Radha D'Souza


Contemporary world order rests on a fault-line. On the one hand it is an interstate system founded on the legal equality of all states. On the other hand it establishes institutions that privilege a small number of states in economy and politics. This article examines the fault-line, which has widened in recent times and threatens to destabilise the order established after the end of World War II. The ‘world’ in World wars is because of the global scope of the inter-European wars. The world wars were fought over colonies, in colonial territories, with the manpower and material resources of the colonies. Yet dominant narratives about the world wars speak about the wars as a European war between European nations and write-out colonial questions, colonial contributions and more importantly for this article the colonial impulses in the writing of contemporary international law and establishment of international organisations. This paper examines the human, monetary and material contributions of India in World War II. Britain was the preeminent Empire during the world wars and India the ‘jewel in the British Crown’. India was crucial to British conduct of the world wars. At the same time racism and repression during the interwar period fuelled powerful anti-colonial movements in India. Those struggles ended the British Empire. The irony of racism against millions of people who fought and died for Britain presents many perplexing questions about the legacies of World War II for racism and international law. This article examines the responses of different European powers to the independence movements in India during the world wars and argues that the responses of different Empires of the time to the anti-colonial struggles holds the cues to understanding the widening fault-line in the international order today.