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Recruiting the 'martial races': Identities and military service in colonial India

Recruiting the 'martial races': Identities and military service in colonial India

Rand, Gavin ORCID: 0000-0001-9051-1979 and Wagner, Kim A. (2012) Recruiting the 'martial races': Identities and military service in colonial India. Patterns of Prejudice, 46 (3-4). pp. 232-254. ISSN 0031-322X (Print), 1461-7331 (Online) (doi:

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British rule in India was entirely reliant on local troops, and the mobilization and recruitment of Indian communities gave rise to a multiplicity of discourses, traditions and identities reflecting the peculiar relationship between colonial power and indigenous military labour. Through the late nineteenth century, these discourses became increasingly racialized: only certain native communities were deemed to possess the ‘spirit’ necessary for military service. These so-called ‘martial races’—including Nepalese Gurkhas, Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims from the northern and frontier provinces—provided the backbone of the imperial military and played a vital role in defending and extending colonial authority. By the early twentieth century, the racialized nature of soldiering in India was invoked to explain the composition of imperial forces and to legitimize the preservation of colonial rule. While the theory of ‘martial races’ is the subject of an increasingly diverse literature, relatively little attention has been paid to the practice—and practical origins—of restricted recruitment. In this article Rand and Wagner seek to re-examine the role of martial-race theories in British recruitment policies and practices in colonial India, drawing attention to the incoherence and complexity that marked the relationship between ideas of race and the practicalities of colonial military administration. They focus in particular on long-term patterns of continuities, rather than neat periodizations, and suggest that racialized discourses regarding soldiering have to be considered within the context of mutually advantageous relationships between the colonial state and its indigenous allies.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: [1] In: Patterns of Prejudice, Volume 46, Issue 3-4, 2012 - Special Issue: Racializing the Soldier.
Uncontrolled Keywords: British India, colonial knowledge, ethnography, identity, imperial military, martial races, military recruitment, race, racialization
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Humanities & Social Sciences
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Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:18

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