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Indian Soldiers Fighting for Britain

What Motivated Indians to Join the British Army in WW1?

Apart from Britain actively seeking and encouraging men from across the Empire to join the army, following are the motivations for the soldiers of undivided India to enlist and fight in WW1.


Recruitment poster with the title: The Empire needs Men! There's a picture of a lion on a rock, surrounded by lion cubs. The strapline reads: Helped by the young lions, the old lion defeats his foes! Enlist now!
WW1 Recruitment Poster Aimed at Soldiers from the British Empire

Social Mobility

Lower class men were recruited when the intensity and duration of the war prolonged. By joining a military force that was dominated by the Indian upper classes, people belonging to the lower class for the first time had the opportunity to feel as equals. Recruitment in the army allowed people to momentarily break the barriers of discrimination they had faced for so long.

Status and respect

The recruitment was a part of the broader trend of untouchables (the lowest class in Hindu society – see the Glossary) seeking employment outside their village and their mainstream occupation. Recruitment to the army helped the underprivileged get out of socio-economic stratification, gave them high self-esteem among the village masses, pride, self-reliance and elevated their place in society, which was crucial for these untouchables.

Escape from poverty

A nominal fee of 11 rupees per month (0.11 British pounds in today's currency), a uniform and three meals per day was offered by the British. Illiterate peasants could be easily persuaded to join up, especially during a time of food shortages. It was already common during imperial rule for resources from India to be exported to Britain, and this was particularly the case during the war. This export of goods including foodstuffs led to extreme shortages in India.


Black and white photograph showing Sikh troops wearing turbans and holding long swords. A woman is holding out flowers to one of the soldiers.
Indian Troops Marching in France During WW1

Respect and Decent Standard of Living

Despite the many challenges brought forth by the war, there was an effort to treat Indian soldiers with respect and dignity. The rights to practise their religion and eat according to their religious beliefs were respected. A 'Comfort Committee' was set up to provide the soldiers with all the essentials like spices, ghee (clarified butter, used in cooking), religious books and even neem sticks to clean their teeth and waterproof turban covers. It was also the first time Indian curries were cooked close to the trenches.  Back in England, the first halal butcher was opened in Brighton.