Veterans Day in India

November 11, is celebrated as Veterans Day all over the world. It is a public holiday here in the US, but is a little-known day in India. This is surprisingly shocking keeping in mind that

”India raised the largest volunteer army the world had ever seen–25 lakh people. This is a fact many people don’t know,” says D’Souza, a recipient of the Param Vishisht Seva Medal. [ link ]

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Like most days that are to celebrate events gone by, this day has but a little meaning to our everyday life. Sad, ironic but true. The Indian Express article has a very interesting write up about how a small group of veterans of WWII meet every year and “stand to attention for their fallen comrades” at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Veterans who fought in WWII are pushing into the eighth and ninth decades of their lives and as the article says…

“…the majority of the people they assist are well into their ’80s. ”So this may just be the last one held for WW II,”

It is a sad state of affairs that we as a country sent so many of our soldiers to fight wars that never even touched our boundaries. In a scathing attack at Embassey, a Canadian foreign policy newsletter, the writer raises a very valid point.

“Over 1,300,000 soldiers of Indian ancestry fought in the First World War. It remains the largest volunteer army ever assembled in the history of the world. It was the largest number of soldiers fighting from the British Empire after those from the British Isles. Not Canada, not Australia, no other part of the Empire contributed as many troops.

Two and half million Indian soldiers fought in the Second World War. You might want to read those sentences again.

If this group of soldiers came from anywhere in the Western world and if they were white, there’d be monuments to them in every major Western capital in the world.” [ link ]

Over the past few months, however things are a somehow improving. Recently I read an interesting post at Sepia Mutiny about the re-dedication of a WWI graveyard in Germany, where Indian soldiers were buried.

A similar thing was done in Iran where

About 3,500 Indian soldiers who died fighting for the British in Iran have been commemorated in an official ceremony in Tehran.

It has only recently come to light that so many Indians died fighting for the British in Iran in the First and Second World Wars. These veterans meet at Afghan Church [ link ]

So, today, being Veteran’s Day, a small group of people will gather at

“Afghan Church, previously known as the Garrison Church, was built in 1946. The pews still have hidden niches where soldiers rested their rifles. ”

This day raises many issues. For one, if there were no wars, there would have been no veterans and hence no veterans day. But since the begining of history, war has been as integral a part of the human psyche. Even today there are wars being fought. Soldiers go to wars, not of their own choices all the time. They go to stand up for their country, and for what their fellow citizens believe in. Those who die in the line of duty are remembered at memorials around the world, but those who come back alive and healthy or wounded live with the wretchedness of war all their lives.

What adds to the tragedy of wars are scnearios where Indian soldiers volunteered to fight for the same people who had oppressed and ruled them for close to four centuries. 1.3 million of them went out on a limb in WWI hoping that their good deeds will in some way gain them Independance from the British. The war ended and the British slaved over us for another 29 years (in the end). We did not learn our lessons from WI and the suckers we are, we went to war a a second time 21 years later. I do realize that it was not by choice.

I cannot even imagine what it must be to be a soldier and experience the things that go on in a battlefield. The horrors that they have seen become a very integral part of their lives. I’ve often heard and once experienced the fact that soldiers generally never talk about the wars they were in. Its something that’s inside them, feelings, experiences and incidents that are sacred to them and to those who were there with them at those times.

So if you have the opportunity tomorrow, stop by Afghan Church and salute these few brave men who will gather at 11:00 AM. If you cannot be there, stop by for a moment in your hectic schedule of life and think about the soldiers who have died and those who live. It does not matter what country or race or religion they belong to. Solders are solders and they deserve all the respect we can give them, because its there sacrifices that make there future generation proud.

6 Comments

  1. Quizman November 11, 2005

    Nice article. The pic though is of an Indian soldier fighting for the Germans. Notice the German soldiers in the background.

  2. Orikinla Osinachi November 11, 2005

    Thousands of Africans also fought in the World Wars and in fact my father fought in Burma for the British during World War Two.

    India, Nigeria and other countries who fought for or against the Germans should have their own Veterans Day. Because, we should remember our own heroes instead of waiting for America and the allies or Germany to invite us to join them in the remembrance of our heroes of the World Wars 1 and 2.

  3. indian November 11, 2005

    As an indian, I don’t see why we should honor soldiers who fought for british. The major criteria that separates soldier from a mercenary is that the former is guided by patriotism. The Indians who were fighting for British were patriotic toward what? Establishing british rule all over the world? Why should we celebrate soldiers fighting to save british empire, which people like Bhagat Singh opposed by giving up their life? The freedom fighters whether Gandhi or Bhagat singh were the real Indian soldiers.

  4. dsada November 12, 2005

    QUOTE: “As an indian, I don’t see why we should honor soldiers who fought for british.”

    You have a really good point here, but I think the idea is to pay respect to our own people. They should be remembered because they gave their life even if the cause wasn’t in the heart. We definitely need to get more patriotic as Indians and show our resentment to the rest of the world. We need to be proud of ourselves the future is ours.

  5. Akshay November 13, 2005

    My grandfather fought World War 2,in the African and Italian Campaign. He carried a camera along so I have picture of war ravaged north africa and italy. There is fun picture of an Indian infantry regiment playing cricket in St. Marks Square, Venice – I just hope they didn’t break any windows.

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