Panikos Panayi: Interethnic Relationships in Peace and War – The Germans in India, c1800-1920

The mass emigration out of Germany during the nineteenth century resulted in the construction of communities of Germans throughout the world, often counting tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. Together with these larger ethnic groups which evolved in parts of Europe, the Americas and some areas of the British Empire, smaller settlements also emerged, as in the case of the few thousand people who settled in India during the course of the nineteenth century.

My paper will have three aims. First, it will outline the migration and settlement of German in India and ask whether any German community development took place. While those who settled here included academics and businessmen, most records survive on missionaries who settled in essentially closed communities which emerged initially in South India but, as the century progressed,  moved further north, with the arrival of new German missionary organizations.

This leads into the second section of the paper, which will investigate interaction between Germans and the two ‘ethnic’ groups which outnumbered them in the form of white British settlers and Indians. The paper will ask whether, by the outbreak of the First World War, Germans had become integrated into a racial white elite. Several developments would suggest this including the absence of any overt German organisations. Above all, an unequal distribution of men and women meant, especially in the earlier nineteenth century, an acceptance of marriage between German male missionaries and English women as part of the natural order, a process which continued into the twentieth century. While much evidence, including personal accounts, point to these types of relationships, less information exists on the interactions between Germans and Indians. The most obvious way in which these two groups came together lay in the missionary compounds, in which the racial hierarchy ruled, despite the equality espoused in Christianity. Although some relationships between Indians and Germans developed, they remained largely hidden.

The paper will, however, demonstrate how the First World War shattered any racial hierarchies which may have existed. The conflict resulted in the incarceration and subsequent deportation of Germans. This had devastating consequences for all Indian families with a German member. For those with a German husband and a British wife (whether white or Indian) the War created a complicated legal situation. While women did not face incarceration, many chose to joint their husbands behind barbed wired, including those of British birth, who found themselves in a forced ethnic community. Such transnational families would face further challenges at the end of the war, when they faced deportation to Germany, which many British wives had never seen before.

Thus my paper will investigate the relationships of Germans with Britons and Indians in peace and war and demonstrate how inter-ethnic relationships serve as an indicator of processes of integration, racism and global conflict.



Panikos Panayi is Professor of European History at the De Montfort University in Leister and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He has published widely and his research fits into three areas in particular: the history of immigration and interethnic relations, the history of food, and the First World War.

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