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Meet Sergeant Gandhi: In 1915, he was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind medal for his loyalty towards British Empire

Right up to the mid-1920s, Gandhi too struggled to explain his stand and gave contradictory statements. But, when the war ended, Gandhi felt Britain’s cause a righteous one and fought for it

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Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn, in the late 1920s. Image source: Wikipedia
  • In 1914, Gandhi served as a sergeant-major of the British Army and in the next five months, he managed to convince Indians to join the corps
  • Gandhi got affected with pleurisy and left England in December and came India in January, 1915
  • In 1918, regarding the war effort, Gandhi donated a sum of Rs 102 from his own pocket

In August 1914, in South Africa, a British steamer SS Kinfauns Castle had reached the English Channel from Cape Town, when one of the passengers received important news: Germany and the British Empire were at war.  When, the person reached Britain, he declared absolute support to the British war effort and suggested to raise an Indian volunteer unit.

This person was none other than the barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Political gurus and Historians have always taken a great interest in the matter and struggled a lot to understand, why a follower of non-violence and peace had offered support to the British Empire during the First World War.

There are many debates going around regarding the incident. Some believe that Gandhi, being a loyalist had a great faith in the British, while quite a few believe that he saw an opportunity to exact the political concessions from the British during the First World War.

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Right up to the mid-1920s, Gandhi too struggled to explain his stand and gave contradictory statements. But, when the war ended, Gandhi felt Britain’s cause a righteous one and fought for it.

Gandhi_and_Indira_1924
Young Indira with Mahatma Gandhi during his fast in 1924. Image source: Wikipedia

“We have to understand that Gandhi was a politician back then, and like all politicians, he did contradict himself several times. But at that time in India, there was no demand for total independence or ‘poorna swaraj’ but dominion status. So it wasn’t just Gandhi but most political leaders of that time, cutting across party lines, supported in varying degrees the British war effort,” says military historian Squadron Leader Rana T S Chhina (Retd), according to a TOI report.

Gandhi was clear that the Indian Army would be needed on the Western Front. Therefore, he was also certain that many Indians would get wounded and need medical attention. As a result, Gandhi suggested raising an Indian ambulance corps and due to Gandhi’s loyalty towards the British, it was soon sanctioned by the British war office.

This incident took place in 1914, but this was not the first time that the Indians were asked by Gandhi to join British force and support them during the 1899-1902 Second Boer War as well as in Zulu War in 1906. He served as a sergeant-major of the British Army and in the next five months, he managed to convince Indians to join the corps. After joining, some of them also later served in the Brighton and Southampton hospitals where Indian victims were treated. Gandhi was accompanied by Kasturba (his wife) and Sarojini Naidu, who also supported the British Empire unconditionally.

Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu at the 1942 AICC session. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu at the 1942 AICC session. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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Soon, Gandhi got affected with pleurisy and left England in December and came India in January, 1915. This was the year, when Gandhi was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind medal, said a TOI report.

After coming back to India, he continued to support the cause of the British but he also fought the British rule in India by organizing several movements- Champaran Satyagraha in 1917 and the Kheda Satyagraha in 1918. After, Kheda Satyagraha ended he became actively involved in campaigning for the war as a recruiting officer of the empire and appointed fighters. Other leaders who joined him were Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopalkrishna Gokhale and Mohammed Ali Jinnah who promoted the empire’s cause in several degrees.

Vedica Kant, a UK based author came to India to launch her first book, ‘If I die here, who will remember me? India in the First World War‘ says, Gandhi was not like other leaders. “Like others who demanded or expected concessions from the British in return for support to the war, Gandhi, right from the beginning, gave unconditional support. Gandhi was also instrumental in expanding the recruiting bases of the Indian Army to Gujarat and other places: places that didn’t have the so-called martial races as identified by the British. By 1918, the empire was in dire need of men and they had to look to Gujarat, Bengal, Madras etc for recruiting,” she adds.

Among the many recruiting centres that were set up, one was also set up in Gujarat was set up at Pollen Dharamshala in Godhra. This was in April 16, 1918 where a large gathering took place- Thakores of Rewa Kantha Agency and Panch Mahals as well as common people were present when they heard about Gandhi presenting a report about his recruiting work. Gandhi mentioned that the Kaira area had contributed the maximum in Gujarat.

Mahatma Gandhi after being assasinated in New Delhi, January 30, 1948. Image source: Wikipedia
Mahatma Gandhi after being assasinated in New Delhi, January 30, 1948. Image source: Wikipedia

Regarding the war effort, Gandhi donated a sum of Rs 102 from his own pocket. The money collected amounted to Rs 4,500 and additional 1,000 rupees came from a concert held in the evening. As a result, the British government felt a sense of gratitude and awarded recruiters and recruits.

“Voluntary enlistment is the right key to self-government, to say nothing of the manliness and broadmindedness it confers. The honour of our women is bound up with it inasmuch as by enlisting ourselves, we shall acquire that capacity for self-defence, the absence of which at present makes us unable to protect our women and children… The opportunity for military training now open to us all will not present itself in the future… A man who is afraid of death is constitutionally incapable of passive resistance. For a proper appreciation of the true significance of passive resistance the power of physical endurance needs to be cultivated. He alone can practise ‘ahimsa’ who knows ‘himsa’ not in the abstract but in fact,” Gandhi addressed in a mass gathering in Borsad taluka on June 26, 1918.

After the war ended, when British came with repressive measures, Gandhi lost faith in the system. He as well as others started categorizing Indian soldiers, who volunteered for the war as mercenaries and this is where the whole thing went wrong, says Kant. “The Indian Army fought with the consent of the Indian leadership. And that’s why our soldiers cannot be called mercenaries. Now, people today may not like it that so many Indians fought for the empire, but you can’t just write them out of history,” she further adds.

Due to the ongoing politics between the Indian leaders and the British, Indian soldiers never found their rightful place in the pages of history.

-by Deepannita Das, sub-editor at NewsGram. Twitter: @deepweep

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Veerappan: India’s most wanted

Veerappan was hunted by the police for over four decades, making it the longest man-hunt in India

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Veerappan was a smuggler, poacher, murderer and extortionist who was killed in Operation Cocoon
Veerappan in his heyday, He was killed via Operation Cocoon
  • Veerappan was a smuggler of ivory and sandalwood in the southern states of India.
  • He killed government officials and civilians alike when they tried to stop his illegal activities.
  • He died in October 2004 during ‘Operation Cocoon’, which was carried out by a Special Task Force.

Poaching, smuggling, extortion, smuggling, brigandry, murder — these are some of the few charges against Koose Munisamy Veerappan Gounder, popularly known as Veerappan, for whom was constituted India’s largest manhunt, on which the government spent around 1.5 million Rupees. From his childhood, narratives about the elusive dacoit were laced with fiction, as he became an object of myth when he was only ten years old, and had infamously shot his first tusker elephant for ivory. His notoriety became a national concern when the government banned ivory trade in India, and he began felling trees for precious sandalwood, thus beginning a period marred by Veerappan killing government officials and locals alike when they became an obstacle.

Veerappan unleashed a reign of terror on the southern states of India from the early 1980s till his death in 2004; during which Veerappan killing police officers and civilians alike caused a nationwide uproar. In 1990, the notorious smuggler had beheaded a forest officer K. Srinivas, which wasn’t recovered until three years later. In 2000, he had kidnapped the Kannada actor K. Rajkumar, whose release was negotiated through Nakkeeran editor Gopal, to whom the infamous poacher admitted to murdering as many as 120 people. Matters came to a head when   abducted the former Karnataka minister H. Nagappa in 2002, and killed him when his demands were not met.

Operation Cocoon:

Veerappan leading his gang in moily forest,
Veerappan leading his gang in Moily forest. Wikimedia

A Special Task Force or STF was constituted for the capture of Veerappan in 1991, which, headed by K. Vijay Kumar, launched Operation Cocoon in 2004, which finally resulted in Veerappan’s death. Kumar, aided by his previous experience with Veerappan, based Operation Cocoon on human intelligence and interaction, during which multiple STF personnel blended in with the locals in areas frequented by Veerappan. The initial stages of Operation Cocoon consisted of gaining the trust of Veerappan’s associates, till they started divulging details about his failing health. In the years before his death, the elusive outlaw seemed to have lost much of his vigour and vitality, as he suffered from diabetes, and a cataract had almost blinded him in one eye.
On 18th October, 2004, the police lured Veerappan out of familiar terrains in an ambulance, and apprehended him at a roadblock, where he was killed in the crossfire between his team and the STF, via three bullets. The photographs after Veerappan’s demise show him in a pathetic light, bereft of his signature handlebar moustache, and the agility which had facilitated his escape for over four decades.

There have been a lot of controversies regarding his death, as many media houses and activists have claimed that Operation Cocoon has derived Veerappan of a fair trial by law. Some have even claimed that he was tortured to death in police custody. The facts regarding the elusive sandalwood smuggler remain inconclusive even after a decade of his death, due to the lack of concrete evidence.

 

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Bhai Boolchand-the Indian who launched trade with Ghana

The first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast (Ghana's colonial name) in 1890 , Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana

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Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana.
Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana. pixelbay
  • Bhai Boolchand, the anonymous Indian, is credited with starting trade between Ghana and India
  • The year was 1890.

Not much is known about him, but it has now emerged that trade relations between Ghana and Indiawere started by Bhai Boolchand, the first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast — Ghana’s colonial name — in 1890. That’s some 67 years before the British colonial government granted the country independence, research by the Indian Association of Ghana has found.

“As far as our records show, Bhai Boolchand (of the Bhaiband Sindhworki trading community), landed on the shores of the Gold Coast in western Africa in 1890. Nearly twenty years later, in 1919, the first Sindhi company was established by two brothers — Tarachand Jasoomal Daswani and Metharam Jasoomal Daswani,” the Indian Association said.

The duo opened a store — Metharam Jassomal Brothers — in the then capital city of Cape Coast in 1919.

“Their business flourished and branches were opened in Accra and Kumasi. A few years later, the two brothers separated and whilst Bhai Metharam Jasoomal continued the business as Metharam Brothers, Tarachand Jasoomal operated his business as Bombay Bazaar. These were the first two Indian companies that were established in the Gold Coast,” the Association said.

Boolchand’s arrival, therefore, pre-dates the historical links between the two countries that were always thought to have started between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkruman, and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Boolchand can thus be described as the one who paved the way for the arrival of other members of the Sindhi community, initially as traders and shopkeepers.

The Indian Association said more of this group arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, with a few venturing into manufacturing industries such as garments, plastics, textiles, insecticides, electronics, pharmaceuticals and optical goods.

The Association said two more Indian firms were established under the names of Lilaram Thanwardas and Mahtani Brothers in the 1920s. This trend continued in the 1930s and 1940s with the creation of several more Indian companies like T. Chandirams, Punjabi Brothers, Wassiamal Brothers, Hariram Brothers, K. Chellaram & Sons, G. Motiram, D.P. Motwani, G. Dayaram, V. Lokumal, and Glamour Stores.

Glamour Stores, which was stared by Ramchand Khubchandani who arrived in Ghana in 1929, has grown — after changing its name to Melcom Group — to become the largest retailing business in the country. The Melcom Group, headed by Ramchand’s son Bhagwan Khubchandani, is now in its 60th year and about 40 stores all over the country.

Ramchand and his brother later went into garment manufacturing in 1955 and once employed over 1,200 Ghanaians. They later opened the first Indian restaurant, Maharaja, in Ghana. Bhagwan followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1989 established the Melcom Group with his sons-in-law, Mahesh Melwani and Ramesh Sadhwani.

Another Indian-owned company that has survived through the years is the Mohanani Group, which is currently in its 51st year. At the first-ever Ghana Expatriate Business Awards, the Ministry of Trade and Industries recognised the work of one of the thriving Indian-owned B5 Plus Steel Company and awarded it the Best Expatriate Company in the metal and steel category.

As these companies brought in new expatriate staff, some left their employers to venture out on their own — resulting in more companies opening up.

“After 1947, the Gold Coast attracted the attention of some Indian multinational companies, and big names like Chanrai, Bhojsons, K.A.J. Chotirmal, Dalamals and A.D. Gulab opened branches in Ghana,” the Association said.

“The employment of Ghanaians by these founding companies also helped to lessen the burden of unemployment in the country. This amply demonstrates the level of commitment India has in the developmental agenda of Ghana,” it said.

Indians are not only investing in the manufacturing and commercial sectors of the country; they are also investing in the financial sector. Bank of Baroda, one of India’s biggest and most reputable banks, recently established a branch in Ghana and hopefully it will expand its operations in other parts of the country very soon. (IANS)

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Beatles, Apple, Facebook knew India more than Indians

Famous non-Indian celebrities know more about India and its past

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The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture.
The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture. Wikipedia

-By Salil Gewali

Facebook’s Chairman Mark Zuckerberg had dropped a bombshell on the “secularists” in India during PM Modi’s visit to his campus in California. It’s all about the Facebook connection with India. Initially, it was never a bed of roses for what is now a household name “FACEBOOK” across the world. This world-famous ‘social networking service company’ had its own share of bad times. Revealing for the first time in the meeting at the Facebook office upbeat Zuckerberg told PM Narendra Modi that Steve Jobs, the founder Chairman of Apple, had advised him to visit a certain temple in India for blessings. The revelation may have caused heartburn to many. More so in India where so-called secular and snooty folks have long acquired a proclivity to look down upon their own culture, religion, and values while being appreciative of any bizarre customs and styles of the West. Yes, heeding the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs the depressed Mark had visited the temple and toured around India for nearly a month.

Facebook's CEO tells about India.
Facebook’s CEO tells about India. wikipedia

Well, the American techno-wizard Steve Jobs had himself spent over six months in India in 1974. He was here in quest of the higher meaning of life and spiritual solace. As understood, from early age Steve was quite haunted by a good deal of unanswered questions. Of course, his encounter with a book “Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert, a Harvard Professor, had opened up a gateway to the spiritualism of the East. This book had also introduced him to a mystic Yogi ‘Neem Karoli Baba’. That later inspired Steve to set out the journey for the East. As soon as Steve and his friend Daniel Kottke arrived India they directly went to meet the Guru in Kainchi Dham Ashram in Nainital. But to their disappointment, they found the Baba had already passed away some months earlier. Nevertheless, the urge to dive deeper into the spiritualism did not die away. They shaved their heads and put on Indian clothes and undertook an extensive meditation and yogic practices.

The most significant impact that had made upon Steve’s life was a book “Autobiography of a Yogi”by Paramhansa Yogananda. It is on record that he would read this book too frequently, at least once every year until his death, 2011. This book had given him the practical insight into what exactly this world is about and how a layman can prepare himself to realize the Supreme knowledge. The first-hand account of a Yogi with empirical approaches to know oneself this book by Yogananda is a smash hit manual now among the seekers of the Eastern spiritualism.

Yes, by dint of hard work, intuition and innovation Steve stood out as one of the most successful techno-tycoons of the modern times. As much known, Jobs was hardly possessed by the luxury of riches and materialistic vanity. He just regarded his entrepreneurship as a tool to awaken his dormant potentialities. The chairman of Salesforce.com and famous philanthropist Marc Benioff says with conviction — “If you want to understand Steve, it’s a good idea to dig into ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.” It is this book which Steve’s family had given to all the guests as a last gift at his memorial service.

Here we can’t afford to ignore the Beatle’s fascination for INDIA as well. The band members that were basking in the opulence of materialistic riches and glory visited India (Rishikesh) in search of inner peace. They met with Sri Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and learnt from him Transcendental meditation (TM) who laid bare methods to feel true bliss within. Sri Maharshi is a big name in the West having a huge following that includes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Modern physicist Dr. John Hagelin, to name a few. The Beatle’s Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr often assist a Hollywood Director/actor David Lynch to organize the Transcendental meditation under ‘David Lynch Foundation’ across USA and the European countries. George Harrison later took refuge in Bhakti Yoga. The founder of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada showed him the pathway to the Supreme Consciousness.

What basically pulls the rational westerners to India is less known to Indians themselves. It’s shamefully paradoxical. From early 19th Century, the philosophical literary treasure troves and Yoga of India found more admirers in the foreign lands than at home. Indeed, the philosophy of the “laws of karma” and the presence of all-power-divinity within every being and everywhere — which any human being can realize irrespective of one’s caste, creed, nationality, and color, has intensely stirred the greatest of the great minds of the West. The ancient texts hold out a whole bunch of keys to unlock oneself and know his/her relationship with the Supreme Being which in fact seems very reasonable to the West. Further, the complex studies of world-view by Modern scientists are gradually arriving at the same conclusion what the ancient sages of India expounded over five thousands year back that ‘creation and creator are ONE’. Interconnection, inter-relation and interdependence among every individual particle/object, living or non-living, in the infinite universe — which is the fundamental tenets of the Eastern philosophy, provided a new light of wisdom to the the modern physicists like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Julius Oppenheimer, Brain David Josephson, David Bohm, John Stewart Bell et al.

Well, Indian’s contribution to the western academia is immeasurable — though deliberately undermined or less discussed in India itself. It’s very worthwhile to recall a famous proclamation by our western master whom we hold in the highest esteem. TS Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, asserts: “Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys”.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter @SGewali.