Dunkirk: A Victim Of Colonial Hangover

The British Army deployed at least 2.5 million Indian soldiers in different parts of the world during WWII. Because of the presence of huge number of Indian personnel in the British armed forces, it was called the ‘British Indian Army’ (as recorded in the British Army documents). Unfortunately, we forgot this interesting fact in the post-WWII period.
In recent times, the movie ‘Dunkirk’ has revived the issue. The movie, directed by British-American film director, producer and screenwriter Christopher Edward Nolan, has received high praise from the audience. However, some critics opine that although Nolan has beautifully portrayed the character of “brave” British soldiers during the war against Germans, the omission of non-British soldiers (who also fought against the Axis forces) in the film is surprising.
Of course, it will not be fair to expect that a director should present all the historical facts in a movie. But, the absence of such facts in a research-based film, like Dunkirk, is really shocking. The important question is: whether we should consider Dunkirk an ‘isolated’ movie or a representation of a ‘particular historical event’ as viewed by a ‘particular section of people’.


Actually, former colonial masters have always undermined the contribution of colonial soldiers to the former’s victory in WWI and WWII. In her publication ‘For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-18’, historian Shrabani Basu says that “many Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims from modern-day India and Pakistan had fought alongside the British and other allies during the WWI”. “(However) despite contributing the largest volunteer army from Britain’s imperial dominions at a cost of some 70,000 lives, there is concern that the sacrifice of the fighters from pre-partition India has been allowed to slip between the cracks of the post-colonial history of both countries,” writes Basu. This disregard and negligence towards the former colonies are highly objectionable especially 70 years after the end of the colonial era. So, Dunkirk is the latest victim of ‘colonial hangover’ or imperialist mentality.


It wasn’t possible for imperialists to win two great wars of the 20th century without receiving ‘help’ from many smaller Asian and African nations. Apart from India, many Southeast Asian, African and Caribbean nations had provided Britain with human and other resources during those wars. The total number of colonial soldiers in British Army was around 7.5 million during the WWII. Historians Sir Christopher Alan Bayly, David Killinger and Srinath Raghavan acknowledged sacrifices, made by the colonial soldiers, in their writings. However, the imperialist powers (intentionally?) forget the role of colonial soldiers.
It is a misconception that Britain is Britain because of its own might. Sadly, this misconception has become increasingly popular in that country. And personalities, like Nolan, are not eager to address the issue.

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