If Nothing Else
Anshuman Bebarta | Aug 15, 2016
There is a reason why the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 is also referred to as the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk’. The Allied soldiers, largely comprising of army troops from British-India, France and other Soviet nations, were evacuated from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940, during World War II. The allied soldiers had lost the battle of France to the formidable and seemingly impeccable Germans who were looking unstoppable as they advanced through Belgium, and were successful in crushing the combined forces of the British, Belgian and French armies.
And while the German army was marching north towards Dunkirk, India was fighting the Bubonic Plague that broke out in April 1940. Bubonic plague, believed to be the cause of death of an estimated 50 million people across the globe, asked for quarantine measures at a top-notch level. So, the Colonial government in India undertook radical measures to control it. This included isolation camps, travel restrictions, etc. Special Plague Committees were enforced by the British Military, who adopted more socially intrusive, repressive and tyrannical measures that infuriated the people. However, they were somehow led to believe that it was for their own well-being.
Meanwhile in Dunkirk, the Allied forces, who had given up all hope, were now devising plans to get all possible soldiers evacuated before they were massacred by the Jew-hating mass-murdering German maniacs called Nazis.
29 May, 1940. Nothing short of a miracle happened when the German army stopped marching towards Dunkirk and the torpedo-Panzer divisions were asked to withdraw. Hitler was so convinced that the German air force division would be able to capture the area on its own that he reduced his infantry there. Call it a rookie mistake, call it overconfidence call it a beau geste, call it whatever you want but this weakened the German side and instilled a new hope in the Allied soldiers who were waiting to be captured. Consequently, this allowed the Allies to rescue 34,000 troops in the span of 7 days; and thus, this was nothing short of a miracle.
However, what the pages of history mention in a comparatively much smaller font is how thousands of Indian soldiers in the British-India army were abandoned during that evacuation.
General Edward Lutyeris, who was assigned to the mission of leading the Indian army in the Battle of France, had Indian roots. But he was born and brought up as a thorough Brit in Sussex. He had never sympathised with the Indian cause and took every measure he could to let his people know that despite his roots, he was a thorough Brit. General Edward commanded his army troops to protect the stronghold until conditions were favourable enough for evacuation. Hundreds of decoy platoons consisting only of Indians were sent to fight the German Army to just buy out sufficient time necessary for evacuating the British-only Army, prior to theirs.
As a result, 12,000 soldiers from the British-India army were evacuated from Dunkirk, only 971 of whom were Indians. This naturally infuriated the Indians.
General Edward and other highly appointed British Naval officers in the Indian regime saw this as a possibility of insinuation and unnecessary protests caused by the Indians, if found out. And this was something they, being a major power in the war, didn’t want. So they decided to keep this a secret from the Indians and even managed to do so for a long period of time. The Indian soldiers who were evacuated – were held captives in isolation camps declaring it as a quarantine measure against the plague. Months later, the doctors pronounced the soldiers to have died of Plague which was as common as a fever at that time. But we know that they died because of their Indian heritage.
These men were, in the true sense, heroes – pitch forked into war in unknown lands, in harsh and cold climatic conditions they were neither versed with nor prepared for, fighting an enemy they had no reason to, conscripted into the army of a country their families were oppressed by. Yet they were destined to remain largely unknown once the war was over: neglected by the British, for whom they fought, and ignored by their own country from which they came.
Before they even knew it, some were used as bait while some were held captives and later on murdered by those whom they served, quite ironically. Today, we are thankful that no Indian Soldier would die such a demeaning death. If independence means nothing else, it at least means this much – and for that alone, let us celebrate a Happy Independence Day.
P.S. The above story is purely fiction. None of this ever happened. But go back a few moments to when you knew in your heart that this incident could actually have happened under British Raj. It sounded true, did it not? If you had that moment, you would know how deeply set the 200 years of British rule are in us that two generations later we are still capable of feeling the same fear and helpless acceptance that had been in the hearts of our grandparents. Fortunately, we only feel the emotions and don't share the conditions. For that, if for nothing else, Happy Independence Day.