This Sunday we remember…
SOME 1.5 million men from the subcontinent fought in the First World War.
It is estimated more than 74,000 of them perished in the battle for King and Empire and many thousands were injured.
Indian troops’ bravery during the First World War was recognised in 11 Victoria Crosses and 13,000 medals for gallantry.
This year the Royal British Legion (the main veterans’ organisation) brought out a Khadi Poppy to mark the contribution of Indian soldiers to what is often referred to as the ‘Great War’.
Prime Minister Theresa May talked about it during PM Questions’ this week and and explained she would be wearing one to recognise the huge sacrifice made by Indian troops.
Many of these poppies were handed out on the last Sunday in October when the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan marked Diwali with the customary annual celebration in Trafalgar Square.
Khan himself paid tribute to the soldiers’ and their sacrifice.
Lord Jitesh Gadhia is an ambassador for the Royal British Legion and has been spearheading the campaign to mark the Indian war contribution with the Khadi Poppy.
He said: “Our identity is our destiny – and so the current generation of Asians should know that their fathers and grandfathers didn’t just come to Britain as immigrants.
“Our ancestors fought for this country and for freedom and democracy – even though they lived in a colony at the time. We therefore have as much at stake here in Britain as anyone else.
“British Asians should be proud of the role that their forbears played in shaping the destiny of the world.”
Over the last four years, www.asianculturevulture.com has covered many art works that in one way or another recognise the huge contribution made by Asian soldiers and their families.
We pick out just four here and all in some ways – illustrate the sacrifice and torment many went through in the service of what they believed, rightly or wrongly, was their Empire and freedom too.
After the war’s end in 2018, those soldiers who returned, realised perhaps more than they did when they left that they simply were subjects and had little to no power to shape their own destiny as a people.
Many historians believe now that the seeds of the freedom struggle against Colonial rule were cemented and furthered during this immediate post war period.
So, while on the one hand the soldiers who fought for King and Empire were brave and honest, they were not always viewed in India with the respect they deserved.
Now though, we have to see their contribution in a much wider and more global context; they laid a path for Mahatma Gandhi and others to follow and a new nation, like several others, were forged during these tumultuous times…
‘The Troth’ – is a dance piece made by Akadami Dance. We were lucky enough to see the performance at its world premiere earlier this year, as we covered the Jaipur Literature Festival at the end of January. The setting, Hawa Mahal, is one of the City’s most popular tourist attractions, and formed the backdrop to this moving and emotionally absorbing narrative dance which tells the story of a young man leaving his native Punjab to fight in the trenches of Europe and about the young woman he leaves behind. It is on the final leg of a UK tour – see below please.
Akram Khan’s ‘Xenos’ – his final dance piece as a solo performer; this is an intense and beautiful composition, highlighting the plight of an Indian soldier, who was once a classical Kathak dancer (like Khan himself) who faces the very worst fate with heroism and a compromised dignity (through no fault of his own) – but the audience is not spared the horror of that dark hour. Khan continues to tour this internationally…
‘Dr Blighty’ – Nutkhut’s highly imaginative and interactive project was tremendous and not least the sound and light show against the backdrop of Brighton Pavilion was majestic and unforgettable.
Located in the grounds of the famous pavilion, visitors were able to see Indian soldiers as they might have been in 2014-2018, convalescing. It was here that – during the war – a makeshift hospital was created to look after and care for the Indian war wounded. It brought home just how difficult life must have been for these men who were recovering from serious mental trauma as well as their physical injuries sustained in the war.
‘Wipers’ – Ishy Din’s play about Indian soldiers trying to keep it together and showing huge loyalty to the crown of the time is another heartrending and powerful work. These young men had barely travelled beyond their village and almost suddenly they found themselves in trenches and the killing fields of France and Belgium.