Colonialism and Imperialism Workshop | "The 'menial class of follower': World War one and the servant problem in the Indian Army"

Colonial & Imperial Workshop
Event date: 
October 29, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:20pm
Prof. Radhika Singha
Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Seminar Series: 
Colonialism and Imperialism Workshop

"The 'Menial Class of Follower': World War one and the Servant Problem in the Indian Army"

Prof. Radhika Singha, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

This meeting will be held via Zoom. Registration is required to attend. To register, visit:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing a unique link to join the meeting. If there is a pre-circulated paper, it will be distributed to those who registered approximately one-week prior to the workshop.

Radhika Singha is a Professor of Modern Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has worked on crime and criminal law, identification practices, governmentality , borders and border- crossing in colonial India. She is the author of A Despotism of Law: Crime and Criminal Justice in Early Colonial India. OUP, 1998, 2000. Her talk at Princeton titled “The ‘menial’ follower: World War one and the servant problem in the Indian Army” will draw upon her recently published book, The Coolie’s Great War, Indian Labour in a Global Conflict, 1914-1921, Hurst, OUP, 2020. The book explores the course of war through the lens of the non-combatant or follower ranks of the Indian Army, seeking  to give South Asia  an integral rather than ‘external’ place in this  world –wide conflict.  The labour regimes built on the backs of these 'coolies' and ‘menials’ had long sustained imperial militarism across the land and sea frontiers  of India.  This was particularly visible in the border infrastructures put in place by   waged work, corvee, and, tributary labor, but it also saturated the intimate arrangements of regimental housekeeping. Over 1914-21 these work regimes would be repurposed for global war. Manpower hunger unsettled race and status hierarchies in the Indian Army. The  ‘higher’ followers benefitted, less so the  ‘menial’ followers, whose position recalled the dependency of domestic service and who included in their ranks the ‘untouchables’ consigned to stigmatised work.

Adhitya Dhanapal
Area of Interest: 
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
20th Century