The Heroes Who Never Came Home…And We Never Heard Of!

25th April is celebrated as ANZAC Day. Some of you may wonder why is a blog about ANZAC Day & Indian soldiers coming up now. Well…all I can say is “Lest We Forget”.

Shirley Jacob and I connected virtually and we found a lot of things in common, including being “fauji kids”. I think that is what cemented our relationship. Shirley lives in Sydney, Australia, and in one of my conversations with her, I requested her to share her thoughts about ANZAC Day, the parades & celebrations, and how Indian Ex-Service Men participate in the same. She happily agreed and wrote a wonderful piece that I am sharing below. Thank you so much, Shirley!

ANZAC Day and the Indian connection

Whilst World War I led Europe’s youth to their early grave, dousing out the flame of a generation of talented artists, writers, sportsmen, and others whose talent bled into the trenches. It also involved soldiers from faraway lands that had little to do with Europe’s bitter traditional hatreds.

On 25th April 1915, the ANZAC legend was born. On the morning of this day, Australian GGfathertroops landed at Gallipoli to force Germany’s ally, Turkey, out of the war. Their plan to capture Constantinople quickly became a Herculean task, as they landed in the wrong position and faced baptism by fire. The order from the British general, Sir Ian Hamilton echoed across the battlefield and Australian shores, “There is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out”. The plan had failed, and months of further fighting resulted in no military victories and little reward. However, from this hardship, the ANZAC spirit was conceived. An ethos built on endurance, courage, mateship and one which irrevocably characterizes Australia’s nationhood today.

Over a hundred years later, the parades, services, and rituals of Anzac Day have survived and grown despite the vestige of survivors remaining. Many stories are also now emerging of the sacrifices Indians made during World War I and II.  At the time, India provided the largest volunteer army in history with approximately 1.2 million Indians volunteering to fight for British forces. Although over 70 000 Indian soldiers ultimately sacrificed their lives during the war, tales of their altruism, courage, and rigour have often been relegated to the footnotes in the Commonwealth’s commemorative diary. Many Australians are still unaware that 15 000 Indians fought alongside the ANZACs at Gallipoli and almost 1400 Indians died there. The Indian voice has remained quiet for years as many of these soldiers were semi or non-literate and did not bequeath the treasure trove of memorabilia such as poems and diary entries, which formed the cornerstone of European war memory.

Recently, the British Library released 1000 pages recounting the first-hand accounts of Indian veterans from the war, painting a picture of racial segregation, valour, and the awakening hunger for civil rights which fueled India’s impetus for independence from British rule. Despite this, the Indian war experience continues to remain a history of fragments as traces of evidence are truncated, censored, or scattered across the globe. There is no sole or panoptic Indian war experience – rather, it must be modulated to the idiosyncrasies of caste, region, theatre of battle, etc.

Being an Army brat, I understood how millions of families in India were irretrievably affected by the war and yearned closure for their loved ones. I sought to discover how I could help unify the missing fragments and illuminate the war experiences of Indian soldiers, even if it were for only one person. That is why, when a friend of mine who is a sixth-generation Armed forces personnel mentioned to me his desire of finding the grave of his Great Grandfather who had fought in WWl, I jumped at the task. After scouring through satellite images, old archives, and memoirs for 6 months, I eventually found the memorial site of his Grandfather and enabled my friend to remember and continue his forefather’s legacy.

Having been enjoined to remember this war, we sometimes struggle to know how to respond. This is because we cannot remember something we never personally experienced. If we visit Gallipoli, our eyes are often drawn to the immaculate cemeteries and war memories, not the battlefields. Perhaps, that is the reason why my heart swells with pride and vitality when I see the Indian ex-servicemen marching as part of the Sydney ANZAC day commemorative events. It is an enduring image of the ANZAC spirit, an acknowledgment of India’s comradeship, and unwavering assurance that India’s war efforts will not be forgotten.

Lest we forget.

Fallen But Not Forgotten…A Tribute To Our Unsung Heroes!

Lonely I was when I stood staring at the sky Our heroes

Had a gun in my hand, was too afraid to cry

Fought bitter battles and never lived to tell

How at the altar of freedom, my body fell

My soul searches for reasons as to why I died

Did I save my people, had I tried?

Do they remember me, my deeds, my name

Are they proud of me or did I bring them shame 

My battered body stood testimony to my fate

My heart had stopped in a battle brought about by hate

I had screamed in pain, and shivered with fright

But before I died, I did put up a fight 

Remember me, my beloved country

It was I, my men, who brought you victory

I fought to the last bullet in my gun

I was a soldier, I was your son.

fallen but not forgottenThe dead soldiers do not speak…yet they are heard in the still houses of people who care for them. They are shrouded in a silence that speaks for them, a silence that mocks us…the living. This silence talks to me…what does it tell me? It says they have done what they could but until it is finished it is not done. The silence says they have given their lives but until it is finished no one can know what their lives gave. The same silence throws at me the truth that their deaths are not theirs, they are ours and they will mean what we make them. Whether their lives and their deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing they cannot say. It is you and I who must say this. Finally, the silence says they were young, they died young, so remember them.

Remembering them was exactly what happened last weekend in Bangalore. Amidst the election fervor and Samarpanacampaigning, Samarpana,a social initiative by a group of students of PES University paid tribute and homage to the fallen soldiers of the Indian Army. Samarpana is the brainchild of students from PES College of Engineering and was started after the 26/11 bombing in Mumbai. The thought behind starting this social initiative was very noble. The founders felt very strongly about the martyred soldiers who died protecting the citizens of this country…their question was, “What happens to the families of these soldiers?”

A seed was sown in 2009/2010 with the students taking the ownership of making this a success. In the last four years more than 60 families have been identified and felicitated for the sacrifice they have made. The project works on facilitating basic documentation processes, helping them get connected to medical facilities, children’s scholarship, employment or self employment opportunities for the widows or parents of these unsung heroes.

This year I had a chance to interact with 16 families who had made the supreme sacrifice. It was an emotional two days where I got to hear from various family members the heroism of their fallen soldiers. I also saw the ugly side of what happens to the families thereafter, especially if they are in remote rural places. Samarpana works to ease the pain of neglect.

World war IIA one of it’s kind project, Samarpana is poised to grow and touch more & more lives across India. It’s a shining example of how selflessly the human heart can give if we as individuals decide to. I had the privilege of meeting an old lady whose husband had died serving the Indian Army in World War II. She had been married less than a year whenshe lost her husband. It was also very emotional to interact withanother lady who lost her husband in Kargil, the highest battleground in the world.She also was married for just two years when tragedy struck their family. What was heartening to see was that these people were given the basic support from their families & government.

What they need today is also social acceptance at multiple levels, to become part of a community that recognizes their agony, can empthasize with them.

My dream & heartfelt prayer is to see such initiatives in other colleges and institutions across our country.

I was also forced to think about how many people in our country actually
even think of our armed forces. I know the stereo typical impression
civilians have about the armed forces and the life they live. It never
ceases to amaze me about how these impressions have carried on for years.
It also shows how much awareness is created about our defence services. This needs to be a collective effort from all concerned – the government,
the defence forces themselves and people like us who are closely
associated with the armed forces.

As we continue to enjoy our freedom, our borders that are guarded by these unsung heroes remain intact. We sleep
well at night only because of the security we have. For those who find it hard to believe, you should talk to
people of war ravaged countries about freedom and value of security. After all, what is expected of us…

When you see a soldier
Be sure to shake his or her hand,
And let that soldier know you’re grateful
For the protection the military affords our land

But most of all express your thanks
For every soldier’s personal sacrifice.
In order to serve our country,
They risked their entire lives.