The article ‘Fighting an alien war’ in your Jan- June 2015 edition presents an opportunity to re- examine and discuss history from a perspective that is removed from Western subjectivity and bias. However, even before such an idea is acted upon, awareness of historical facts needs to be strengthened. For instance, how many of us are aware that Mahatma Gandhi’s first civil disobedience campaign against British authority in 1919 stemmed from the unrealised hope that India’s contribution to World War I (of approximately 1.6 million men) would be honoured with a transition to self-government?
While the Indian sepoy fought some of the bloodiest and fiercest British wars, it is ironical how colonial medicine in India was ‘enclavist’ in character, in that its main function was to minister to the needs of Europeans and colonial troops. Medical services and measures were restricted to a small sector of the population, primarily to the European civil and military servants and their families. In fact, the Royal Commission of India, which signals the beginning of preventive health measures, was established, in part at least, because of the concern of deaths of British soldiers from diseases during the Sepoy Mutiny. The priority of sanitary work was based on military arguments and designed to protect British soldiers from diseases with total lack of concern for civilian populations.
The article also provokes one to draw parallels with the current state of affairs in terms of defence expenditure. The authour writes that the monetary contribution of India during World War I pushed the country deeper into bankruptcy and debt. This year, India will spend 11 per cent of the total government expenditure on defence. The United States spends 4.0 per cent of its GDP on defence, China 2.5 per cent, and Pakistan 3.5 per cent. Evidently, war is a piece of history that refuses to die.
Chandni Nair (Chandni is a social development participant)
The article “The Ghadar of 1915 and its Imprint” in your Vol IX, No.1 & 2, Jan-June 2015 issue, marking the centenary of the revolutionary uprising against the colonial rulers – is indeed a reminder of the deep historical significance of the event and its social, political backdrop. It instilled the spirit of nationalism and united people in opposition to colonial rule, decades before the struggle for Independence took the form of a national movement. As a nation we should salute those who were part of this uprising –peasants, workers, youth and soldiers in the British Indian Army.
However the allusion to the “Indian National Congress as a party by titled Indians with European bourgeoise values aimed at integrating themselves within the colonial system” – shows scant respect for a party that was in the vanguard of the Independence struggle. Yes there were westernised, highly intellectual leaders who were drawn to it but the party equally attracted scores of other tall leaders, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Maulana Azad, not to mention the hundreds and thousands of people in India cutting across class, religion and region who lent strength and credibility to this party.
India at that time and perhaps more now is an amalgamation of cultures, values, philosophies, social and political structures. Class divisions are a reality; so is caste. Social and political transformation can take place with the involvement of people from different backgrounds, capacities, orientation and weave them together for a common cause. Today, while recognising the socio-economic and political realities, we need to be cautious in using labels, of shutting the door to genuine contribution to societal change from any quarter.
Yours sincerely, Sujata Raghavan