During the first four decades of the twentieth century, the British Indian Army possessed an illusion of racial and religious inclusivity. The army recruited diverse soldiers, known as the "Martial Races," including British Christians, Hindustani Muslims, Punjabi Sikhs, Hindu Rajputs, Pathans from northwestern India, and "Gurkhas" from Nepal. As anti-colonial activism intensified, military officials incorporated some soldiers' religious traditions into the army to keep them disciplined and loyal. They facilitated acts such as the fast of Ramadan for Muslim soldiers and allowed religious swords among Sikhs to recruit men from communities where anti-colonial sentiment grew stronger. Consequently, Indian nationalists and anti-colonial activists charged the army with fomenting racial and religious divisions. In Faithful Fighters, Kate Imy explores how military culture created unintended dialogues between soldiers and civilians, including Hindu nationalists, Sikh revivalists, and pan-Islamic activists. By the 1920s and 30s, the army constructed military schools and academies to isolate soldiers from anti-colonial activism. While this carefully managed military segregation crumbled under the pressure of the Second World War, Imy argues that the army militarized racial and religious difference, creating lasting legacies for the violent partition and independence of India, and the endemic warfare and violence of the post-colonial world.
About the author
Kate Imy is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Texas.
"This astute cultural history of the British Indian Army moves beyond the binary of loyalty and rebellion to track the assemblage of beliefs and bodily practices at stake in war and peace across empire's frontier regions. No other book captures so well the psychic life of war's devotional cultures, whether on the colonial battlefield or off."
—Antoinette Burton, Swanlund Endowed Professor of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
"Faithful Fighters shows that violence and militarization associated with martial identities were widely adopted in Indian nationalist cultures, with profound consequences for the future. The book makes crucial contributions to South Asian, military, and colonial history."
—Heather Streets-Salter, Northeastern University
"Faithful Fighters is an important addition to the growing body of scholarly work on the colonial Indian army, and the project of global militarization that underwrote modern European imperialism. Through new materials and archives, Imy's major contribution is to the overlooked imbrication of anticolonialism and military culture in these contexts."
—Leela Gandhi, John Hawkes Professor of Humanities and English, Brown University