This film is part of Free

5th Calcutta Battalion: Presentation of Colours by H.E. The Viceroy

The inauguration of a unit of the Indian Defence Force in Calcutta (now Kolkata)

Non-Fiction 1917 6 mins Silent


The 5th Calcutta Battalion was one of a host of military units raised in India to garrison important commercial and military stations in the absence of regular troops during World War I. The battalions of the Indian Defence Force were unlike military units that preceded it. Each company contained a mixture of 'Europeans' (conscripted British and Irish civilians) and Indian volunteers (recruited from an educated Indian elite). The 5th Calcutta Battalion and units like it were to be a symbol of Imperial unity at a time of Imperial crisis.

The film portrays the limits and opportunities of Empire loyalism for Indians during World War I. Educated Indians, particularly Bengalis from Eastern India (including what is now Bangladesh), were prevented from colonial military service due to racial theory and a colonial policy that constructed the Indian cityscape as the site of innate and irrational sedition. The Indians who were to be enlisted were to be assimiliated and policed by the white conscripts around them, and commanded by white officers. And yet this form of military service was actively encouraged by the nascent nationalist movement in India. The right to bear arms and to enter parts of an Indian cityscape previously closed to non-whites provided glimpses of life beyond Empire. Dr. Gajendra Singh (University of Exeter)