Panesar, Amerdeep Singh (2017) Martialing the Sikh Soldier During the First World War. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Sikhism and warfare have been inexorably linked throughout history. As Singh and Madra note, ‘Five hundred years ago, this land (Punjab) of conquest serial subjugation was the crucible from which emerged the Sikh warrior’ (2013, p. V). Although there is some truth to the statement, the idea of the warrior Sikh has been exaggerated. Remembrance Day and the Centenary of the First World War, serve as places to facilitate constructions of the warrior Sikh (Qureshi, 2013). What often gets overlooked is Sikhism and the colonial constructions of them as a martial race. The martial race theory in India advocated that only specific communities were fit to serve in war, which formed the link between war service and Sikhism. This thesis is an attempt to investigate this connection by exploring the making of the Sikhism as a ‘martial race’. It will also address the role of martiality for Sikhs in the First World War.

The positioning of Sikhs as a martial race was a multi-faceted negotiation and not simply an imposition from above. The thesis will show that ideas of martiality grew out of a joint political agenda from Sikhs and the British Raj. Sikhs sought the protection of their religion, and in return provided military service. Therefore, Sikh martiality is understood as a meeting point between the coloniser and colonised. The First World War presented the first significant challenge to this relationship. This can be seen through Sikh soldiers’ letters that were sent to their families in India, and official military documents. The thesis will show that issues of recruitment, morale, and anti-imperial movements, caused ideas of martiality to be rewritten, despite martiality being based on the fixed notion of race. These changes ranged from introducing new ‘races’ to amending the entire recruitment process. Consequently, the thesis will argue that the pressures of the First World War undermined pre-war ideas of martiality. The war also demonstrates an awareness from Sikh soldiers’ of being a martial race and its advantageous position in Colonial India. Hence, the final chapter addresses how this awareness led Sikhs to gain a form of political autonomy by 1925, a
luxury many Indians did not gain until 1947. As Sikhs achieved a form of independence in 1925, it exemplifies the point about colonial negotiation. In summary, the Sikh martial race theory not only uncovers new knowledge of military history but also partly uncovers insights into Sikh soldiers and the agency of their community.

FINAL THESIS - PANESAR.pdf - Accepted Version
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