NCERT History – First World War effect on India
The First World War (1914-18) plunged Britain into a savage, utterly destructive war. To maintain the war effort, Britain needed huge supplies of commodities and manpower. Being the biggest and the most populous colony, India got drawn into the conflict as a major source of men and material. The massive mobilization of resources from India unsettled the impoverished country in the following ways.
a. The war operations in Europe sucked huge quantities of basic commodities like wheat, rice, sugar, tea, coffee etc. The accelerated export of the items from India caused scarcity in the domestic market. Prices rose sharply bringing immense distress to the low and middle class consumers.
b. Jute bag was among the non-food item that was in great demand in the war front. Huge numbers of jute bags had to be procured and rushed to the war front. Such procurement caused acute shortages of jute bags at home.
c. A group of entrepreneurs who bagged war supply contracts, however, made windfall profits in a short time.
d. Large numbers of able-bodied young men from the countryside were recruited into the British army. Such induction of Indians disrupted social life in rural areas. Villages experienced shortage of farm hands, carpenters, blacksmiths and other such artisans.
e. Most importantly, as war-time expenditure sky-rocketed, the colonial government diverted a good part of its revenue receipts from India to the war budget. It looked around frantically for additional sources of revenue. As a part of this drive, it increased taxes and duties. All this resulted in diversion of funds from welfare schemes to war expenditure. Tax rates were increased bringing bigger tax load on the common people. The pain was felt across the country.
Thus, we see that the First World War generally harmed India in great many ways. But, there was one benign consequence too. The conflict caused logistical problems for the British government to maintain the supply lines from Britain to the far-flung war fronts in Africa and elsewhere. This created opportunities for Indian industrialists to set up war goods oriented industries in the country. As a result, a good number of factories sprang up in centres like Bombay. This created employment and benefited the economy.