NEW DELHI – A memorial dedicated to Indians who fought in World War I would be unveiled in France next month.
The national memorial, located at Villers-Guislain, about 200 km from Paris, will have India’s national emblem and is distinct from the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chappelle which was built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The memorial is being built by the Indian government through the USI (United Service Institution of India). It will be the second Indian national memorial overseas, the other being on the ramparts at Ypres in Belgium.
Squadron Leader (Retired) Rana T.S. Chhina, Secretary of the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research (USI-CAFHR), said at a media briefing here that the memorial will have Ashoka Chakra in bronze and a plaque in French in honour of the Indian soldiers. A bronze marigold wreath is also part of the design.
The USI, as part of ‘India Remembers’ project, has mooted the proposal to have the marigold as a uniquely Indian flower of remembrance.
Chhina said poppy is universally recognised in the UK and many Commonwealth countries as a symbol of remembrance and commemoration since the end of World War I.
He said there was a strong need for India to have a uniquely Indian symbol that could allow citizens in India, as well as the international diaspora, to acknowledge the valour and sacrifice of the Indian armed forces in the service of the nation, including those who fell in the two World Wars.
“In order to institutionalise a national culture of remembrance, the ‘India Remembers’ project initiated by the United Service Institution of India proposed that the marigold flower join the poppy as a uniquely Indian symbol of remembrance,” he said.
He said through the course of the India Remembers project, marigold was widely used by the participating community groups and added that the flower has been widely used in India-related commemorative events around the world.
He said marigold was chosen because it is easily and widely available and also because saffron is often seen as a colour of sacrifice.
Chhina said the sculptor of memorial in France is Ram Vanji Sutar, who is also associated with the world’s tallest statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
He said the USI is helping to promote the niche concept of ‘Battlefield Tourism’ to popularise historical sites where Indian soldiers have fought and died over the ages.
“We realised that local economy of a lot of places in Europe is sustained by battlefield tourism. People and school children visit these sites and see the places where the battles had been fought and there is huge spike in local economy,” he said.
He said there was nothing about Indians at these places, though India made a significant contribution to Britain’s war effort in World War I.
“We felt that it needs to be rectified,” he said.
Chhina said the USI is producing ‘Battlefield Guides’ focused on the battles of the Indian Army to enable people to visit many exotic locations where they fought.
“It will tell you where to go and what had happened there hundred years ago. It links the present to the past and tells the Indian story,” Chhina said, adding that they had also talked to the local tour operators.
He said such guides were also being produced for places in India including Kohima and Imphal and sites associated with India’s First War of Independence in 1857 .