Race and Recruitment in the Indian Army: 1880–1918

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Roy, Kaushik (2013) Race and Recruitment in the Indian Army: 1880–1918, Modern Asian Studies 47(4): 1310–1347.

​​ In 1914, the Indian Army was deployed against the enemies of the British Empire. This paper analyses the administrative mechanism as well as the imperial assumptions and attitudes which shaped the recruitment policy of the Indian Army during the First World War. From the late nineteenth century, the Martial Race theory (a bundle of contradictory ideas) shaped the recruitment policy. With certain modifications, this theory remained operational to the first decade of the twentieth century. The construction of the ‘martial races’ enabled the British to play-off different communities against each other to prevent the emergence of a unified anti-British sentiment among the colonized. During the Great War, faced with the rising demands of manpower, the army was forced to modify the Martial Race theory. However, a conscript army did not emerge in British-India. This was due to imperial policies, the inherent social divisions of Indian society, and because the demands for military manpower remained relatively low in comparison to India's demographic resources. Due to innovations in the theory and praxis of recruitment, the volume of recruitment showed a linear increase from 1914 to 1918, with maximum intensification of recruitment occurring during 1917 and 1918. But as the war ended in November 1918, despite the entry of several new communities, the bulk of the Indian Army still came from the traditional martial races.​

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Kaushik Roy

Kaushik Roy

PRIO Global Fellow; Senior Researcher