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Posted at: Nov 13, 2018, 12:45 AM; last updated: Nov 13, 2018, 12:45 AM (IST)

India’s fallen heroes

We need to own up our World War martyrs
India’s fallen heroes

The world, for now, has come together, turning away from belligerence to solemnity, in gratitude, and perhaps some guilt, for the millions who perished in the bitter Great War; one that was waged ‘to end all wars’. The world changed, but not for the better; and not enough to prevent another ruinous war two decades later. The year 2018 marks the centenary of the end of World War I. There are lessons — some learnt, some forgotten — and countries remember their dead. And so, November 11, the day the Armistice was signed, is commemorated as Remembrance Day for the fallen soldier.

British India contributed a fair bulk of men and material to the war. A majority of the over 14 lakh men drafted were despatched to places as diverse and distant as Egypt, France, Palestine and Sinai. As per records, 74,187 soldiers from India were killed; 70,000 were maimed or wounded. Many were drawn from the undivided Punjab. PM Modi announced on November 11 that India remembers its brave soldiers who fought in WWI. Does it really? Turkey is home to the Helles Memorial, a Commonwealth war graves memorial; France has its Neuve-Chapelle Memorial, Israel the Haifa Memorial — to remember Indian soldiers, too. And India? What remains of their memory is the 13,000-odd names inscribed on India Gate Memorial (completed in 1933), and the odd ceremony at Patiala State Forces Memorial, for soldiers from military units of the erstwhile princely state. Since 1949, Armed Forces Flag Day (December 7) is the only official annual event related to our soldier.

India has always thought of it as someone else’s war, and there is a valid school of thought: how far back in time do we go to own up our soldiers, and which all wars. But it can’t be denied that thousands of our valiant men died fighting that war. Like there was a will, and a way — funds were not an encumbrance — for the imposing Sardar Patel statue, India should establish a long-awaited war memorial; a badge of honour. A hero must live on in the imagination of coming generations. That’s how he never dies.

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