World War II Pacific War Propaganda.. Thursday, Jun 20 2013 

The propaganda posters/literature created for World War I & II provide substantial historical fodder for analyzing the significant role of Indian soldiers in the British empire. Enticing, motivating, exhorting Indian soldiers to actively participate was a strategy deployed by Japanese army in WWII Pacific war and well countered by British and American war office  propagandists.  Assisting the Japanese, at the time, were the members of the Indian Independence League (later Azad Hind) headed by Subhas Chandra Bose.

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Source:Kings Collection.org

The Japanese emphasized the use of Indians as mere tools in British scheme of things. The 1919 Jallianwallah Bagh massacre incident featured in their campaign to highlight Indians  as exploited by the their British masters.  American, British and other allied forces depicted Japanese as animals, i.e. Octopus, Rat caught or trapped by allied forces.

The pro-Japanese campaign posters detailed the discrimination, racism and freedom fight against the Empire, stressing on ‘Asia for Asians’ theme. The Far East was no exception where Indian policemen and soldiers were placed by the British to man their colonies.The 1941 invasion of Malaya by the Japanese provided a plumb opportunity – captured Sikh soldiers, police POWs were “asked” to fight by joining the Indian Independence League. There was little option. It was either become a collaborationist or be a tortured enemy prisoner and face execution. Shanghai, too, had a small unit of Indian Independence League (not POWs) inspired by Bose and aspiring for Indian freedom. Bose visited Shanghai & broadcast his 1940s radio speech through German controlled air waves in the area.

chiang kai shek

The propaganda posters/leaflets/magazines were air-dropped or distributed. But, the Japanese propaganda does appeal to the national socio-economic Indian politics of the time: it definitely was well researched and was perhaps successful for this reason? . Though the text in few of the posters indicate that it was devised/written by someone not that well-conversant with Indian colloquialism.

So, what about the Allied forces’ propaganda? More in the next post..

P R Kaikini – poems on Shanghai (1939) Friday, May 24 2013 

Recently, I came across a mention of 1930s poetry book , titled ‘Shanghai.’ The author was one Prabhakar Ramrao Kaikini. Unsurprisingly, this book is scarce. It was listed on Abebooks and I placed an order , only to have it canceled later by the seller, as it was out of print.

P.R.Kaikini ‘s known (poetry) works include  Snake in the Moon (1942), Poems of the Passionate East (1947), Some of my years (1972), This Civilization, (2006)  and others. Described as an Indo-Anglian  prose poet , Kaikini  it seems in his earlier works was  very much influenced by Rabindranath Tagore’s writing style.  Here’s a sample of his poetry.

But, after 1937, his poems were increasingly about blood and war and even the style changed to free verse. This transition was impacted strongly by nationalism, events in the East. Goverdhan Panchal (well-known exponent of Sanskrit theater) in his introduction of Shanghai (as mentioned in Abebooks website) provides a clue.  Panchal states ” These poems will help the reader, especially the foreign reader, to understand something of the contemporary movement in this country in relation to the Indian national movement for political and economic freedom.”

How did the battle of Shanghai, the Japanese invasion impact Kaikini? Was he a witness to the bloody events? Or was he a supporter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, who had visited Shanghai around this time?  The political awakening and national identity question had swept a nation  and the unfolding war that reached India as well was perhaps expressed by this poet, looking for his country’s freedom from all kinds of imperialism. Or was the book title more of a creative metaphor?

I am hoping I come across a physical copy in a US library. Till then we are left with the thought that, at least, there is this added, still unexplored, reflective element in the Shanghai Indian saga.

Cricket Club in Shanghai Thursday, May 9 2013 

Cricket Club in Shanghai

Interport cricket matches were held at this venue.

Ricksha coolie’s ferocious oppressor. Tuesday, Apr 23 2013 

The oppressed rickha ‘coolie’ plying his humble vehicle in the Far East colonies of Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai was tasked with monthly inspection British law. The inspection would be for renewing his ricksha license which invariably was conducted by a Sikh policeman imported from India. The Sikh policeman was considered to be unbearably harsh and aggressive, liberally using his truncheon, damaging the ricksha and hurting even the ‘coolie’. The ricksha laborer’s livelihood was dependent on operating the ricksha and hence loss of earnings was naturally attributed to the much detested British Sikh bobby. Many western onlookers and passengers have narrated in their travelogues and accounts of the plight of the puny ricksha coolies at the hands of the towering Sikhs who used excessive violence and brute force.

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1910 Singapore

Even in present times the caricatures of the Sikh policeman in popular Chinese culture continue, symbolizing the humiliating past and the cruel face of imperialism.

Boxer Rebellion , China Friday, Mar 29 2013 

1900 boxer

The Shanghai Sikh Policeman Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 

stanfordIn 1880s, Shanghai Municipal councilors lively debated a new proposal on the agenda – recruiting Sikh policemen from India. Hong Kong colony had already employed the Sikhs and the system of foreign security  was working well there. Two Shanghai Municipal councilors however were totally opposed to the idea of hiring Sikhs for Shanghai’s international settlement, expressing language difficulties as an obstacle in the way of smooth security operations.

Yet, it seems, to allay the fears of the settlements residents, the first few Sikhs were hired for Carter road police station in 1880’s. The first Sikh sergeant came from Hong Kong.

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