenders, and railroads, fund state relief and public works programs, support farmers, and many other activities. Nearly all of these loans were repaid with interest; the RFC was profitable overall.

    Jones was no radical – in fact he was regarded as a conservative: opposed to labor unions and racial equality for a start.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Weren’t some Amerindians settled people? The Pueblo Indians were farmers, weren’t they? So they were not hunter-gatherer conquerors.
    However, just being hunter-gatherers doesn’t mean you don’t own land. Aboriginal societies had collective ownership to allocate hunting rights, and moved to different areas when the resources of one area seemed deplenished, or when fire devastated one area. (Australia is naturally fire-prone, and the Aborigines added to that by starting fires pre-emptively. Now some parts of the bush need regular fires.) Only one area ever settled down to something like farming- some village in Victoria took up eel-fishing, and traded the skins. Just one village.