Visitors to a new exhibition dedicated to Indian soldiers wounded during the First World War while serving in the British army will be struck by the following caption to a photograph: “Care was taken over religious and cultural differences of troops from British India. Hindus and Muslims had separate water supplies and patients were treated by orderlies from their own caste or faith.”
Was it thoughtful regard for Indian cultural sensitivities? Or was there a deeper political move to perpetuate the divisive religious and caste practices among the “natives”?
Whatever the motive, soldiers themselves were apparently quite pleased with the arrangement. One wrote to his family: “Don't be anxious about me…we're all very well looked after. Our hospital is the place where the king used to have his throne.”
The exhibition is at Brighton's famous Royal Pavilion, once a royal seaside retreat and converted into a military hospital to treat wounded Indian soldiers, is aimed at creating a greater awareness about Indian contribution to the war effort.
“We want them [people] to recognise, in the first instance, and be aware of what Indian soldiers did for this country. That's very important because it is a footnote in the First World War and needs to be exposed a little more,” Davinder Dhillon, an official, told the BBC.
More than 4,000 Indian soldiers were treated at the Royal Pavilion and other buildings in the Brighton area from December 1914 to February 1916. They were said to have been so impressed with their grand surroundings that some compared them to “paradise”.