Monday, December 16, 2013

Why don’t we value India’s Military Heritage?

I lived in Singapore for four years. You can find  there, numerous tourist attractions which are frequented by thousands of tourists from across the world. While all of them will make it a point to visit the merlion, sentosa island and more recently, the Integrated Resorts - Marina Bay Sands and RWS, no tour group from Australia leaves Singapore without visiting the Changi Chapel.

When the Allied Garrison at Singapore surrendered on 14th February, the Australian Prisoners of War were held in terrible conditions at the Changi Prison. The Australian POWs constructed the Chapel during their captivity and though the one presently existing at Changi is only a replica, it is a must visit spot for any Australian to pay homage to those who fought for the nation.

War time Singapore, also features in an important episode of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Singapore was the seat of Subhash Chandra Bose’s government in exile, the Azad Hind government, and his Indian National Army. While the Changi Chapel is in a distant corner of the island, the site of the Indian National Army monument is right in the heart of the city at the esplanade park near Cathay. However, I am yet to see it featured on even a single Indian tour group’s itinerary. Thousands of Indian tourists visiting Singapore blissfully give it a miss preferring extra time at the beach to a glimpse into Indian history and military heritage. (though, the present Indian Army is the descendant of the British Indian Army, Bose’s INA also most definitely constitutes our military heritage in my opinion).

Vijay Diwas

Today is 16th December, “Vijay Diwas” in India. Forty-two years ago, to this day, Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, Commander of the Eastern Command (Pakistan) signed the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ surrendering the Pakistani forces to Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora at the Ramna Race Course in Dhaka.

Today, the only mention of this occasion that I came across, was this tweet by the Army -

It seems like the even is only celebrated by the military units. Today, in my opinion, it does not bring out any special emotions and is not of much significance for the ‘aam admi’, the common man.

It is a really deplorable state of affairs in my opinion. Hardly anybody remembers that more than 3800 Indian servicemen laid down their lives for the defence of India in the west and Liberation of Bangladesh in the East in 1971. The commemoration ceremony today took place at the eternal flame near India Gate, a monument originally built to honour the 80000+ British and Indian dead in the First World War and the Afghan War of 1919.

Don’t the 1971 heroes deserve a memorial? Why not have a national monument in their honour?


Though it is far from enough, 1971 atleast jogs the memory of some Indians. I am sure atleast one Indian news channel shall put up some old footage together about the Bangladesh Liberation War.

But come 11th November, Remembrance Day, it is simply another day in India as if we were unaffected by the first world war as if that peace which took effect on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year, had no relation to India. However, the fact is that hundreds of thousands of the Indian Army fought honourably on the allied side, receiving 18 Victoria Crosses and more than 74000 laid down their lives during the Great War. Indian army website has the details here.

Similarly, in the Second World War, the Indian Army not only served with distinction  in Burma and Indo China but also played a key role in North Africa and Europe. With 2.5 million men, it was the largest volunteer army of the world at the time. Indian army website has the details here.

The two most well known memorials to the Indian dead of the World Wars – the India Gate and the Kohima War Cemetery were both constructed during the colonial era. Today, nobody in India wears the poppy as in the rest of the Commonwealth to commemorate those who lost their lives in the First World War and India’s contribution in the two World Wars is being fast forgotten. In addition to the common man’s apathy some blame must also lie on the Indian Government and the Army because while the Army website, has detailed information about operations till 1948, it states : Post 1948 Operations Are Classified, Hence Not Mentioned. <link>

Interestingly enough, while many Indians may hardly be able to point out Kohima on a map, while on his visit to India last year, Prince Andrew did make it a point to visit the Kohima War Cemetery

War memorials and days of remembrance are not a celebration of war. Infact, they usually depict the heavy human cost of war. It makes me sad that a vast majority of India does not remember the martyrs. They were afterall, fighting for us. The Kohima Epitaph -

When you go home tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today.”


Kohima memorial photo from the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website.
All other photos from Wikipedia.

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