Brighton is a small town situated by the coast, near London. In 1915, the town hospital hosted many wounded soldiers of Indian descent, amongst which a Sikh wrote his last words to his father, as he lay on a bed, nearing death with every passing second. “Tell my mother not to go wandering madly because her son, my brother, is dead,” he wrote. “To be born and to die is God’s order. Some day we must die, sooner or later, and if I die here, who will remember me? It is a fine thing to die far from home. A saint said this, and, as he was a good man, it must be true.”
What was a Sikh doing on a hospital bed in a small town of Great Britain? If you’re well-read and have kept track of your history, the year would have given away the answer. We all remember the World Wars - we remember there was a first, and a second one followed, but most forget just how many people were truly involved in it, and how far its reach really was.
It was called the global war for a reason, but most of us tend to centralise the globe to the first world. Unfortunately, this assumption has made about 1.5 million lives invisible. All these lives were from India, which included Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who fought in France and Belgium during World War I. Great Britain, which was one of the superpowers, recruited these troops from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, and thus, formulated the Indian Expeditionary Force. As recorded, there were 65,000 others wounded, 10,000 missing, and 98 Indian Army nurses killed.
As of today, there are millions of us clicking pictures of and against the India Gate, but hardly any of us know that the structure was created in the memory of soldiers who lost their lives in the first World War. The United Service Institution of India (USI), is currently working on an initiative to fix this. In partnership with Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they have initiated a project called ‘India Remembers’. With a grand opening earlier this week, the project aims on celebrating 7th of December as a day for remembrance. The day was already identified as Armed Forces Flag Day in India. Started in 1949, the Army distributed miniature tricolor flags in exchange for donation. This tradition served as a reminder to the civilian population that it was their responsibility to respect and remember their military, just as the military’s responsibility was to protect them against external forces.
The project has also proposed a flower for remembrance - the yellow marigold which is believed to be scared for both Hindus and Muslims. This initiative will also be influencing schools with resource packs that highlight the importance of the roles our soldiers played in conflicts before and after 1947.
The wonder of these 1.5 billion lives lies in the fact that most of them marched onto foreign lands, despite having loved ones in India; all unknowing of the fate that awaited them. This could be called repercussion of the colonial takeover or the psychology of war that permits human beings to believe that they have enemies. With India Remembers launch on July 14, there is hope once again for India to reconstruct its history by giving the equal share of visibility to these 1.5 billion lives that have been so unfortunately erased from our collective conscience as a nation.