The New York Times profiles the book 'India at War', which covers a number of modern conflicts in Indian history.

With 'India at War', Yasmin Khan explores how peasants were recruited to serve in distant locations, and the fears of the families and loved ones they left behind.

She profiles Indian soldiers who won Victoria Crosses, and Indian units that played a key role in battles in the Middle East and North Africa. Several such recipients of the VC are shown in the photograph after an investiture at Buckingham Palace, October 1945, including Gian Singh VC (centre).

She writes movingly of 'the washermen, tailors and boot-makers who maintained, repaired and replaced uniforms, the barbers and cooks who looked after the needs of the men, the nursing orderlies and the sweepers, who mopped up the camp and latrines.'

The events narrated in the book amount to a devastating indictment of empire. At the best of times, colonial rule delivered little to its subjects.

The people of India were poor, uneducated and lacking access to health facilities. In 1939, a mere 12.5 percent of Indians could read and write, while an average life span was 26 years.

Once the conflict started, the rulers turned actively coercive. Money for a war fund was extracted from village shopkeepers and city businessmen alike.

The officials who directed the collections were very energetic, and seemed not at all guilty about living pleasant lives in bungalows and cantonments while their compatriots were being bombed out of their homes in England or fighting on the Continent.

To hamper a possible Japanese invasion of eastern India, the British destroyed some 20,000 small boats, used to catch fish and transport essential commodities to villages not connected by road.

This greatly undermined the rural economy and may have contributed to the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, in which several million perished.

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