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.