The Garhwal Rifiles
One hundred years after its onset, World War One still wields a powerful hold on our imaginations. For the first time ever there were battles in the sky. Toxic gas sent forth as the “creepiest” of weapons. Men assigned to pathways dug into the ground – trenches – for years on end.
Many stories of this massive conflagration – as HG Wells hopefully termed it: “the war to end all wars” – have been widely told. The Indian contribution to the Allied effort has not. Over a million Indian soldiers, doing their duty for the powerful British Empire, served overseas. Ill-prepared and poorly-equipped, disoriented, dislocated, yet proudly determined, 65 thousand gave up their lives there. Those who returned were forever changed.
“Garhwali Rifles” is a war drama, exploring the experiences of a small cluster of Indian soldiers in the first year of the conflict. Though the battles stumbled on for three more years – with tanks and aeroplanes gradually “changing the game” – the brutal period of summer 1914 to autumn 1915 laid bare the true madness to which the belligerent European countries had committed, drawing in the rest of the planet to the destructive vortex.
1914 in the mountains of northwest India, JASPAL (18), a Garhwali Hindu, is a shepherd and a good shot. The grandson of an original member of the 1880s Garhwali Brigade, he answers the British call for Indian volunteers when the Great War in Europe erupts.
Jaspal meets a mix of Indian soldiers, Sikh, Muslim, and Christian, ranging in experience from novice like him, to battle-scarred veterans. We follow each of these men, witnessing their challenges, pain, longing and triumphs for as long as they survive in the unforgiving trenches of Flanders.
Under command of British commissioned officers, Jaspal’s and fellow soldiers are exploited as cannon fodder. Arriving in France into the most brutal trench fighting seen throughout the war, Jaspal’s company, including the English officers, is quickly reduced. They bond as they survive, despite caste or colour.
This tightknit group serves as our eyes to a stunning spectrum of deprivation, heroism, stoicism, brutality and blatant racism. The Indian soldiers quickly realize they are less valued. The Allied soldiers look down on them, French villagers are distrustful and German soldiers execute any Indian prisoner of war on sight. We follow these men as they go through the war, flashback to their lives at home and flash forward to their fight for independence from British rule.
The Garhwal Rifles is a story of perseverance, bravery, colonialism and the seeds of independence. 1.3 Million Indian nationals served in their occupier’s army. This is their story.