New Delhi: The Bihar election results were just trickling in on Sunday morning when a sizeable number of people assembled at the Delhi War Cemetery. There were no news cameras, no political speeches, no speculation about the possible verdict. Instead, there was talk of battles fought and won; of family and friends lost in the madness of war; of a greater commitment to peace and stability. It was Remembrance Day. And these Delhiites joined millions across the UK and the Commonwealth to remember all those who died in the two devastating world wars and subsequent conflicts to uphold freedom and liberty.
The British-led ceremony was attended by a large number of people of different nationalities, both civilian and military. This year’s opening address, like last year, underscored the point that British and Indians had fought shoulder to shoulder in the First World War and then again in the Second World War, sharing all the trials and tribulations of conflict. We are in the centenary period of the First World War since last year, and a lot of ground has been covered in highlighting the Indian contribution to the Allied war effort. No less than 4 million Indians served in the two world wars, yet their contribution was reduced to a footnote in history. The impact was such that outside the military and academia, both in the UK and elsewhere, nobody knew that Indians were there too at Neuve Chappelle, Somme, Salonika, Dunkirk, Monte Cassino, El Alamein, Tobruk or Burma. Independent India did nothing to alter this perception. Worse, she made no effort to tell her people about it.
The UK-led centenary commemoration of the First World War changed everything. With Britain acknowledging officially that she couldn’t have won the war without the Indian Army, India woke up. In the last year, India has had two very high-profile commemorations: the first one under the aegis of the British High Commission, the other done by the ministry of defence and the Indian Army.
Perhaps these commemorations have had their desired result—there were far more people at the Remembrance Day this year than last year. Military historian Squadron Leader Rana Chhina (Retd), who has been leading a joint UK-India project, ‘India and the Great War’, said the winds of change have been visible. “Clearly, people are becoming more aware. And now they feel proud that their great ancestors travelled to faraway lands to free the people there from tyranny and oppression. In years to come, I hope, this will only get better,” he said.
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