Losing Saragarhi’s Heritage
This was the memorial created after the battle in which 21 Sikhs heroically stood to the last against 10,000 Afghan tribesmen on the frontier.
Their last stand, chronicled in my next book, cemented the reputation of Sikhs as brave and loyal soldiers of the British Empire. A reputation still remembered to this day, albeit not as much as it should be.
This post is about the decline of Indian (specifically Punjabi) heritage.
The memorial Gurdwara was unveiled on 16th April 1902 by General Sir Arthur Power Palmer, the Commander-in-Chief, who said: “The memorial is the outcome of the spontaneous appreciation of the gallantry of a representative detachment of the Sikh nation, proving that they possess one of the finest of soldierly characteristics – namely, that they prefer death to surrender.”
The names of the 20 Sikh soldiers under Havildar Ishar Singh were written onto plaques outside the front door leading to the Guru Granth Sahib, the names were to: “…be kept as an example to others, in order to show how brave men should behave when facing fearful odds.” said Power Palmer.
In this instance, the memorial hasn’t suffered that fate (yet) – but awareness of historic actions which the Sikhs were involved in are in danger of being forgotten if not becoming merely political ploys for the establishment. The lessons they contain and the context of their history are seen as no longer relevant.
I, for one, take a lot from the story of Saragarhi – but then I am a British Sikh and feel a connection between it and the subsequent heroics during the World Wars and then the migration and integration of Sikhs in Britain thereafter.
Whatever the outlook, heritage groups are missing in this equation – where are they? Are there any in India who’ll work to fund repairs at the memorial? The UK-based heritage groups seem more interested in posh polo matches, is the story of Saragarhi becoming abused for others gain? What about groups in the USA/Canada, where there are a lot of Sikhs? I’d like to know your views …
Rather, Indians in India MUST work to protect our memorials, such as Saragarhi, for generations to come. If it was in my back yard, I would!
It’s now for others to take it and the story of Saragarhi to ensure it is not forgotten, but that the heritage connected to it is also not lost.