Racialization of Indians
Sikhs and Punjabis as “Martial Race”
Anglo-Sikh Wars 1845-1849 Punjab Annexed to the British Empire in 1849.
Sikh Native Officers
23,000 Sikh soldiers
recruited to quash the
Interior of Sikanderabagh after the slaughter of
(Felice Beato 1858)
Sikhs – martial and “most loyal” – but mostly Jat Sikhs (not Khatri Sikhs or Mazhabi Sikhs)
“Gurkhas” from Nepal
Muslims, including Punjabi Muslims, Pathans
Gajendra Singh, following Ann Laura Stoler, calls the images of martial races – colonial negatives – a mix of fantasy and a constructed reality
Racializing and militarizing South Asian identities to secure the loyalty of its multi-racial, multi-linguistic and multi-faith Indian Empire
Imperial Wars – Colonial Soldiers
There were more South Asian combatant and non-combatants in the First World War than Australians, New Zealanders, South African and Canadian combined.
Diverse Muslim soldiers – twice the number of Sikhs in the British Indian Army
Indian Army 150,000 – 250,000 during peace. Swelled to 1.4 million combatants and non-combatants during World War I.
During the Second World War India’s military forces swelled to 2.4 million people.
Sikhs (mostly Jat Sikhs) made up between 12% - 20% of the Army despite being only 1% of the population.
By 1916 Punjab furnished 50% of wartime recruits despite being roughly 8% of the population.
During WW I
Ideals of Masculinity
Muscular masculinity cherished quality under colonialism – some seen as masculine, and others effeminate
For Sikhs Khalsa identity encouraged in the Army – maintain 5 Ks, take initiation into Khalsa (khande di pahul – initiation by the double-edged sword).
Divide and rule/conquer
All encouraged to be loyal to their faith – Muslims (roza, haj); Nepali Gurkhas (purification ceremonies after crossing kala pani or black waters)
Divided Loyalties: Between Colonial State and the Newly Emerging Nation
Rhetoric of loyalty and bravery – carefully inculcated by the colonial state – 1897 – the Battle of Saragarhi
Brutalization of war – fighting in fronts in France, Egypt, Mesopotamia
Shortages, droughts, famines, death and disease – 1918 – Spanish Flu – 800,000 Punjabis alone died in October-November 1918.
The Ghadar movement 1915 – almost 50% participants Sikhs
Khilafat movement – Gandhi and Ali brothers in India – mobilizing Muslims over the end of the Caliph in Turkey
Mutiny in Singapore in 1915 – lasted 7 days.
The Jallianwala Bagh shooting on Punjabis in Amritsar on 13th April 1919
The Akali movement and Gurudwara Reform Movements in the 1920s
Controversies over carrying kirpans – Kate Imy (Faithful Fighters) – the size of the kirpan that could be carried – on the one hand 5 Ks encouraged; on the other in India Arms Act that did not allow ordinary people to carry arms.
Public executions of Indian sepoys in Singapore, Outram Road, during the Mutiny of 1915.
World War II
The Making of the Azad Hind Fauj – Indian National Army – first under the leadership of Mohan Singh by the Indian PoWs from the British Indian Army Captured by Japan during the Malay campaign and in Singapore – and then again under the leadership of the charismatic Subhash Chandra Bose - 1942-43.
Among the famous INA trials in Delhi – Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, Prem Sehgal, and Shah Nawaz Khan – put on trial in the Red Fort at Delhi.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose with Lakshmi
Sehgal, the led the Rani of Jhansi Regiment
Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon
Shah Nawaz Khan
Indian National Army Heroes
Questions to Ponder
To what extent did the ideals of martial race intersect with the Khalsa Sikh notions of masculinity?
How did the creation of the ideal of martial races divide the colonized Indians?
Did the idealizing of masculinity lead to disempowerment of femininity?
How did notions of being a loyal Sikh and Punjabi soldier mean for the development of loyalty to one’s country?