The research project examines the role of South Asian individuals and groups in humanitarian relief work during armed conflicts in the 19th-20th centuries. In this period, influenced by the changing nature of warfare, notions of benevolence and compassion, and religious and strategic agendas, different humanitarian initiatives to help wounded soldiers and civilian victims of warfare and civil strife were founded in Europe and North America. With the growth of international organizations and institutions, a humanitarian global community emerged that operated within national, transnational and international arenas.
This project focuses on humanitarian help that originated from British India. In the early 20th century, different organizations became prominent in providing relief for victims in international crises and domestic conflicts. The project studies two interrelated developments: one, an institutional and social history of local and national political and religious-cultural associations, including women’s groups. Some of them were the Indian National Congress (INC), the Hindu nationalist volunteer organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Social Service League, the Servants of India Society, the All-India Women Conference and the Arya Samaj. Two, the project analyzes the discourses and practices of the South Asian branches of international civil society organizations, which had more or less, a Protestant Christian background. The prominent amongst them were the Indian Red Cross, the Indian St John Ambulance, the Salvation Army and the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A).
The role of these associations is studied through five different case-studies: 1) Indian Ambulance Corps in the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) and Bambatha Rebellion (1906); 2) Indian relief work in the First World War; 3) Humanitarian initiatives in the Interwar Period in international and communal conflicts in South Asia; 4) Indian humanitarian aid in the Second World War; 5) Help during the Partition.
In order to explore the complex aims, objectives and strategies of different organizations formed in and outside of India, the foremost question is of the nature of the beneficiary, that is, who provided relief to whom. An equally important question is of the motivation that ranged from forging transnational associations to religious fraternity-help, and not least, certain incipient ideas of ‘third-world’ development. The main cluster of analytical themes that this project will deal with, therefore, consists of race, imperialism, gender, class and the mobility of ideas, knowledges and practices.