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19 - Indian Contingent passing saluting dias, Victory Parade, London.jpg

HISTORY

Where did the Muslims come from?

The principal area of recruitment was the then undivided Punjab, now formed of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and that part of Western Punjab now in Pakistan. The principal groups or classes recruited included Punjabi and other Muslims as shown in the table below, as well as Sikhs, Jats, Pathans, Rajputs, Dogras, Garhwalis and Gurkhas.  

3 - unidentified soldier - 15th Punjab Regiment - portrait by Harry Sheldon.jpg

A soldier of 15th Punjab Regiment by Harry Sheldon, war artist

From the late nineteenth century the British considered that only those from selected geographical areas, and from among selected ethnic groups and sub-groups, were deemed to be ‘competent’ to bear arms in the service of the Empire.  This policy was based on what was called the ‘martial races’ theory. The Muslim element within that categorisation included Pathans, Baluchis, Punjabi Muslims, Kashmiris, Hindustani Muslims, Rajputana and Central India Muslims, Deccani Muslims, Madrassi Muslims and Hazaras from Afghanistan and Meshed.

With regard to World War 2, and looking more closely at the Muslim community, the following table shows the recruitable population by specific class, the numbers serving pre-war, numbers recruited during the war, the total of pre-war and wartime recruited and their percentage of the total recruitable Muslim population.

Class

 

(a)

Pathans

Assamese

Baluchis

Bengalis

Dekhanis

Punjabi (incl. Hazarawals)

Hindustani

Meos

Morats (Katats)

Rajputana & Central India

Ranghars

Others

Recruitable population

(b)

128,200

80,565

11,780

764,720

156,478

1,087,450

450,848

17,300

1,300

53,760

28,160

161,040

2,941,601

Serving pre-war

 

(c)

6,048

nil

57

nil

164

33,935

654

384

nil

1,001

1,857

nil

44,100

Recruited from 3 Sep 1939 – 31 Oct 1944

(d)

59,951

3,031

987

60,777

18,564

314,668

23,785

2,535

940

9,210

6,763

50,408

551,619

Total enrolled pre-war and during war i.e. (c) + (d)

(e)

65,999

3,031

1,044

60,777

18,728

348,603

24,439

2,919

940

10,211

8,620

50,408

595,719

Percentage of total enrolled to recruitable population

(f)

51.5

3.8

8.9

7.9

12.0

32.1

5.4

16.8

72.3

19.0

30.6

31.3

In addition to the Muslim soldiers of the Indian Army in both World Wars, the Muslim sailors of the Royal Indian Marine (World War I)   and Royal Indian Navy (World War 2) and the Royal Indian Air Force (World War 2)  ,  we should also remember those from other countries who fought for the Allied cause in both world wars.

Although not a part of the Indian Army, the Indian diaspora in different parts of the British Empire contributed to other Colonial armed forces.  Both the Malay States Guides and the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery were comprised of 50% Muslims of Indian descent.  

Long before the outbreak of World War I, Muslims from the Indian Army had formed part of the volunteers drawn from different Indian Army regiments that served in East Africa in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.  An all-Muslim unit, albeit a short-lived one and outside the ambit of the Indian Army, was The Hong Kong Regiment circa 1892-1902. 

We should not forget those Muslims from countries under the influence of our allies, particularly the French, who also fought for the Allied cause.  Recent research   suggests that, during World War I, enlisted fighting soldiers included 200,000 Algerians, 100,000 Tunisians, 40,000 Moroccans, 100,000 West Africans, 5,000 Somalis and Libyans, 5,000 American Muslims and 1.3 million Russians.  As well as the 40,000 non-combatant Indian labourers there were many others at the front; 100,000 Egyptians, 35,000 Chinese Muslims, 130,000 North Africans and 200,000 Sub Saharan Africans. 

Sources

5

   See also www.muslimsinww1.com in the Links section below.

   Vivek Chaudhary. ‘Forgotten brothers in arms: the Muslim heroes who fought on the western front’, The Observer, 12 November 2017.

4

   There was no Indian Air Force during World War I though Indians did fly as combat pilots in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, forerunner of the Royal Air Force.

3

   In addition to the very large number of seamen and lascars who served on board RIM ships during the war others also served on Royal Navy ships.

2

   Willcox Report, Vol 2, Appendix C

1

sources
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