Residents of Sumerpur in Rajasthan’s Pali district are opposing plans by the Turkish government to set up a World War I memorial for 149 soldiers whose graves are lying unattended for decades in the Indian state.
“This area is dominated by Rajputs who were famous for their valour. The Rajputs participated in both the World Wars. There is no example of any Rajput war memorial in any other country so why are they allowing a memorial for foreign soldiers in our town. We will oppose it tooth and nail,” said Nahar Singh, 72, a retired soldier.
Local businessman Ramesh Bohra, 42, said, “We suspect unwarranted activities and unwanted visitors due to the proposed memorial. That is why we are protesting against it.”
The BJP, too, has cashed in on the local opposition.
“These graves have been lying idle for decades and now suddenly interest has been increasing in its historical aspects. We are opposing the plan as making a war memorial for soldiers in another sovereign country is not right for national pride of India,” Mahendra Bohra, district president of BJP in Pali said.
The 149 soldiers, whose graves are in Pali, of were taken prisoners in WW-I by British forces and sent to different prison camps including one at Sumerpur in Rajasthan.
“This place has a historical importance because of which many historians are nowadays visiting the place. We had bought this to the notice of Turkish embassy and they are keen to build a war memorial there. They have got the permission from government of India and we would now facilitate them to build the memorial and upkeep it,” Bina Kak, Rajasthan’s minister for tourism said.
The 1917 Reports on British Prison Camps in India and Burma by Anon says that the Turkish POW camp at Sumerpur was situated on a large plain bordered by rocky hills and intersected by a river that dried up in the heat. At one point of time during the War, the camp held 3,366 prisoners, mostly Mesopotamian Arabs, Christians and Armenians. Most of the Armenian prisoners were from Mardin, situated south east in Turkey.
District authorities say that they will cooperate whenever approached by the embassy of Turkey. “The ministry of external affairs (MEA) has given permission to the Turkey government for building a memorial for their soldiers. But they have not started work till now. Few of the locals are protesting against it but there is no law and order situation, ” Ambrish Kumar, Pali district collector said.