The People of India

The People of India

The People of India

The People of India

Excerpt

Before Pearl Harbor, if Americans thought of India at all, it was in terms of mystery and romance, as purveyed by the motion pictures and the colorful travel brochures. India brought to mind a hot country, dense forests teeming with elephants and tigers; temple bells and nautch girls; fabulously wealthy maharajahs who wore precious jewels even on their shoes, and who lavishly entertained Europeans and Americans; Kipling's Kim and Gunga Din, and the Bengal Lancers. Some were astounded and repelled by stories of child marriage, the caste system, the Untouchables, the misshapen fakir, the snake charmers, and the rope trick. Others had heard of an emaciated little man named Gandhi, who wore a loincloth and drank goat's milk, and who was trying to persuade his countrymen to use non-violence as a weapon in their struggle for political freedom. A few had heard of Nehru and the Indian National Congress, and had taken a genuine interest in the problem of the Indian people. The general conception of India, however, was that of a primitive country, full of strange, incomprehensible museum pieces, which the British Government was having a devil of a time modernizing.

When, in September, 1939, Great Britain declared war against Germany, and India automatically became a belligerent, the Indians asked, "If this is a war for democracy against fascism, then what about India?" The British Government brushed the question aside, nor did it find an echo in America, for India was still looked upon as an exotic by-product of world history rather than as a participant in shaping the future of mankind. It was not until a Japanese invasion of India seemed an imminent possibility that Americans began to think of India in terms of reality.

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