India and The War

By Sidney Brooks

[The North American Review, April 1916]

With one accord they took up arms against it. The Nizam of Hyderabad, governing a people twice as numerous as the people of the Netherlands and three times as numerous as the people of Ireland, offered at once $2,000,000 towards the cost of the war. The Maharaja of Mysore, with more subjects than the King of Sweden, was scarcely less munificent. The Maharaja of Gwalior, the ruler of a greater State than Denmark, gave $1,500,000 from his private purse to equip a hospital ship. Prince after Prince tendered their personal services and placed at the disposal of the Government their troops, their treasuries, their jewels, their horses and camels, the entire resources of their States. The chiefs of the border tribes, who love nothing better than an occasional raid on British territory, sent loyal messages and offers of support. From independent States beyond the frontier, like Nepal and Tibet, came assurances of sympathy backed up by free-banded pledges of military and financial assistance. All over Tibet innumerable Lamas offered up prayers for the success of British arms. Inside the British-ruled dominions in India the same demonstrative enthusiasm prevailed. " In fact," said Lord Crewe at the time, "there is only one spirit and one movement over the whole of India. The Viceroy has received thousands of telegrams and letters from every quarter expressing loyalty and the desire to assist; and the local administrations have also received a vast number. They have come from every community, from all manner of different associations, religious and political, from all the different creeds, and from countless numbers of individuals offering their resources or their personal services." The native members on the various governing councils delivered speeches, and the native journalists wrote articles breathing nothing but the most generous loyalty and gratitude, and insisting unanimously that India asked for nothing better than to bear her full share of the burdens of the war. Political agitation suddenly and utterly ceased. The educated classes, from whose ranks had come the most formidable opponents of British rule, were now the first to profess a fervent loyalty. The mass of the people found a thousand touching ways of testifying to their faith in the justice and integrity of their British governors and their devotion to the Crown. Instead of an India of gloom, unrest and schism, the lightnings of the war revealed to us an India in a state of exuberant loyalty, fused into a single whole, and fearful only lest full advantage should not be taken of its spirit of sacrifice and the services it was yearning to render.

To appreciate the greatness of this miracle of unity one must remember what India is. Except technically and geographically, it is not a country at all. It is a continent, and a continent so vastly diversified in race, religion, language, physical conditions and degrees of civilization, that Western experience offers nothing with which to compare it. Imagine the United Kingdom and all Europe under the single rule of Japan; conceive the peoples of the British Isles and of all the countries of Europe, while retaining intact their own speech and faiths and peculiar customs and characteristics, taken up, jumbled together, and poured out again, anyhow and nohow, so that there are as many Frenchmen, Magyars, Irishmen, Spaniards, Finns, Italians and so on in Germany as there are Germans, so that all existing boundaries become meaningless, so that peoples of the most varied development and attainments, holding different beliefs, speaking different tongues, and nourished, it may be, on mutual and inveterate antipathies, dwell side by side in hourly contact—picture all this, and some faint conception will be formed of that polyglot chaos we carelessly label "India." It is the beginning of all Indian wisdom to realize that no countries and no peoples in Europe differ from one another so profoundly as countries and peoples differ in India; that there is no such thing as an Indian nation or as the Indian people or as an Indian consciousness of unity and solidarity; and that among its three hundred millions are races as antagonistic to one another as the Pole to the Prussian or the mongoose to the snake, and as far removed from one another in interests, culture and instincts as the New Englander from the Patagonian. But even these stupendous facts are far from telling the whole tale. The forty-three distinct nationalities or races, the nine main religions—not sects, but religions—and the one hundred and eighty-five languages and dialects that are spoken between the Himalayas and Cape Comorin are only a hint of the endless mosaical complexities of the Indian structure. All these lines of division are themselves divided and subdivided again by the twenty-five hundred castes and their offshoots into which the peoples of the peninsula have been sectionalized. And this amazing congeries, comprising a fifth of the population of the world, is presided over by relatively a mere handful of strangers drawn from a distant island in the North Sea. Judge, then, of the force of that sentiment which even for a moment could overcome this infinity of cross-currents and unite all the peoples of India in a single mind and a single aspiration.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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