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BBC World Service to explore India’s contribution to WWI

MUMBAI: Keeping in mind India’s unparalleled contribution to the British war effort during World War I, the BBC World Service will broadcast specially commissioned programmes this year to explore how the war changed the subcontinent.

There will be two one-hour radio documentaries, and a debate open to the public focussed on India and imperialism recorded in Delhi. The season will explore the experiences and stories of those involved in WWI, many of which have remained largely untold in India today.

BBC World Service senior commissioning editor Steve Titherington said, “The war that changed the world touched every country. Over a million men from the dub continent fought with the British and others. Hundreds of thousands were killed or wounded or captured. We will examine their stories, and just as importantly debate what the effect was on the struggle for independence and the life of the region still. We have debated the war in St Petersburg, Istanbul, Germany and London. Delhi is next and it’s vital to our understanding of the legacy of this global conflict.”

In a special debate from Delhi, the BBC’s Razia Iqbal will be joined by historians Prof Mridula Muckherjee and Dr Srinath Raghavan and a public audience to explore the impact of WWI on British imperialism. Shashi Tharoor will also discuss imperialism and independence in a specially commissioned essay performed at the event at the India International Centre, in partnership with the British Council.

‘The War That Changed The World: India and Imperialism’ airs on 8 November. To mark the centenary of WWI, the BBC World Service and the British Council are hosting a series of ten debates around the world to explore the war’s lasting global legacy. Having already visited Bosnia, Germany, the UK, Turkey and Russia, the sixth edition of ‘The War That Changed The World’ comes to India.

The Indian army was key to the British military effort in WWI. More than one million men served, many departed from Bombay in October and arrived on the Western Front within weeks. There were far more Indian soldiers defending the Empire than there were British men in the field. Some were moved by a genuine desire to come to Britain’s aid at its time of need and many believed that by fighting, they would help the cause of India’s Home Rule. Home Rule was not granted, discontent grew, and the war and its aftermath had a huge effect on Indian nationalism and the fate of the Empire.

‘India’s Forgotten War’ airs on 29 October. As part of the WWI centenary programming on the BBC World Service, Anita Rani travels to India to discover how the war affected the country and its people. In the capital Delhi stands India Gate, the largest memorial to the war for which 1.5 million Indian men were recruited, but Anita discovers that The First World War is something of a forgotten memory there today, mostly seen as part of its colonial history. In this programme, she sets out to uncover some of the forgotten stories.

‘Ghostly Voices of World War One’ airs on 8 November. Hidden away in the backrooms at Humbolt University and the Ethnological Museum in Germany are some of the most remarkable sound recordings ever made. They date back to WWI, and provide a unique archive capturing the voices of some of the ordinary men who fought in what was known as ‘the war to end all wars’. They were recorded by German academics who realised they did not have to go abroad to research some of the world’s many different languages. Instead, they were able to focus on captured soldiers from the furthest reaches of the British Empire who were being held at prisoner of war camps all over Germany. Among them were a group of Hindus, Sikhs and Indian soldiers imprisoned at camps on the outskirts of Berlin. They performed poems, songs and stories which were recorded using Thomas Edison’s latest invention.

How these men lived out the rest of their lives has, up until now, been cloaked in obscurity. On a quest to discover what happened to them and how they died, and armed with the recordings, Priyath Liyanage travels from Germany across the world to some of the villages in Northern India where these men lived.