Throughout my life I have been part of so many amazing communities. Including, my school community, my local community in Birmingham and finally, in my mind the most obvious one, the community of the country around me. However, you do not need to walk far before you can open a history book entirely about Britain’s involvement in First World War, or topics encompassing all these communities. To this day, however, there is one community that is particularly left behind in Britain; one of forgotten heroism. They fought for Britain in two world wars. They travelled up to 3000 miles away from their homes; fighting in places they’d never heard of; for a country that had enslaved them and they had never stepped foot in. A part of England that speaks of shared heritage and common values. A world where Muslims were seen not as enemies of the west but comrades. The Pakistani Muslim community. It is this community that makes me question how connected and accepted I am within the rest of my circles. In a Britain, surrounded by rising Xenophobia and Islamaphobia, it is time to ask, what was the effect of WW1 on the Muslim and at this time Indian community and how has it had such resonating effects on all my other communities, a fact that is not clearly seen today.
During WW1 India was crown jewel of the British Empire and in fighting alongside British soldiers, they set out to prove their right for independence and self rule. This is shown by the fact that in 1916 two home rule leagues, were set up within India. However, British resistance led to many arrests surrounding people supporting these ideas and the release of one of the most repressive set of rules, taking India so many steps backwards: The Rowlett Acts. Britain, resolute on not repeating mistakes of their past have proved once again that no matter the attempts of Indians and Pakistanis and Muslims alike to incorporate and prove themselves ‘ to be contributing upright members’ they are not able to. Britain continues to prove, with its rising islamaphobia, its drive for Brexit to get rid of immigrants and the fact that Muslim women are still 71% less likely to be employed than a White Christian woman (1) that nothing will change their mentality.
It is the blood of Indian men on the battlefield along with the British. It is ironic to see another community I feel surrounds me, that of Britain shouting at me ‘go back to where you came from’ and ‘stop taking our money’, when without my ancestors support during WWI, we could have been in an extremely different position. It was imperative for the British war effort that India was kept onside. Without Indian soldiers, Britain would have effectively lost the war.
India contributed a huge 1.45 million men of which, there were more than 400,000 Muslim soldiers and at least 74,187 Indian Soldiers including Muslims died during the course of the war. (2)
Take for example the Battle of Somme that included so many different communities and the British all the way to Indian Muslims were affected. Two Indian regiments took part in the first and only cavalry charge of the battle – between the High Wood and Delville Wood area – but were forced to retreat under heavy fire. By the end of the first day 57,000 commonwealth soldiers were made casualties and overall 19,000 were dead. This battle and so many others like it that would go on throughout the war would claim the lives of many Indian soldiers and not only affect the community they were part of then but continues to echo throughout the generations.
The lives of these soldiers were completely transformed; as well as being plunged into a culture shock, Indian soldiers were not trained for mechanised warfare and deep seeded disbelief echoed throughout the whole community. For example the 57th Wilde’s Rifles encountered new gas warfare. They had to take off their turbans, urinate on them and hold it to their noses to combat the gas. Gas destroyed their lung tissues, completely blinded them and slowly destroyed them on the inside. The fighting came as a shock to soldiers more used to colonial warfare. One man wrote home: “This is not war; it is the ending of the world.”
Overall, the First World War had huge effects on the Indian Muslim community, with it emphasising rifts between religions, taking one more step forward resulting in partition and with the huge demands of the British Empire as they completely changed the lives of all the soldiers and their families who were torn apart to fight in the war. However, even 100 years later I want all my communities to realise that they were significant and were hugely affected in different ways due to WWI but we see that few steps have been taken. This is shown when the company British Future did a survey in UK where only 2% of people knew that Muslims fought for Britain in WW1 (3). I want Britain to see that our shared history might lead to a more united future.