Addressing the Low Female Representation in STEM Education

Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Education

Data by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), shows that only 35 percent of students studying STEM in higher education globally are women. At primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have no electricity, computers or even access to the internet. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

DJIBOUTI CITY, Jan 28 2020 (IPS) – Dr. Anne-Maria Brennan loved science as a young girl. But instead of encouraging her, those around her made attempts to steer her in the “right direction”. “The right direction was in nursing, teaching and secretarial courses. I was told that girls do not study physics,” she tells IPS.


“These voices were so loud that I seriously considered becoming a music teacher. But then someone sensibly told me that I could become a scientist and an amateur musician, but there was nothing like an amateur scientist who was also a professional musician,” she says.

That was in the seventies, today Brennan is the vice-president of Science Engagement at the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation in the United Kingdom.

Brennan previously served as an associate professor in Bioscience and Forensic Biology, at the School of Applied Science, London South Bank University.

“It turns out that girls could in fact study physics, or mathematics, science, technology and engineering,” she quips.

It has been five decades since Brennan swam against the tide, pursuing a career in science. But data by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), shows that globally only 35 percent of students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – or STEM – in higher education are women. Further confirming that girls are still being steered towards domestic and caring career paths.

“Gender balance in enrolment as well as inclusivity in both participation and achievements in STEM education remains a global south challenge,” Professor Kalu Mosto Onuoha, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, tells IPS.

“Education systems will never be balanced and inclusive when half of the population is not participating at per with their counterparts in STEM education,” he adds.

Similar sentiments were shared by other delegates participating in the 3rd International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education currently being held in Djibouti City, Djibouti. Organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), over 200 delegates and government representatives from over 35 countries are currently in the Horn of Africa nation where state leaders are expected to sign a Universal Declaration on universal inclusive education.

  • Unfortunately, low female representation in STEM education is a narrative that knows no boundaries. According to UNESCO, Sweden has the highest share of women graduates from STEM programmes among Nordic countries, but STEM attainment among female students in Sweden stands at 16 percent, compared to male students at 47 percent.

Brennan affirms that the numbers are similarly low in the United Kingdom but notes some improvements in the fields of general practice and dentistry, where women have taken a lead.

She says there are few women in surgery and even fewer in engineering because men in these fields are considered unfriendly and the sectors too involved and dirty.

“These wide gender gaps in developing countries are purely out of choice. Students in these countries are making the choice to pursue other interests. In developing countries the choice is made for our students by a patriarchal culture and through socialisation,” says Onuoha.

He says that these inequalities are first rooted in the exclusion and marginalisation of girls in education enrolment.

“Girls who eventually made it to school were encouraged to undertake feminine subjects like teaching. They were socialised to believe that they could only be good mothers if they took on lighter subjects,” Onuoha expounds.

  • But the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 indicates that these inequalities are not limited to the lagging behind of girls at the enrolment level.
  • In countries such as the Southern Africa nation of Namibia where girls outpace boys in school enrolment at all levels, the gap widens in STEM education. Here, about eight percent of female students have attained STEM education, compared to 21 percent of male students.
  • Nonetheless, the report shines a spotlight on countries with impressive levels of STEM education uptake among their female students.
  • In Mauritania, for instance, attainment in STEM is at 29 percent among female students, and 31 percent among male students. In the South Asian nation of Myanmar, female students outpace male students in attainment of STEM education.
  • A few other countries such as the Arab country of Oman are slowly and surely closing the gender gap in STEM uptake, with 41 percent of female students and 55 percent of male students.

“In developing countries there are many concerted efforts to address the first part of  the problem, even though painfully slowly, we are slowly closing gender gaps in education enrolment, retention and in some cases, achievements,” Professor Mahouton Norbert Hounkonnou, from the Benin National Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, tells IPS.

Hounkonnou is a full professor of mathematics and physics, and called for the demystification of sciences. “STEM education is taught as if only a few people are meant to understand but science and math is for all of us. Everybody does math on a daily basis without even knowing it.”

Hounkonnou says that balanced and inclusive education systems call for an overhaul in what is taught in STEMs, who teaches it and how it is taught. “Learners love to be engaged. Our classrooms must become more interactive. We also need a gender component, currently lacking, in many of our educational interventions,” he adds.

He called for investment in infrastructure and learning materials to improve the environment in which STEM education is provided.

U.N. research shows that countries in the sub-Sahara Africa face the biggest challenges. At the primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools have access to electricity, computers and internet.

“This forum provides an opportunity for us to define the shape a balanced and inclusive STEM education system should take, and make concerted efforts to build that system. It will take financial and technical resources, including the training of teachers to better interact with female learners,” says Hounkonnou.

 

Balanced and Gender-Inclusive Education is a Smart Investment

Africa, Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Education

Pupils at the Elangata Enterit boarding primary school in Kenya’s Narok County. Experts say that a balanced education includes enabling girls to participate at the same level as boys. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

DJIBOUTI CITY, Jan 27 2020 (IPS) – Fihima Mohamed’s mother never attended school and until two years ago she could not read or write. Mohamed’s mother had been born in neighbouring Somalia but was sent to Djibouti as a young girl to live with her aunt. The expectation had been that she would have a better life by escaping the ongoing conflict in her home country at the time.


Instead, Mohamed’s mother became a domestic servant to her aunt — a circumstance that showed her that her own daughter’s future would be just as difficult if she too did not go to school.

Born and raised in the Republic of Djibouti, Mohamed told IPS that most of her childhood was spent in school or studying.

Between the ages of six and 16 years, she was driven by the vivid pictures her mother painted of the life that awaited her if she did not stay in school and perform well — one of domestic abuse. “I was told that as a woman, education would give me freedom,” she said, remembering how her mother was not able to make major household decisions and did not have the freedom to determine what direction her life took.

But her mother did make a decision that determined the course of Mohamed’s life. She opted not to buy the fish her children enjoyed so much for their meals and instead spent the money on private tuition classes for her daughter to supplement her schooling.

“I attended public school during the day, and at night, two hours of private school tuition. My mother sacrificed a lot to raise 25 dollars per month to pay for these night classes,” she said, explaining that she went to those classes not for her own sake but also so that she could help her three younger siblings with their homework.

The sacrifice paid off and Mohamed was placed among the country’s top-five students for her high school final exam. She received a scholarship to study in France for four years.

Fast track to 2020, Mohamed holds a bachelor’s degree in law and political science, and a Master’s degree in refugee studies. She is a social entrepreneur, a gender and environment activist and the founder of the Women Initiative, a local social movement for the empowerment of women and girls.

She said that Djibouti is among a growing list of developing countries were education attainment levels have significantly narrowed between boys and girls. United Nations statistics indicate that the gross primary school enrolment rates for girls have risen to nearly 61 percent.

This emerged during the 3rd International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education that is currently being held in Djibouti City, in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.

Organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), over 200 delegates and government representatives from over 35 countries rallied behind an education pathway that leaves no one behind.

  • According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, there is an increasing number of countries in the global south where, on average, educational attainment gaps are now relatively small.
  • These countries include Cambodia, Kenya, Cuba, Myanmar and Ethiopia.
  • In Myanmar, for instance, primary school enrolment rates stand at 88 percent for girls, and 90 percent for boys.
    • Additionally, in secondary level, enrolment rate for girls is at 62 percent and 57 percent for boys.
    • Even at tertiary level, enrolment rates for girls stand at 19 percent, compared to 13 percent for boys.

Countries struggling with gender parity in education include Togo, Burkina Faso and Burundi.

Togolese Prime Minister Komi Selom, Klassou confirmed that alarming gender inequalities exist, despite the existence of innovative strategies towards an inclusive education system.

“We have school canteens to provide school free meals, free medical cover for school-going children and the newly approved year-on-year budgetary increase to the education sector,” he said during the summit.

  • The Global Gender Gap Report indicates that in Togo, enrolment in primary school is at 88 percent among girls, and 94 percent for boys.
  • Secondary school enrolment for girls is at 34 percent for girls and 49 percent for boys.
  • At tertiary level, 10 percent of girls enrol vis-à-vis 19 percent of boys.

“Efforts to narrow this gap include a new government commitment to allocate at least 25 percent of its national budget to the education sector,” he said.

Fahima Mohamed says Djibouti is among a growing list of developing countries were education attainment levels have significantly narrowed between boys and girls. She called for more investments to ensure that girls participate at the same level as boys. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Mohamed told IPS that ongoing consultations on education will bring the global south a step closer towards “building fairer and more inclusive economies by transforming our education systems to ensure that every child has access to quality education”.

She explained that ultimately the idea was to embrace an education system that reflects the reality of children in the global south. This also included improving educational infrastructure and content so that the latter could be more diverse to reflect the multiple-cultural narrative of the global south.

Nonetheless, Sheikh Manssour Bin Mussallam, President of ERF, emphasised that balanced and inclusive education systems are not solely about having more children in classrooms, but the “construction of systems that makes exclusion impossible”.

“Our education systems should guarantee that marginalised groups participate under balanced and equitable conditions. The transformative power of education is only true if education itself is transformed and driven by forces that uphold equality and equity,” he said during the opening day of the summit.

Data by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) shows that existing education systems are far from equitable, prosperous and sustainable.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 21 percent of girls are much more likely to be out of school at primary school age compared to 16 percent of boys.
  • Globally, UNESCO statistics indicate that sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the worst rates of education exclusion. One in four children in South Asia, and one in five children in sub-Saharan Africa will never enter school.
  • Equally alarming, World Bank statistics show that children with a disability are more likely to never enrol in school at all. Overall, only one in four children with disabilities complete secondary school.
  • Additionally, primary school completion rates are 10 percentage points lower for girls with disabilities compared to girls without disabilities.

“In Sri Lanka where girls are consistently outpacing boys in both education access and achievement, our main challenge is lack of financial and technical resources to address the [requirements] of special needs children,” P.C.K. Pirisyala, director of education at the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service, told IPS.

“Developing countries are grappling with a lack of teachers to provide adequate training and material to provide disability-inclusive education,” she said.

She further said that a lack of resources (both technical and financial) and a lack of schools equipped to accommodate special needs children has made it difficult for these children in the global south to access education and participate with their peers.

“This forum will provide the global south with a roadmap that reflects these realities, and bring us closer to the dream of balanced and inclusive education for all by 2030. This is all in line with the [U.N.] sustainable development goal four on education for all,” she concluded.

The summit runs until Wednesday, Jan. 29.

 

Laurence Fox apologises to ‘fellow humans who are #Sikhs’ for ‘clumsy way I expressed myself’

Laurence Fox has apologised to the Sikh community after he sparked a race row by claiming the inclusion of a turban-wearing soldier in Sam Mendes film 1917 was ‘incongruous’ – but in a follow up tweet said ‘I stand by everything else I said’. 

The outspoken actor made the comment about the critically-acclaimed film in a podcast on Saturday while being interviewed by James Delingpole.

When asked about his remarks by GMB hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid the next day about whether the inclusion of the character was historically out-of-place, he replied: ‘I’m not a historian I don’t know.’

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance told MailOnline that Fox should ‘check his facts’, saying: ‘Laurence Fox is incorrect with his facts as Sikhs did fight with British forces, not just with their own regiments.’

Last night, the Lewis star posted on his Twitter account and apologised for the ‘clumsy way’ he expressed himself.

When asked about his remarks by GMB hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid the next day, he told the hosts 'I'm no historian' and admitted he didn't know Sikh soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British in World War One

When asked about his remarks by GMB hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid the next day, he told the hosts 'I'm no historian' and admitted he didn't know Sikh soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British in World War One

When asked about his remarks by GMB hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid the next day, he told the hosts ‘I’m no historian’ and admitted he didn’t know Sikh soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British in World War One

Laurence Fox apologised to the Sikh community after his outburst about the Sam Mendes

Laurence Fox apologised to the Sikh community after his outburst about the Sam Mendes

Laurence Fox apologised to the Sikh community after his outburst about the Sam Mendes 

The outspoken actor's apology only extended to the Sikh community for his comments about 1917

The outspoken actor's apology only extended to the Sikh community for his comments about 1917

The outspoken actor’s apology only extended to the Sikh community for his comments about 1917

Fox is pictured arriving at the Good Morning Britain studios in central London yesterday where he told the programme 'I'm not a historian'

Fox is pictured arriving at the Good Morning Britain studios in central London yesterday where he told the programme 'I'm not a historian'

Fox is pictured arriving at the Good Morning Britain studios in central London yesterday where he told the programme ‘I’m not a historian’

He said: ‘Fellow humans who are #Sikhs. I am as moved by the sacrifices your relatives made as I am by the loss of all those who die in war, whatever creed or colour.

‘Please accept my apology for being clumsy in the way I have expressed myself over this matter in recent days.’ 

But in a follow up tweet soon after, he said: ‘I stand by everything else I said and will continue to do so. Sleep well.’

The epic film follows two young British soldiers tasked with traversing no-man’s land with a message as the Germans pull back from the Western Front.

The Lewis star said that ‘forcing diversity on people’ is ‘institutionally racist’ after saying that the inclusion of Nabhaan Rizwan portraying Sepoy Jondalar was not in keeping with the film’s surroundings.

Speaking on podcast, The Delingpod, Mr Fox said: ‘It’s very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin because of the oddness in the casting. Even in 1917 they’ve done it with a Sikh soldier.

‘Which is great, it’s brilliant, but you’re suddenly aware there were Sikhs fighting in this war. And you’re like ‘ok’. You’re now diverting me away from what the story is.’  

Pictured: Ranvir Singh, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid with Laurence Fox Good Morning Britain today

Pictured: Ranvir Singh, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid with Laurence Fox Good Morning Britain today

Pictured: Ranvir Singh, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid with Laurence Fox Good Morning Britain today

Asked if he would be offered 'more, better roles' if he espoused 'different views', Fox agrees that is the case, but adds: 'What's the point? You don't want to go into a work environment and have someone thought-police you'. He is pictured speaking on Question Time

Asked if he would be offered 'more, better roles' if he espoused 'different views', Fox agrees that is the case, but adds: 'What's the point? You don't want to go into a work environment and have someone thought-police you'. He is pictured speaking on Question Time

Asked if he would be offered ‘more, better roles’ if he espoused ‘different views’, Fox agrees that is the case, but adds: ‘What’s the point? You don’t want to go into a work environment and have someone thought-police you’. He is pictured speaking on Question Time

This time he's taking aim not at an ethnicity lecturer from a provincial university, but Oscar-winner Sir Sam Mendes and, in particular, the film director's World War I epic, 1917. Director Sam Mendes is pictured above on set

This time he's taking aim not at an ethnicity lecturer from a provincial university, but Oscar-winner Sir Sam Mendes and, in particular, the film director's World War I epic, 1917. Director Sam Mendes is pictured above on set

This time he’s taking aim not at an ethnicity lecturer from a provincial university, but Oscar-winner Sir Sam Mendes and, in particular, the film director’s World War I epic, 1917. Director Sam Mendes is pictured above on set

The 41-year-old actor questioned the credibility of the storyline and said the casting  of Mr Rizwan caused ‘a very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin’ because of ‘the oddness of the casting’. 

He praised the performance of Mr Rizwan himself, saying it was ‘great’, adding that the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in the ranks ‘didn’t bother me particularly’.

But he added that the inclusion ‘did sort of flick me out of what is essentially a one-shot film [because] it’s just incongruous with the story’.

Sikh soldiers were present at some of the conflict’s bloodiest battles, including Ypres and the Somme.  

Mr Fox was a guest panellist on Question Time last week when an audience member called him a ‘white, privileged male’ and he called her description of him racist.

The actor has also previously said that ‘woke’ people are ‘fundamentally racist’.

 Fox – who railed against identity politics on Thursday’s Question Time – told Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio that the country is tired of being told it’s racist in an appearance on Monday.

Pictured: Laurence Fox with interviewer Julia Hartley-Brewer this morning

Pictured: Laurence Fox with interviewer Julia Hartley-Brewer this morning

Laurence Fox hit back at Lily Allen (pictured, crying at a migrant camp in Calais) after she told him to stick to acting despite her regular interventions on political issues

Laurence Fox hit back at Lily Allen (pictured, crying at a migrant camp in Calais) after she told him to stick to acting despite her regular interventions on political issues

Laurence Fox (pictured, left, with interviewer Julie Hartley-Brewer on Monday) hit back at Lily Allen (right, crying at a migrant camp in Calais) after she told him to stick to acting despite her regular interventions on political issues 

He also spoke about his dispute with singer Lily Allen who she was ‘sick to death’ of ‘luvvies’ like Fox who are guilty of ‘forcing their opinions on everybody else’. 

She added: ‘He’ll never have to deal with what normal people have to deal with in his gated community.’

She concluded the rant by saying that he should ‘stick to acting mate, instead of ranting about things you don’t know about’.   

Fox mocked her statement, saying that she had a ‘privileged’ upbringing herself and pointing out he doesn’t live in a gated community.

He said sarcastically on Talk Radio: ‘She’s had a pretty privileged upbringing but she speaks for the common man doesn’t she.’

Mr Fox also slammed ‘woke’ culture, a term that originally was used to positively convey an alertness to oppression but is now also used derisively as a term for those who argue that white privilege stops people like Fox being able to see racism.

Fox also said that it was the woke who are actually guilty of racism against the white people they accuse.

‘What they are accusing you of is what they are,’ he said. ‘They are everything they accuse you of. The wokist are fundamentally racist.’ He added: ‘Identity politics is extremely racist.’ 

The truth behind 1917’s Sikh soldier: Troops from the Empire DID fight in same regiments as the British in WWI as top historian slams Laurence Fox over claim Sam Mendes’ blockbuster was ‘racist’ for including Indian recruits

By Mark Duell and Shekhar Bhatia for MailOnline

Soldiers from foreign countries served shoulder-to-shoulder alongside British forces in the same regiments during the First World War, military experts said today.

More than three million soldiers and labourers from across the British Empire joined the British Army in their own regiments during the conflict from 1914 to 1918.

But other foreign soldiers also fought within British regiments, it emerged after actor Laurence Fox criticised the ‘incongruous’ inclusion of a Sikh soldier in the film 1917.

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance said Sikhs and other Indians fought with the British Army corps, such as the 1st Manchesters and the 47th Sikhs fighting as one. 

Sikh soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army soldiers on the Western Front in the war in 1916. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

Sikh soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army soldiers on the Western Front in the war in 1916. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

Sikh soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army soldiers on the Western Front in the war in 1916. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

George MacKay plays Lance Corporal Schofield (centre) in 1917, alongside Nabhaan Rizwan, who plays Sikh soldier Sepoy Jondalar. They are pictured trying to push a truck out of mud

Mr Bance today told Fox to ‘check his facts’, saying: ‘Laurence Fox is incorrect with his facts as Sikhs did fight with British forces, not just with their own regiments.’

He told MailOnline: ‘There were definitely Sikhs and other Indian soldiers who fought among the British Army corps, and they wore the same uniform.’ 

The details come after Fox questioned the storyline of 1917 over Sikh soldier Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, being in the ranks of British forces.

Fox, 41, told writer James Delingpole’s podcast that it causes ‘a very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin’ because of ‘the oddness of the casting’. 

Around 1.5million men were recruited from India, while Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland gave a further 1.3million soldiers.

A Sikh soldier lines up with three British comrades on the Western Front during the war in 1917

A Sikh soldier lines up with three British comrades on the Western Front during the war in 1917

A Sikh soldier lines up with three British comrades on the Western Front during the war in 1917

1917 director Sir Sam Mendes speaks to Nabhaan Rizwan on set during the film's production

1917 director Sir Sam Mendes speaks to Nabhaan Rizwan on set during the film's production

1917 director Sir Sam Mendes speaks to Nabhaan Rizwan on set during the film’s production

Some men from the West Indies served in regular British Army units, but most of the 15,000 involved were in their own regiments and served in France, Italy and Africa.

Indian troops fought against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine; African troops helped contain the Germans in East Africa; and Newfoundlanders fought at the Somme.

Estimated deaths by British Empire country

  • Australia – 62,000
  • Canada – 65,000
  • India – 74,000
  • New Zealand – 18,000
  • Newfoundland – 1,000
  • South Africa – 9,000
  • West Indies – 1,000 
  • United Kingdom – 885,000

Figures rounded to the nearest 1,000 after being compiled by the Centre Européen Robert Schuman in France

Mr Bance said of Fox’s comments: ‘This has nothing to do with diversity, history is history and we can’t distort it for a film. Over 1.5million Indians fought in World War One, over 80,000 Indians died.

‘Sam Mendes should be commended as finally World War One films are becoming historically accurate, as earlier films totally ignored the presence of Sikh and other colonial soldiers who fought for the Empire alongside the British

‘Laurence’s comments are totally out of context as the presence of one Sikh is not to distract the audience but to give historical accuracy which most World War One films lack.

‘When over 1.5 million Indian soldiers fought in this campaign, how can showing one Sikh soldier be distracting?’

Mr Bance added: ‘There were definitely Sikhs and other Indian soldiers who fought among the British Army corps, and they wore the same uniform.

A patrol of Indian lancers near Amiens in France soon after the outbreak of war in autumn 1914. The I Indian Corps of 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) were part of Indian Expeditionary Force A

A patrol of Indian lancers near Amiens in France soon after the outbreak of war in autumn 1914. The I Indian Corps of 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) were part of Indian Expeditionary Force A

A patrol of Indian lancers near Amiens in France soon after the outbreak of war in autumn 1914. The I Indian Corps of 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) were part of Indian Expeditionary Force A

Indian cavalry after a charge at the Somme during the First World War on July 14, 1916

Indian cavalry after a charge at the Somme during the First World War on July 14, 1916

Indian cavalry after a charge at the Somme during the First World War on July 14, 1916

‘For example The 1st Manchesters were fighting with members of the 47th Sikhs brigade as one.

‘And the 7th Ferozepur Brigade consisted of 47th Sikhs and the London Brigade.

‘Sikhs not only fought from within their own Sikh regiments but they were also in the Punjabi Regiments, cavalry, sappers and miners regiments as well.

‘There was also Sikhs and other Indian soldiers who were present in British Army service corps working as labourers too.’

MailOnline has approached Sir Sam Mendes’s representatives for a comment. 

Britain started the war with 700,000 trained soldiers, before thousands of untrained volunteers also signed up in 1914 and conscription was introduced two years later. 

A Sikh regiment marching in France in 1914, where Indian soldiers made a huge contribution

A Sikh regiment marching in France in 1914, where Indian soldiers made a huge contribution

A Sikh regiment marching in France in 1914, where Indian soldiers made a huge contribution

Two Senegalese soldiers serving in the French Army as infantrymen, in June 1917. They were part of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais and from the Bambara, a Mandé ethnic group in West Africa

Two Senegalese soldiers serving in the French Army as infantrymen, in June 1917. They were part of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais and from the Bambara, a Mandé ethnic group in West Africa

Two Senegalese soldiers serving in the French Army as infantrymen, in June 1917. They were part of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais and from the Bambara, a Mandé ethnic group in West Africa

But the size of the military was also significantly bolstered by forces from across the Empire – which later became the Commonwealth – all of which had backed Britain after it declared war against Germany.

Laurence Fox (pictured on the BBC's Question Time last Thursday) questioned the Sikh soldier's appearance in the film 1917

Laurence Fox (pictured on the BBC's Question Time last Thursday) questioned the Sikh soldier's appearance in the film 1917

Laurence Fox (pictured on the BBC’s Question Time last Thursday) questioned the Sikh soldier’s appearance in the film 1917

The Indian sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914.

In 1915, Indian troops fought against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine and Mesopotamia (now Iraq), and alongside British, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli.

Some 1.27million Indians voluntarily served as combatants and labourers, also helping Allied forces occupy former enemy territory in East Africa and the Balkans.

Dr Simon Walker, a military historian at the University of Strathclyde, said: ‘The remarks by Fox are very much ill informed.’

He said more than 74,000 Indian soldiers died in service in the First World War, and claimed they were of ‘paramount importance’ at key battles including Ypres in 1914, Neuve Chappelle and Gallipoli.

The expert said soldiers from different races were mainly separate at the start of the war, but this changed as huge losses meant men were transferred around the various battle grounds.

Indian troops march through France in August 1914. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914

Indian troops march through France in August 1914. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914

Indian troops march through France in August 1914. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914

Dr Walker added: ‘Therefore by the middle of the war it would not be unusual for sikh soldiers to serve side by side with their British comrades, as was necessitated by the demands of the war and losses.

‘This was visible in Britain, as burial practices were briefly changed to allow open air cremation for such soldiers.’

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance (pictured) told Laurence Fox to 'check his facts'

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance (pictured) told Laurence Fox to 'check his facts'

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance (pictured) told Laurence Fox to ‘check his facts’

African troops were also involved in containing the Germans in East Africa and defeating them in West Africa – in an area where Europeans had struggled in the hot climate.

By the end of the war, the ‘British Army’ in East Africa was mainly soldiers from Nigeria, Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda and Nyasaland (Malawi).

Some 60,000 labourers came from South Africa, but black South Africans were only allowed a logistical role because the country’s government feared arming them.

White South African units were sent to the Western Front and 3,153 were involved in a battle at Delville Wood on the Somme in July 1916, with only 750 left unharmed.

Around 15,000 men from the Caribbean enlisted, with a few serving in regular British Army units – although most were in the West India Regiment and the British West Indies Regiment. 

African-American soldiers return home from Europe after the First World War in 1918

African-American soldiers return home from Europe after the First World War in 1918

African-American soldiers return home from Europe after the First World War in 1918

They served in France, Italy, Africa and the Middle East. 

Canada also made a huge contribution to the war, with the Canadian Expeditionary Force fighting in most of the major battles on the Western Front from 1915.

Descendant of Sikh WWI soldier praises contribution of troops

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill, 40, whose Sikh great-great-grandfather fought alongside British servicemen in the First World War, spoke today about the contribution of Sikhs to the military.

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill with a photo of his great-great grandfather Major Bawa Singh at a Royal Albert Hall Remembrance event

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill with a photo of his great-great grandfather Major Bawa Singh at a Royal Albert Hall Remembrance event

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill with a photo of his great-great grandfather Major Bawa Singh at a Royal Albert Hall Remembrance event

He told MailOnline: ‘A lot has been done over the last five years to raise awareness of the fact that many thousands of Sikh soldiers fought bravely alongside Western troops.

‘My great-great grandfather Bawa Singh was with the 23rd Sikh Pioneers and spent six years fighting in Aden, Egypt and Palestine.

‘He told my grandfather of the loneliness of being so far away from home and from his family. There were also language problems with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar surroundings.

‘The British and other western troops could go home on leave every three months, but the Indian soldiers carried on as they were a long way from home and that continued abroad even after Armistice Day.’

They were at the Somme, Passchendaele and in the Hundred Days offensives of 1918. Nearly 10 per cent of the 620,000 Canadians who enlisted were killed in the war.

Newfoundland, which only became part of Canada in 1949, fought at Gallipoli in 1915, but was almost wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme the next year.

And more than 410,000 Australians served in the war, suffering about 200,000 casualties in campaigns at Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in the Middle East.

New Zealand forces helped Australia capture Germany’s colonies in the Pacific and fought on the Western Front, with 5 per cent of the country’s men aged 15-49 killed.

The Sikh Network, a collective of Sikh activists and professionals in Britain, also hit out at Fox – saying his remarks were ‘offensive’ and needed retraction.

Manvir Bhogal from the organisation told MailOnline: ‘Thousands of Sikhs saw battle at the front line and many died. It is highly offensive and inappropriate for Laurence Fox to term the inclusion of a single Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’ production in order to at least represent the extent of war with a microcosm of diversity of historic fact as ‘incongruous’ .

‘It is outrageous and of deep hurt to Sikhs not just in the UK but throughout the world and to the rest of those whose communities were forcibly sent to war.

‘His comments should be retracted with an apology immediately.’

‘Where this doesn’t take place, it marginalizes entire communities that, in this case, made a huge sacrifice and contribution to the welfare and protection of freedoms for all mankind despite the oppression being faced due to European imperialism itself back home.’

Earlier this week, Fox told Mr Delingpole’s podcast that the Sikh character distracted from what the story was about.

He questioned the credibility of the storyline and said the casting of Rizwan caused ‘a very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin’ because of ‘the oddness of the casting’.

He praised the performance of Rizwan himself, saying it was ‘great’, adding that the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in the ranks ‘didn’t bother me particularly’.

But he added that the inclusion ‘did sort of flick me out of what is essentially a one-shot film [because] it’s just incongruous with the story’.

Sir Sam Mendes with actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay on the set of 1917

Sir Sam Mendes with actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay on the set of 1917

Sir Sam Mendes with actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay on the set of 1917

 

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Laurence Fox admits he didn’t know Sikh soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder with British

Laurence Fox has admitted that he didn’t know Sikh soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the British in World War One.

The actor told Good Morning Britain ‘I’m not a historian’ as he stumbled over a statement he made on a podcast on Saturday.  

He said the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in a scene in Sam Mendes’ film 1917 was ‘incongruous’ in an interview with James Delingpole, sparking a backlash.

But today when asked about his remarks by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid about whether the inclusion of the character was historically out-of-place, he replied: ‘I’m not a historian i don’t know.’ 

Fox is pictured arriving at the Good Morning Britain studios in central London today where he told the programme 'I'm not a historian'

Fox is pictured arriving at the Good Morning Britain studios in central London today where he told the programme 'I'm not a historian'

Fox is pictured arriving at the Good Morning Britain studios in central London today where he told the programme ‘I’m not a historian’

The actor had questioned Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes over an ‘incongruous’ Sikh soldier appearing in the movie 1917.

The Lewis star said that ‘forcing diversity on people’ is ‘institutionally racist’ after saying that the inclusion of Nabhaan Rizwan portraying Sepoy Jondalar was not in keeping with the film’s surroundings.

The epic film follows two young British soldiers tasked with traversing no-man’s land with a message as the Germans pull back from the Western Front. 

Pictured: Ranvir Singh, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid with Laurence Fox Good Morning Britain today

Pictured: Ranvir Singh, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid with Laurence Fox Good Morning Britain today

Pictured: Ranvir Singh, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid with Laurence Fox Good Morning Britain today

Pictured: Laurence Fox on Good Morning Britain today as he told presenters: 'I'm not a historian.'

Pictured: Laurence Fox on Good Morning Britain today as he told presenters: 'I'm not a historian.'

Pictured: Laurence Fox on Good Morning Britain today as he told presenters: ‘I’m not a historian.’

Asked if he would be offered 'more, better roles' if he espoused 'different views', Fox agrees that is the case, but adds: 'What's the point? You don't want to go into a work environment and have someone thought-police you'. He is pictured speaking on Question Time

Asked if he would be offered 'more, better roles' if he espoused 'different views', Fox agrees that is the case, but adds: 'What's the point? You don't want to go into a work environment and have someone thought-police you'. He is pictured speaking on Question Time

Asked if he would be offered ‘more, better roles’ if he espoused ‘different views’, Fox agrees that is the case, but adds: ‘What’s the point? You don’t want to go into a work environment and have someone thought-police you’. He is pictured speaking on Question Time

This time he's taking aim not at an ethnicity lecturer from a provincial university, but Oscar-winner Sir Sam Mendes and, in particular, the film director's World War I epic, 1917. Director Sam Mendes is pictured above on set

This time he's taking aim not at an ethnicity lecturer from a provincial university, but Oscar-winner Sir Sam Mendes and, in particular, the film director's World War I epic, 1917. Director Sam Mendes is pictured above on set

This time he’s taking aim not at an ethnicity lecturer from a provincial university, but Oscar-winner Sir Sam Mendes and, in particular, the film director’s World War I epic, 1917. Director Sam Mendes is pictured above on set

Mr Fox – who became embroiled in a row over ‘white privilege’ on Thursday’s Question Time – told writer James Delingpole’s podcast that the Sikh character distracted from what the story was about. 

Mr Fox said: ‘It’s like, “There were Sikhs fighting in this war” . . . OK, you’re now diverting me away from what the story is. There is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way.’ 

His criticism, reported by Sebastian Shakespeare, comes as the movie is up for 10 Oscars including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.

Despite these plaudits, Fox, 41, questions the credibility of the film's storyline and what he describes as the 'incongruous' inclusion of a Sikh soldier, Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, in the ranks of British forces

Despite these plaudits, Fox, 41, questions the credibility of the film's storyline and what he describes as the 'incongruous' inclusion of a Sikh soldier, Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, in the ranks of British forces

Despite these plaudits, Fox, 41, questions the credibility of the film’s storyline and what he describes as the ‘incongruous’ inclusion of a Sikh soldier, Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, in the ranks of British forces

The 41-year-old actor questioned the credibility of the storyline and said the casting  of Mr Rizwan caused ‘a very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin’ because of ‘the oddness of the casting’. 

He praised the performance of Mr Rizwan himself, saying it was ‘great’, adding that the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in the ranks ‘didn’t bother me particularly’.

But he added that the inclusion ‘did sort of flick me out of what is essentially a one-shot film [because] it’s just incongruous with the story’.

Sikh soldiers were present at some of the conflict’s bloodiest battles, including Ypres and the Somme.  

Mr Fox was a guest panellist on Question Time last week when an audience member called him a ‘white, privileged male’ and he called her description of him racist. MailOnline has approached Sir Sam Mendes’s representatives for a comment. 

The truth behind 1917’s Sikh soldier: Troops from the Empire DID fight in same regiments as the British in WWI as top historian slams Laurence Fox over claim Sam Mendes’ blockbuster was ‘racist’ for including Indian recruits

By Mark Duell and Shekhar Bhatia for MailOnline

Soldiers from foreign countries served shoulder-to-shoulder alongside British forces in the same regiments during the First World War, military experts said today.

More than three million soldiers and labourers from across the British Empire joined the British Army in their own regiments during the conflict from 1914 to 1918.

But other foreign soldiers also fought within British regiments, it emerged after actor Laurence Fox criticised the ‘incongruous’ inclusion of a Sikh soldier in the film 1917.

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance said Sikhs and other Indians fought with the British Army corps, such as the 1st Manchesters and the 47th Sikhs fighting as one. 

Mr Bance today told Fox to ‘check his facts’, saying: ‘Laurence Fox is incorrect with his facts as Sikhs did fight with British forces, not just with their own regiments.’

He told MailOnline: ‘There were definitely Sikhs and other Indian soldiers who fought among the British Army corps, and they wore the same uniform.’ 

Sikh soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army soldiers on the Western Front in the war in 1916. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

Sikh soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army soldiers on the Western Front in the war in 1916. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

Sikh soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army soldiers on the Western Front in the war in 1916. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

George MacKay plays Lance Corporal Schofield (centre) in 1917, alongside Nabhaan Rizwan, who plays Sikh soldier Sepoy Jondalar. They are pictured trying to push a truck out of mud

The details come after Fox questioned the storyline of 1917 over Sikh soldier Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, being in the ranks of British forces.

Fox, 41, told writer James Delingpole’s podcast that it causes ‘a very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin’ because of ‘the oddness of the casting’. 

Around 1.5million men were recruited from India, while Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland gave a further 1.3million soldiers.

Some men from the West Indies served in regular British Army units, but most of the 15,000 involved were in their own regiments and served in France, Italy and Africa.

Indian troops fought against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine; African troops helped contain the Germans in East Africa; and Newfoundlanders fought at the Somme.

A Sikh soldier lines up with three British comrades on the Western Front during the war in 1917

A Sikh soldier lines up with three British comrades on the Western Front during the war in 1917

A Sikh soldier lines up with three British comrades on the Western Front during the war in 1917

1917 director Sir Sam Mendes speaks to Nabhaan Rizwan on set during the film's production

1917 director Sir Sam Mendes speaks to Nabhaan Rizwan on set during the film's production

1917 director Sir Sam Mendes speaks to Nabhaan Rizwan on set during the film’s production

Mr Bance said of Fox’s comments: ‘This has nothing to do with diversity, history is history and we can’t distort it for a film. Over 1.5million Indians fought in World War One, over 80,000 Indians died.

Estimated deaths by British Empire country

  • Australia – 62,000
  • Canada – 65,000
  • India – 74,000
  • New Zealand – 18,000
  • Newfoundland – 1,000
  • South Africa – 9,000
  • West Indies – 1,000 
  • United Kingdom – 885,000

Figures rounded to the nearest 1,000 after being compiled by the Centre Européen Robert Schuman in France

‘Sam Mendes should be commended as finally World War One films are becoming historically accurate, as earlier films totally ignored the presence of Sikh and other colonial soldiers who fought for the Empire alongside the British

‘Laurence’s comments are totally out of context as the presence of one Sikh is not to distract the audience but to give historical accuracy which most World War One films lack.

‘When over 1.5 million Indian soldiers fought in this campaign, how can showing one Sikh soldier be distracting?’

Mr Bance added: ‘There were definitely Sikhs and other Indian soldiers who fought among the British Army corps, and they wore the same uniform.

‘For example The 1st Manchesters were fighting with members of the 47th Sikhs brigade as one.

A patrol of Indian lancers near Amiens in France soon after the outbreak of war in autumn 1914. The I Indian Corps of 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) were part of Indian Expeditionary Force A

A patrol of Indian lancers near Amiens in France soon after the outbreak of war in autumn 1914. The I Indian Corps of 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) were part of Indian Expeditionary Force A

A patrol of Indian lancers near Amiens in France soon after the outbreak of war in autumn 1914. The I Indian Corps of 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) were part of Indian Expeditionary Force A

Indian cavalry after a charge at the Somme during the First World War on July 14, 1916

Indian cavalry after a charge at the Somme during the First World War on July 14, 1916

Indian cavalry after a charge at the Somme during the First World War on July 14, 1916

‘And the 7th Ferozepur Brigade consisted of 47th Sikhs and the London Brigade.

‘Sikhs not only fought from within their own Sikh regiments but they were also in the Punjabi Regiments, cavalry, sappers and miners regiments as well.

‘There was also Sikhs and other Indian soldiers who were present in British Army service corps working as labourers too.’

MailOnline has approached Sir Sam Mendes’s representatives for a comment. 

Britain started the war with 700,000 trained soldiers, before thousands of untrained volunteers also signed up in 1914 and conscription was introduced two years later. 

A Sikh regiment marching in France in 1914, where Indian soldiers made a huge contribution

A Sikh regiment marching in France in 1914, where Indian soldiers made a huge contribution

A Sikh regiment marching in France in 1914, where Indian soldiers made a huge contribution

Two Senegalese soldiers serving in the French Army as infantrymen, in June 1917. They were part of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais and from the Bambara, a Mandé ethnic group in West Africa

Two Senegalese soldiers serving in the French Army as infantrymen, in June 1917. They were part of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais and from the Bambara, a Mandé ethnic group in West Africa

Two Senegalese soldiers serving in the French Army as infantrymen, in June 1917. They were part of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais and from the Bambara, a Mandé ethnic group in West Africa

But the size of the military was also significantly bolstered by forces from across the Empire – which later became the Commonwealth – all of which had backed Britain after it declared war against Germany.

The Indian sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914.

In 1915, Indian troops fought against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine and Mesopotamia (now Iraq), and alongside British, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli.

Laurence Fox (pictured on the BBC's Question Time last Thursday) questioned the Sikh soldier's appearance in the film 1917

Laurence Fox (pictured on the BBC's Question Time last Thursday) questioned the Sikh soldier's appearance in the film 1917

Laurence Fox (pictured on the BBC’s Question Time last Thursday) questioned the Sikh soldier’s appearance in the film 1917

Some 1.27million Indians voluntarily served as combatants and labourers, also helping Allied forces occupy former enemy territory in East Africa and the Balkans.

Dr Simon Walker, a military historian at the University of Strathclyde, said: ‘The remarks by Fox are very much ill informed.’

He said more than 74,000 Indian soldiers died in service in the First World War, and claimed they were of ‘paramount importance’ at key battles including Ypres in 1914, Neuve Chappelle and Gallipoli.

The expert said soldiers from different races were mainly separate at the start of the war, but this changed as huge losses meant men were transferred around the various battle grounds.

Dr Walker added: ‘Therefore by the middle of the war it would not be unusual for sikh soldiers to serve side by side with their British comrades, as was necessitated by the demands of the war and losses.

‘This was visible in Britain, as burial practices were briefly changed to allow open air cremation for such soldiers.’

African troops were also involved in containing the Germans in East Africa and defeating them in West Africa – in an area where Europeans had struggled in the hot climate.

By the end of the war, the ‘British Army’ in East Africa was mainly soldiers from Nigeria, Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda and Nyasaland (Malawi).

Indian troops march through France in August 1914. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914

Indian troops march through France in August 1914. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914

Indian troops march through France in August 1914. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914

Some 60,000 labourers came from South Africa, but black South Africans were only allowed a logistical role because the country’s government feared arming them.

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance (pictured) told Laurence Fox to 'check his facts'

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance (pictured) told Laurence Fox to 'check his facts'

Sikh historian Peter Singh Bance (pictured) told Laurence Fox to ‘check his facts’

White South African units were sent to the Western Front and 3,153 were involved in a battle at Delville Wood on the Somme in July 1916, with only 750 left unharmed.

Around 15,000 men from the Caribbean enlisted, with a few serving in regular British Army units – although most were in the West India Regiment and the British West Indies Regiment. 

They served in France, Italy, Africa and the Middle East. 

Canada also made a huge contribution to the war, with the Canadian Expeditionary Force fighting in most of the major battles on the Western Front from 1915.

They were at the Somme, Passchendaele and in the Hundred Days offensives of 1918. Nearly 10 per cent of the 620,000 Canadians who enlisted were killed in the war.

African-American soldiers return home from Europe after the First World War in 1918

African-American soldiers return home from Europe after the First World War in 1918

African-American soldiers return home from Europe after the First World War in 1918

Newfoundland, which only became part of Canada in 1949, fought at Gallipoli in 1915, but was almost wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme the next year.

Descendant of Sikh WWI soldier praises contribution of troops

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill, 40, whose Sikh great-great-grandfather fought alongside British servicemen in the First World War, spoke today about the contribution of Sikhs to the military.

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill with a photo of his great-great grandfather Major Bawa Singh at a Royal Albert Hall Remembrance event

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill with a photo of his great-great grandfather Major Bawa Singh at a Royal Albert Hall Remembrance event

Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill with a photo of his great-great grandfather Major Bawa Singh at a Royal Albert Hall Remembrance event

He told MailOnline: ‘A lot has been done over the last five years to raise awareness of the fact that many thousands of Sikh soldiers fought bravely alongside Western troops.

‘My great-great grandfather Bawa Singh was with the 23rd Sikh Pioneers and spent six years fighting in Aden, Egypt and Palestine.

‘He told my grandfather of the loneliness of being so far away from home and from his family. There were also language problems with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar surroundings.

‘The British and other western troops could go home on leave every three months, but the Indian soldiers carried on as they were a long way from home and that continued abroad even after Armistice Day.’

And more than 410,000 Australians served in the war, suffering about 200,000 casualties in campaigns at Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in the Middle East.

New Zealand forces helped Australia capture Germany’s colonies in the Pacific and fought on the Western Front, with 5 per cent of the country’s men aged 15-49 killed.

The Sikh Network, a collective of Sikh activists and professionals in Britain, also hit out at Fox – saying his remarks were ‘offensive’ and needed retraction.

Manvir Bhogal from the organisation told MailOnline: ‘Thousands of Sikhs saw battle at the front line and many died. It is highly offensive and inappropriate for Laurence Fox to term the inclusion of a single Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’ production in order to at least represent the extent of war with a microcosm of diversity of historic fact as ‘incongruous’ .

‘It is outrageous and of deep hurt to Sikhs not just in the UK but throughout the world and to the rest of those whose communities were forcibly sent to war.

‘His comments should be retracted with an apology immediately.’

‘Where this doesn’t take place, it marginalizes entire communities that, in this case, made a huge sacrifice and contribution to the welfare and protection of freedoms for all mankind despite the oppression being faced due to European imperialism itself back home.’

Earlier this week, Fox told Mr Delingpole’s podcast that the Sikh character distracted from what the story was about.

He questioned the credibility of the storyline and said the casting of Rizwan caused ‘a very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin’ because of ‘the oddness of the casting’.

He praised the performance of Rizwan himself, saying it was ‘great’, adding that the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in the ranks ‘didn’t bother me particularly’.

But he added that the inclusion ‘did sort of flick me out of what is essentially a one-shot film [because] it’s just incongruous with the story’.

Sir Sam Mendes with actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay on the set of 1917

Sir Sam Mendes with actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay on the set of 1917

Sir Sam Mendes with actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay on the set of 1917

Sikh soldiers were present at some of the conflict’s bloodiest battles, including Ypres and the Somme.

How soldiers from across the Empire helped win the war

INDIA 

The Indian sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had sent two infantry and two cavalry divisions to the Western Front by the end of 1914.

In 1915, Indian troops fought against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine and Mesopotamia (now Iraq), and alongside British, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli.

AFRICA 

African troops were also involved in containing the Germans in East Africa and defeating them in West Africa – in an area where Europeans had struggled in the hot climate. By the end of the war, the ‘British Army’ in East Africa was mainly soldiers from Nigeria, Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda and Nyasaland (Malawi). In addition, some 60,000 labourers came from South Africa.

CARIBBEAN 

Around 15,000 men from the Caribbean enlisted, with a few serving in regular British Army units – although most were in the West India Regiment and the British West Indies Regiment. They served in France, Italy, Africa and the Middle East.

CANADA 

Canada also made a huge contribution to the war, with the Canadian Expeditionary Force fighting in most of the major battles on the Western Front from 1915. They were at the Somme, Passchendaele and in the Hundred Days offensives of 1918. Nearly 10 per cent of the 620,000 Canadians who enlisted were killed in the war.

NEWFOUNDLAND 

Newfoundland, which only became part of Canada in 1949, fought at Gallipoli in 1915), but was almost wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme the next year.

AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND 

More than 410,000 Australians served in the war, suffering about 200,000 casualties in campaigns at Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in the Middle East.

New Zealand forces helped Australia capture Germany’s colonies in the Pacific and fought on the Western Front, with 5 per cent of the country’s men aged 15-49 killed.

Mr Bance added: ‘Laurence’s comments about having a Sikh presence in the film as institutionally racist ‘is absurd’. 

‘We can’t rearrange history to suit individuals or cinema goers. How can showing historical facts and the reality of the First World War be ‘forcing diversity’?

‘Many thousands of SIkhs gave their lives on the Western Front, thousands of miles away from their homeland and families for the freedom of Europe which had no bearing on them.  Calling their sacrifice as ‘forcing diversity’ is shameful.’

Among the most famous Indian soldiers involved in the First World War was former Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town footballer Walter Tull.

His father had arrived in Britain from Barbados in 1876. Kent-born Mr Tull played in front of tens of thousands of fans at White Hart Lane, but died in combat near Arras aged 29.

In his 2011 book Race, Empire and First World War Writing, Oxford University expert Santanu Das wrote: ‘Among the various colonies of the British Empire, India contributed the largest number of men, with approximately 1.5 million recruited during the war up to December 1919.

‘The dominions (self-governing nations within the British Commonwealth) – including Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland – contributed a further 1.3 million men.

‘New Zealand’s mobilisation of more than 100,000 men may seem relatively small compared to India’s, but in proportionate terms New Zealand made one of the largest contributions to the British empire, with 5 per cent of its men aged 15-49 killed.

‘Indian and New Zealand troops fought together in Gallipoli, where out of a total of 3,000 Indian combatants, some 1,624 were killed, a loss rate of more than 50 per cent.’

Fox told the podcast: ‘It’s like, ‘There were Sikhs fighting in this war’ . . . OK, you’re now diverting me away from what the story is. There is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way.’

Fox emphasised that his observations are no reflection on the quality of Rizwan’s performance.

‘He’s great in it,’ he said, before arguing that having a Sikh appear in the British Army ‘did sort of flick me out of what is essentially a one-shot film [because] it’s just incongruous with the story’.

Asked if he would be offered ‘more, better roles’ if he espoused ‘different views’, Fox agreed that was the case, but added: ‘What’s the point? You don’t want to go into a work environment and have someone thought-police you.’

Fox was a guest panellist on the BBC’s Question Time last week when an audience member called him a ‘white, privileged male’. 

He then called her description of him racist during a row over the treatment of the Duchess of Sussex in Britain.

Shortly before the November 11 armistice centenary in 2018, 1,000 pages of interview transcripts from Indian servicemen were offered to the British Library.

The first-hand accounts revealed how the soldiers suffered racial segregation and discrimination while showing bravery and a desire for independence. 

 

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World: Lessons on how to effectively tackle insect invasions

The ConversationEsther Ndumi Ngumbi, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology; African-American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Kenyan food production and grazing land is under threat from a huge desert locust invasion. The insects are currently in two counties in northern Kenya and are now spreading to other Kenyan regions including Meru, Laikipia, and Rift Valley. The government has yet to quantify losses but past attacks have caused harvest losses of up to 70%.

Desert locusts are considered to be the most dangerous of all migratory pests because they can eventually develop wings and form a cohesive swarm which can cross continents and seas. They have the ability to devour crops from entire farm fields in a single morning. Studies show that large swarms form because of factors including changes to the environment, population structure and behaviour.

These desert locusts migrated from Yemen — a traditional breeding area — through Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia. The region has had more rainfall than usual which can could have led to this situation. After periods of drought, when vegetation flushes occur in major desert locust breeding areas, rapid population build ups and competition for food can lead to a swarm developing.

To fight these voracious pests, the government of Kenya is using chemical pesticides, often the usual immediate response of African governments to these outbreaks. This was the approach used to curb the spread of the invasive fall armyworm in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana, for instance. But they don’t work in the long run.

Pesticides are chemicals used to kill pests — from animal pests to weeds. Their use is growing in many countries in general, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. In 2017, Nigeria alone spent over US$400 million on these chemicals.

While there are benefits of using pesticides — including directly reducing the incidence of the invading pests — the benefits are short-term: insects can quickly become resistant to them.

Pesticides are also bad for the environment and the health of consumers and farmers. Many European countries have banned some of them for those reasons. In 2017, a United Nations report showed that about 200,000 people, mostly from developing countries, die every year from pesticide poisoning.

Countries must therefore promote alternatives or look more carefully at how to prevent insect invasions in the first place.

Integrated pest management

There are alternatives to pesticides including integrated pest management. This is an approach that doesn’t rule out the use of pesticides, but uses them as little as possible.

Integrated pest management also promotes the use of safer alternatives, like biocontrol, which uses natural enemies to control pests, biopesticides and cultural control practices, which modify the growing environment to reduce unwanted pests.

Biopesticides have been used to manage the invasive fall armyworm control locust, but they’re not popular because they take time to kill the pest.

Countries also need to be proactive in dealing with potential invasions — reactive measures aren’t enough. With warming temperatures in many parts of the continent, some insects will grow and mature faster, meaning more pest invasions. Sub-Saharan African countries will be greatly affected. Recent examples include the fall armyworm invasions that caused billions of dollars in losses on the continent while contributing to food insecurity for millions of farmers.

Governments must work to prevent insect invasions from happening in the first place.

Preventing invasions

It’s possible for African countries to anticipate and prepare for invasions. They can tap into existing support tools to identify potential invasive pests. The Horizon Scanning Tool, for example, is a tool with which countries can generate a list of insect species that might invade from neighbouring countries — particularly important if they share similar climates or are linked by transport and trade routes. Because countries know about potential invaders ahead of time, they can prepare action plans to be rolled out when predicted invasions happen.

African countries must also strengthen their own pest surveillance efforts. Most African countries don’t have good systems — such as border screening — in place to control the introduction of plants and plant products, which could have pests or diseases. Many governments also don’t carry out routine pest surveillance.

Countries should also learn from others that have successfully tackled invasions. For instance, the US has invasive insect species task forces, councils, committees and advisory groups to provide expertise and guidance on how to prepare for and tackle insect invasions when they happen.

As with the fall armyworm, and through meetings organised by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, African countries were able to learn from countries like Brazil that have successfully tackled fall armyworm invasion. For instance, they learned how to accurately identify the pests and how to use the right biological control agents.

Finally, countries must have emergency funds at their disposal to support citizens who become food insecure because of the invading insects. In dealing with recent fall armyworm, this was sorely lacking.

By anticipating pest outbreaks and invasions and having multi-pronged and comprehensive efforts laid out, African countries can effectively deal with pest outbreaks and invasions. Key to this is being proactive, rather than reactive.

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