“They gave their ‘todays’ for someone else’s ‘yesterdays’. They left behind orphans, but history has orphaned them as well.” That’s what Congress leader Shashi Tharoor noted in a BBC article about the 13 lakh Indian soldiers who participated in World War I, whose enormous contribution has almost been forgotten.
Although the major players were European powers, World War I was truly a global war because soldiers from every inhabited continent participated in it. While the involvement of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and South Africans is well-documented, the Indian effort remains largely ignored.
A new video by YouTube channel The Great War which has been covering the events of 1914-1918 “in real time” attempts to remedy that. More Indians left their homes and crossed the seas in those four years than in the century that preceded it the first World War. Of these, 70,000 sepoys lost their lives in battle.
The fallout of the war fuelled India’s struggle for independence. There was anger at the loss of Indian lives in a war they did not understand and at economic hardships faced by Indian citizens because of heavy British expenditure in the war. Mahatma Gandhi even encouraged Indians to enlist, because he felt that it would be a proof of their patriotism, and might lead to political concessions post the war.