The Indian Army in the First World War was 100% voluntary unlike in Britain where conscription was introduced making it compulsory for men to join the army. In the Punjab, men volunteered for many reasons. Although the pay was only 11 rupees a month and no war bonuses were paid until 1918, the British Government offered rewards of land and pensions for soldiers who fought with distinction.
As well as loyalty and a desire to serve, being a soldier was a noble profession for Sikh families and this linked to their faith and history - some families had served in the British Army for generations.
Serving soldiers were instructed to write home cheerful letters encouraging others to volunteer. In addition, old soldiers toured the villages telling stories that made young men eager for heroism and glory.
But not everyone thought that Indians should fight for Britain - there are stories of women chasing recruiters from their villages or following the recruiting parties.
By 1914, many Indians were campaigning for independence from Britain. While some believed the war was an opportunity for India to prove its equality with Europeans, others argued that fighting Britain’s war was a way to support imperialism.
In the Punjab, the Ghadar Party (Ghadar means ‘revolt’) began a propaganda campaign to hinder recruitment efforts. Enlisted men on leave were encouraged to mutiny and there were bombings and other disturbances to destabilise the government in the Punjab.
Influenced by the Irish Easter Uprising in 1916, the British government introduced emergency laws in India. This included making it illegal for Indian civilians to carry weapons. For Sikhs, whose religion obliged them to carry the kirpan dagger, this was a significant issue.