The history of the world has gone through two World Wars. The loss of lives and properties caused by both the Wars is almost impossible to meet. These wars were named as World War I and World War II.
World War I also said the First World War was started on 28th July 1914 and continued till 11th November 1918. The two forces against each other in World War I was Allied Powers and the Central Powers. The allied powers were Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States whereas the Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.
The Role of India in First World War
In the First World War, Great Britain took the help of India. In the support of Britain, more than 1 million people from all over British India participated in the war and fought against the German Empire.
The Indian Forces were comprised of people of different religions like Hindu, Muslim and Sikh and they belonged to different places as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra etc.
It was because of the huge support of Indian Forces that the First World War resulted in the favour of Allied Powers.
Impact of the First World War on India
Since the British were ruling India at the time of the First World War and India had provided huge support to Great Britain, it was obvious that India had to bear the consequences of it. The First World War had a massive impact on India and on the livelihood of its people. The few and important effects were as:
- During the First World War, the recruitment in the army of British India was going without any hindrance; though, rather forcibly, so obviously it was going to create resentment among the Indians.
- The most immediate effect of the First World War was that it increased the defence expenditure significantly, which became almost impossible to be stopped or partially reduced.
- In order to balance the defence expenditure, various types of taxes were imposed by the British Government on the Indian people such as customs duty, income tax, super tax etc. which immediately raised the prices and invited inflation.
- During World War I, there were some situations which led to India going through a situation of under-production. In such a condition, even when food was not enough for personal use, it was necessary to send it to the fighting army.
- During the First World War, about 12 to 13 million people lost their lives due to the famine and epidemic spread in the country. It was a disaster for India.
The Rowlett Act
Before the beginning of the First World War, the British Government had assured the Indian Nationalists and Political Leaders that it would establish self-rule in India but soon after the end of the Battle, they disobeyed their promise. The British Government knew that it would raise anger among Indians and might also lead some unwanted situations in the Country so in support of it they passed the Rowlett Act in February 1919.
According to the Rowlett Act, the British Government had the power to arrest and imprisons any civilian without providing them with the consent and also they were not bound to represent that person in the Court. It was named as the Rowlett Act on the name of the British judge Sir Sidney Rowlett.
The response of the Nationalists to the First World War
The First World War had a great impact on India and its people as well as the Nationalists. It affected the Indians on a very large scale and forced them to attempt such movements that made many phenomenal changes to the nation. Some of the nationalists too, influenced by this war, took many such steps which they felt in the national interest. Let us study those responses sequentially:
- At the time of the beginning of the War, some political leaders like Surendra Nath Banarjee and Mahatma Gandhi expressed their wholehearted support to the British Government.
- The legendary writer Rabindra Nath Tagore condemned World War I through his writings and poems.
- Some political leaders strongly opposed World War 1 and demanded self-rule in return of their support to the Allied Powers.
- Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant founded Home Rule League in 1916 demanding Home Rule for India.
- Political parties like All India Muslim League and Indian National Congress and other parties of British India supported the Allied Powers and provided them with every kind of help.
- The Indian National Congress and All India Muslim League jointly signed a pact called Lucknow Pact in 1916 providing equal importance to both the communities Hindu and Muslim and asking for self-rule from the British Government.
- The revolutionaries and nationalists like Gadar Party of North America by Punjabi Sikhs saw the outbreak of the First World War as an opportunity for them.
- The Gadar Party returned to India in 1915 and started many revolutionary activities against the British Government.
- After the World War had ended, Mahatma Gandhi started a movement in 1919 named as Civil Disobedience Movement against the British Authority.
- The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on 13 April 1919 as a result of protest of Indians against the Rowlett Act passed by the British Government.
The Epidemic Influenza in India
The year 1918 was a mourning time for India and the entire world. At this time, the influenza epidemic had engulfed the whole world. While the entire world was plagued by this epidemic, India was at the forefront of deaths due to it.
Spreading all over the world, influenza reached India via Mumbai at the beginning of September of 1918. It is estimated that the pandemic of influenza took 100 million lives worldwide out of which India hold the maximum percentage of deaths. It will not be wrong to say that British India was the centre of attack of Influenza.
Causes of the Epidemic
- Since Influenza is an infectious disease; therefore, one of the major causes of this Epidemic may be considered the spread of the virus through contact.
- The people of India, at that time, were suffering from malnutrition and also hunger because of under-production of crops. It led to a weaken the immune system and be the victim of an H1N1 virus of Swine Flu.
- The massive movement for War and poor hygiene also caused the Flu to be spread among the people.
- The lack of knowledge and the absence of proper health facilities aggravated the situation.
The Epidemic of 1918 which was actually pandemic occurred in three waves in the whole world. The first wave occurred in spring of 1918, the second wave in fall of 1918 and the third wave in winter of the same year. All three waves had fatal results with enormous deaths.
After the First World War had begun, the Indian National Congress conducted its Lucknow session in the year 1916. It was the first session of Congress in which the Moderates and Extremists were brought together on the same platform. The Congress session was also joined by the All India Muslim League and both the important political parties of British India signed a pact which was called Lucknow Pact.
The Lucknow Pact signed by both the Parties has some clauses which were as follows:
- India should have self-government.
- The central government will provide one-third representation to the Muslims of the Country.
- Every community should have separate electorates until it demands a joint electorate.
- Minorities should be provided more representation into the Government.
- The number of members of the Central Legislative Council should be increased to 150.
- If a bill concerning a community is opposed by three-fourth of the members of that community in the Legislative Council then that bill should not be passed.
- The Legislative Council should have the tenure of 5 years.
- The President of the Legislative Council should be elected by the members.
- Half of the members of the Legislative Council should be Indian.
- One of the two Under Secretaries should be Indian.
- The Judiciary and the Executive should be separated from each other and function individually.
Apart from these important clauses, there were some more clauses mentioned in the pact which were in the favour of Indian and to provide a balance between Indians and British in the Government.
Importance of Lucknow Pact
The Lucknow Pact was very important for Indian politics as well as social structure. It showed the unity of Hindu and Muslim of India and proved their capacity to work together for a better Nation.
Before this Pact Indian Hindu and Muslim were struggling for their own separate demands but it was for the first time when both the communities were standing together. The Lucknow Pact brought two political parties of different communities All India Muslim League and Indian National Congress together. Also, it was for the first time when moderates and extremists of the Indian National Congress were sharing the same platform.
Overall we can say that the duration of 1914 to 1919 caused a record number of deaths in Indian History. The main reasons for these deaths were World War I and the epidemic of influenza. Although World War I has no direct connection with Independence of India in 1947 yet it ignited a spark of revolt and freedom among Indians.