“Relations Are Not Good”: Gender, Colonialism, and the Anglo-American Encounter in Wartime India

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 11:10 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Andrew Muldoon, Metropolitan State University of Denver
As British “citizen-soldiers” arrived in India after 1940, officials worked to imbue these ordinary men with a colonial vision and to reinforce their presence as a sign of imperial strength, which included. the masculinization of these soldiers in Indian eyes. Yet, the arrival of better equipped and paid American troops made British soldiers look like “poor whites,” figuratively emasculating them in a colonial context where ideas about manliness had permeated British classification of Indians. Moreover, British troops, far from home and susceptible to rumor-mongering, worried endlessly that GIs, who were both available and lavishly provisioned in the U.K., were wooing away wives and girlfriends. As part of the drive to present soldiers as representatives of empire, colonial officials requested many more material goods for troops. These lists included beer, films, accordions, and also “white women.” Nurses, Red Cross volunteers, clerical workers, all became identified as valuable commodities for shipment to India, and not for the service they could offer, but for the physical comfort they might provide. The presence of these young women would, officials assured themselves, divert soldiers’ attentions from Indian women, including prostitutes. It would reduce the occurrences of venereal disease that plagued the army especially, but it would also confine and regulate the troops’ sexual activities within traditional colonial boundaries.

Troop morale is always a concern of those who lead soldiers to war, but, unlike in other theaters of this war, British efforts to improve the conditions of those serving in India derived not only from a desire to create a fit fighting force, but also from a fading colonial state’s wish to restore the prestige of the white man in the empire.

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