"Indian labour and the geographies of the Great War" Public Lecture by Prof. Radhika Singha at Teen Murti House, Teen Murti Marg > 3pm on 21st November 2013

Time : 3:00 pm

Entry : Free (Seating on First-Come First-Served basis)

Place : Seminar Room, Library Building, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML), Teen Murti House, Teen Murti Marg, New Delhi - 110011
Venue Info :  Events About Map | Nearest Metro Station - 'Race Course(Yellow Line)'

Event Description : ‘Indian labour and the geographies of the Great War’ Public Lecture by Prof. Radhika Singha, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

As part of India and the wider World Series.

Event Description : The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library cordially invites you to a Public Lecture (in the ‘India and the wider World’ series) on ‘Indian Labour and the Geographies of the Great War’ by Prof. Radhika Singha, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Abstract : How can we position India, or more accurately South Asia, in those epochal events which we refer to as the Great War. In official accounts as well as in nationalist narratives the Great War congealed as an external event to which India ‘contributed’. The Hindi press persistently used the term ‘European Mahayudh’. Was this a way of underlining the fact that India had no choice in the matter one way or another? What the phrase captured in fact was public wonder, both in India and in Britain, about an   extra-ordinary departure in the spatial pattern of deploying Indian military manpower for empire, namely the sailing on 25 August 1917, of the first division of the Indian Corps for France. In the official history, India’s Contribution to the Great War, (1923) it is only a few pages later that one learns that  concurrently  India also sent  an infantry brigade to the Persian Gulf, one Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade to Egypt and a mixed force to East Africa. [1] This was after-all,  the familiar arc of imperial power around  India, one  which South Asian  military and police units, but also its  merchant networks,  and its  artisanal and labour gangs had helped to put in place. Historians such as Thomas Metcalf and Sugata Bose have examined the dynamic of  such regional networks. A large part of the story of India in the Great War is about the intensified deployment of its material and manpower resources to preserve and extend imperial power along these arteries. Kristian Coates Ulrichson’s insightful work uses this frame to examine the deployment of both Egyptian and Indian manpower  in the Middle Eastern theatre and the strains this generated by 1918. The speaker’s own work on the compulsory passport regime in India during world war one suggests that the circulation of Indian labour around the Bay of Bengal can also be brought in to  reconstruct the spatial frame for India’s place in the Great War. Indian labour generated material resources, services and exchange balances at work-sites both within the borders of India and outside it. The war machine needed these inputs and manpower mobilization for military use had to compete with these other uses. The theme of work-sites brings the speaker to her other suggestion, namely that the military- construction complex along India’s land frontiers has to be worked more rigorously into the  spatial and chronological frame of the Great War. It was partly by tapping regimes already in place to service border-making in India that the colonial regime coped with the manpower demands made on it. However this exercise also set up circuits between these militarized frontier zones and the theatres of world war one with explosive consequences. She illustrates this theme by returning again to the European theatre of war. In public perception the understanding was  that ‘all the Indians  had left France in 1915’. In fact the cavalry divisions were retained till March 1918 and from June 1917 there would be a second flow of South Asian manpower into the European theatre – the Indian Labour corps, followed by  horse and mule drivers  who replaced British personnel in ammunition columns which has  shown in different ways that the signal role of the Indian Army lay in the protection of the supply and communication  routes of empire from the Mediterranean down into the Suez Canal and up towards Arabia and the Persian Gulf on the one side and down towards East Africa on the other.  Thomas Metcalf  has shown how  Indian merchant networks and  labour, combatant and non-combatant, was tapped to construct the sub-imperial networks of power which radiated out across this landscape from the hubs of Delhi, Bombay or Mombasa. The Great War would magnify the call upon India’s material and human resources to preserve and extend influence along these networks. Kristian Coates Ulrichson has with great insight examined the call upon human resources both from India and Egypt in this same frame.

Speaker : Prof. Radhika Singha teaches history at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research themes focus on the social history of crime and criminal law, identification practices in relation to colonial governmentality, and borders and border –crossing in South Asia. The mobilisation of human resources from India for World War one has become a second, often intersecting research track. She has published a book entitled A Despotism of Law: Crime and Justice in Early Colonial India (Oxford University Press, 1998, 2000), and articles on identification practices, law and infrastructural power, colonial travel documents, and non-combatant labour in World War one.

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"Indian labour and the geographies of the Great War" Public Lecture by Prof. Radhika Singha at Teen Murti House, Teen Murti Marg > 3pm on 21st November 2013 "Indian labour and the geographies of the Great War" Public Lecture by Prof. Radhika Singha at Teen Murti House, Teen Murti Marg > 3pm on 21st November 2013 Reviewed by DelhiEvents on Thursday, November 21, 2013 Rating: 5

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