Indian soldiers in First World War were ‘hired assassins’ of British: Justice Markandey Katju

In his blog, Katju differs with the view that Indian soldiers who fought in World War 1 should be honoured.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh | Published: December 11, 2014 6:00 pm
Justice Katju says that he differs with the view that Indian soldiers who fought in World War 1 should be honoured. Justice Katju says that he differs with the view that Indian soldiers who fought in World War 1 should be honoured.

Justice Markandey Katju has once again courted controversy in his blog and this time the objects of his caustic remarks are soldiers of the Indian Army who took part in the First World War under the British flag. Questioning the need to honour these soldiers in the 100th anniversary of the war, Justice Katju has said that the Indian troops fought as “hired assassins”.

In the blog, written on December 9, Justice Katju says that he differs with the view that Indian soldiers who fought in World War 1 should be honoured. He then goes on to give a history of the First World War and the reason why the Triple alliance of England, France and Russia fought against Germany and Austria.

While giving this background Justice Katju argues that the First World War had nothing to do with the people of India. It was a war which was fought for redistribution of colonies.

He further writes that the Indian soldiers who fought in that war on the side of the British and French “were really mercenaries and hirelings of the British and French”. He also writes that “the Indian troops fought as hired assassins” to kill Germans for Anglo-French interests, not Indian interests. “They may have been brave, but many hired assassins are also brave. Why then should we honour them,” he questions.

Not surprisingly his comments have riled many in the Indian defence community and among the first to criticise Justice Katju is Captain Amarinder Singh of the erstwhile royal state of Patiala. Patiala state contributed one of the largest contingents of soldiers to the British effort in the first world war and he has also recently written a book on the role of Indian soldiers in the First World War.

Attacking Justice Katju, Capt Amarinder said that he should not make comments on issues about which he has no knowledge. “What he has written in his blog is an insult to to the Indian Army and its regiments. The Indian Army deserves an apology from Justice Katju,” he said.

Amarinder went on to add that the decision to send Indian troops to fight in the First World War was ratified by the Indian National Congress which passed a resolution ratifying it. “Even Mahatma Gandhi supported this then who is Katju to question the motivation and dedication of the Indian soldier who fought for his regiment and honour,” he said.

As many as 62,000 Indian troops are officially listed as having died in the four-year long war. However, as per Captain Amarinder the number of those who lost their lives is far more since this list does not include those from the state forces. “The Commonwealth Graves Commission lists 74,000 Indian,” he said.

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  1. Jai Kumar
    Dec 11, 2014 at 11:29 pm
    I agree with Mr katju. Whether we like it or not we were like slaves fighting for our masters. The soldiers who deserve to be honoured are those. Who fought in 1857 war of I dependence.The Ipsoldiers of INA in WWII .The Indians who fought for the Brits in WW I did not do so for glory or in defense of Motherland.They were no better than mercenaries.Valient and brave but mercenaries.The Brits can and should honour them, but they did not fight under and for an Indian Flag.
    1. A
      Amarjot Mangat
      Dec 16, 2014 at 8:02 pm
      Justice Katju has described these combatants as asins and mercenaries fighting a war which had nothing to do with India or Indians. Further the causes of World War I have very simplistically been reduced to a single point agenda of dominion over the colonies and the resultant control of the “loot” from these under-developed countries. However,the reasons why war erupted in the Balkans in July 1914 are actually much more complicated than a simple list of causes. These included political, territorial and economic conflicts among the great European powers in the four decades leading up to the war, militarism, a complex web of alliances, imperialism and nationalism. Therefore reducing the causes of the First World Waras a mere desire for empire and control over the loot from colonies may not becorrect. The Indians who fought in World War I fought as part of the Indian Army formed by Lord Kitchener by merging the armies of the three Presidencies. This along with the British Army was what consuted the Army of India. In 1914, the Indian Army was the largest volunteer army in the world and was regularly called upon to deal with incursions and raids on the North West Frontier. Therefore individuals who fought as part of this army were regular soldiers and not merely “mercenaries” motivated to take part in a specific war and “kill Germans” purely for personal financial gain. Indian soldiers fighting as part of the United Nations Peace Keeping contingents are also fighting somebody else’s war. These conflicts have little or no bearing on the interests of the Indian people. So should we now refer to all these troops as mercenaries? Maybe the author understands neither soldiers nor mercenaries. The ProtocolAdditional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (APGC77) providesthe most widely accepted international definition of a mercenary, and by nostretch of imagination can the Indian Soldiers who fought in World War I betermed mercenaries. As for the benefits of these Indian soldiers fighting a war for “Anglo-French colonial interests and not those of the Indian people”, it is well established that there was a wide consuency among Indian leaders (including the Indian National Congress) who believed that India’s demand for Independence would be strengthened by helping out Britain at the time of her crisis. Therefore at the time of going to war, Indians who supported the war effort by contributing large numbers of soldiers and huge sums of money probably did so with the larger aim of Indian independence in mind. The actual soldiers were possiblyonly doing what soldiers do best – do their duty; and the numerous memorials in Europe, honouring the Indian Soldier,stand testimony to the fact that they did so with elan and in the highesttraditions of soldiering. The Indian Soldier is accustomed to neglect and disregard from his countrymen. Yet he does his duty proudly, day after gruelling day for the simple cause of Naam, Namak, Nishan. We may not honour the memory of the soldier who lays down his life in battle, but nothing can be worse than insulting him by calling him a mercenary or a hired in.
      1. A
        Dec 11, 2014 at 7:32 pm
        we fully ratify Mr. Katju's view,many historians will also ratify. It was nothing more than poor people trying to earn some living,so no question of honouring them.
        1. A
          Apache Indian
          Dec 11, 2014 at 7:30 pm
          Not true! Many Indians were taken forcefully from villages. I know it because my gfather's cousin was taken this way. Can Mr. Katzu fight a war if he is paid a ry?
          1. N
            Dec 11, 2014 at 6:01 pm
            Is this man paranoid and outright stupid. Talking like an uneducated person .
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