Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World war 1, 'The Great War' came to an end. Every year since, most former British and Britain itself colonies which lost their young men on the battlefields of Europe, and subsequently in battlefields across the world in World War 2 have always marked this day as 'Remembrance Day'. I say 'most' former British colonies because there is one former colony that in a perverse display on supposed anti-imperialism, which is the way I can possibly excuse it does not give this day the honour it deserves. That colony was the erstwhile 'Jewel in the Crown', a former colony that is yet to live up to its potential 62 years after it stopped being ruled from Westminister. That colony is India.
Four years ago, a very close friend who happens to be a prominent anchor on TV and a war-buff dragged me to the graveyards at Monte Cassino. This monastery town a hundred clicks or so south of Rome was the site of one of the most ferocious battles of the Italian campaign as the resolute Nazi and Facist defenders of Rome. Hundreds of young Indian men died. On a field in Italy. In 1943. Fighting for a foreign King. The names are unmistakably South Asian on the memorials. I went to Monte Casino unwillingly, I returned chastened and respectful.
The sad thing is that while we do remember the dead of World War 1 in one of the nicest war memorials anywhere in the world - India Gate - many people and children forget this fact. That on the Somme and Gallipoli, 93 years ago (1916 was the first battle of the Somme, Gallipoli was 1915 if I remember correctly) thousands of Indians died. But we forget even the dead of our recent wars - Kargil for example. And some wars we choose to forget ever existed - 1962. Weirdly enough the Chinese do have a point, we as a collective have wiped out that war from our collective memory and only when China rumbles about Arunachal Pradesh do some remember.
I am no fan of war, yes like many other people I am fascinated by the technology of military-industrial complex, because much of this tech, such as the internet itself, will have some civilian application someday. I am just disgusted at the ability of our forgetfulness. There might be a billion of us today, but we should always remember the millions who died so that we could be here. I am not being a right-wing lackey, I am not being a nationalist, I am just being a respectful citizen and child of India.
And keep in mind, while your civics and history textbooks would like you to think that it was Mahatma Gandhi's non-violence movement that won us freedom, do not forget the impact of either the devastated British economy or the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny - a mutiny which showed the British that they had lost control of the only thing that had made the empire possible - The Indian military. That, and not 1942, was the final nail in the Empire's coffin.
Remember those who died for you and salute them.

PS: I am not saying that we should also observe 11th November as 'Remembrance Day', but any day - 16th December perhaps, the day the 1971 war ended. If we mark the birth and death anniversaries of our political leaders who led us astray, why can't we mark one day for the millions who fought for us? Of course, the TV channels today will be talking about the impending deluge in Mumbai, or why Sheila Dixit felt it fit to let a cold-blooded murderer out on parole. That said, why was Manu Sharma out of parole? And Manu, we are not biased. You ARE a murderer, you murdered a girl because you wanted a drink or wanted to get laid. You almost got away with it, and we didn't let you. So rot in jail.


Anonymous said...

Considering the fact that the Indian 'colony' supplied the maximum number of people to the British War Effort, we might as well as celebrate and mourn every English win and defeat in the period 1830 to 1945.
Even now, if you listen to say, the Chinese, they are amazed at how a 'colonised' nation gave so much support to their rulers in terms of fighting men to help them maintain their rule. It is also one of the main reasons a lot of English adversaries repeatedly convinced themselves that british India would rise in revolt if they created the right 'conditions'.
It will remain one of the many interesting conundrums of the complexity that is India.
Having said that, I have absolutely no doubt that we need to do far more to remember and appreciate the work and sacrifice put in by our fighting men and women, especially in the period since independence.

John Thomas said...

Truly appreciate your post K. Earlier in the day I was talking to journalism students who can only remember Kargil, about the "lesson of 1962"
I've had occasion to stand in a few war cemeteries abroad with Brits, Aussies and Kiwis for memorial services and have mentioned at the diplomatic tea and biscuit sessions afterward that more Indian soldiers may have died than any of their men in the two world wars, but don't get the pomp and ceremony of a Protestant Christian service.
I guess it is more cultural than political; because our religions -- Hinduism, Islam, Buddism, Jainism -- don't have something similar where the army brass band can play hymns and reverse arms.
That said, in Bangalore's St Mark's Cathedral, our army officers and men (irrespective of religion) are invited every year for a memorial service and they do participate. We just had this year's on Sunday. There must be similar memorial services for our war dead in churches in other cities too. Check Delhi.

Anonymous said...

Ayaz Menon sacked from DNA? Any comments?

Abhi2point0 said...

Great post k,

My great-grandad from the tam-bram side served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during WW1 and when he came back to Kerala was excommunicated for having gone overseas. Of course his being a doctor who could cure most diseases ensured that the community quickly reversed its decision but that was more selfishness than gratefulness

My grandad from the surdy side was "dishonourably discharged" from the Royal Navy (after having served in WWII) for refusing to fire on his sailors during the RIN Mutiny and even spent a day in the lockup on "middle groud" - the island fort/jail just in front of the pier at Mumbai's Taj/Gateway. The RIN mutineers never got freedom fighter status till 1997

Anonymous said...

how come nobody is asking the delhi cm , why she let sharma out ?
how does she manage to get away everytime brt , games unpreparedness and now this ?