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10 - ‘National Necessity’ and ‘Patriotic Duty’: Railway Publicity in World War II India

from Part Three - Technology, Danger and Waste on the Home Front

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2017

Ritika Prasad
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the author of Tracks of Change: Railways and Everyday Life in Colonial India (Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Mark J. Crowley
Affiliation:
Wuhan University, China
Sandra Trudgen Dawson
Affiliation:
University of Maryland, College Park
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Summary

Every intending passenger should ask himself whether his contemplated travelling will help in the war effort. Unless the answer is a definite ‘Yes’, he should, in the national interest, refrain from travelling. To travel less is a national necessity and a patriotic duty.

WHEN Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939 it simultaneously – and unilaterally – committed India to the conflict. The Indian National Congress (INC), which had maintained a consistent anti-Fascist stance throughout the 1930s, insisted that, for India to support the war effort, Britain must loosen its imperial stranglehold on the country. It asked Britain to commit to a post-war constituent assembly that would determine the political structure of a free India, while establishing immediately ‘something like a genuine responsible government in the centre’. Britain's response was underwhelming. Almost a decade after the INC's pürna swaraj (complete independence) declaration of 1930, Britain only reiterated earlier offers of dominion status, to be granted sometime in an indefinite future. Indian nationalists stressed the obvious contradiction between Britain holding India as a colony while fighting a global war, premised on the issue of self-determination. The British raj, however, remained unaffected. Thus, refusing ‘any responsibility for India's war contribution’, INC members resigned from the several provincial ministries to which they had been elected in 1937.

Like those of Britain's other colonial possessions, India's human and material resources were swiftly commandeered in support of Britain's war effort, and India was transformed into a home front. Consequently, both contemporary and scholarly analyses of India during the Second World War have focused on parsing the extent and variety of India's contributions to the Allied war effort. These contributions were substantial. Over two and a half million South Asians served in the war. Yasmin Khan estimates that over 50,000 enlisted in the first eight months and almost 20,000 a month were joining up by late 1940.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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