An 87-year-old Brahmi Devi is pinning her hopes on the Indian high commission in London to bring back the George Cross gallantry medal, which was awarded posthumously to her husband, Naik Kirpa Ram, when she was just 13, to India. She has already met Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to seek his help in the endeavour.
Himachal chief secretary P Mitra has also written to the foreign secretary in the external affairs ministry requesting him to extend a helping hand in the return of the medal, which is presently in the custody of senior counsel Ian Mayes of the Queen Court in London.
However, a group of Indians residing in Britain have now come forward to help Brahmi Devi get back the medal by contesting at the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in London. They have contributed 12,000 pounds to the claimant, Ashok Nath, before December 2013 as fixed by the court. In 2009 the court finally ruled in Devi's favour.
However, in a June 3, 2013 order, the court asked the defendant (Devi) to pay the claimant 12,000 pounds for litigation costs on or before December 31, 2013. The court also ruled that in the event of a default on the payment by the due date, it would be enforceable by the claimant, an Indian ex-serviceman Ashok Nath, against the defendant.
Naik Kirpa Ram was serving in the 8th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles, British Indian Army, when he was killed in a battlefield. His widow, then aged just 13, had received the medal from the then Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, in 1946. A British officer of the Frontier Force Rifles had escorted the shy and illiterate widow at the ceremony. Brahmi Devi took the medal back to Kirpa Ram's native village in Bilaspur.
However, the things took a new turn in 2002 when Devi filed a complaint with the police alleging the medal, awarded to her husband by British Emperor George VI, had been stolen from her house in Bhapral village on February 3. Later, the police filed a criminal case at Bharari in Bilaspur but closed the case after a search for the suspects which lasted a few years. However, the issue was revived in 2009 when it was reported that the “stolen” medal was to be auctioned in London by a former Indian army soldier, Ashok Nath, on December 3, 2009. This alerted the Himachal government and police, following which the auction was halted.
Surinder Thakur, a nephew of Brahmi Devi, who followed the proceedings with the NRIs on her behalf, said: “We had met the chief minister on June 18 and now the matter has been taken up by the external affairs ministry. We have also submitted an authority letter by Brahmi Devi to the Indian High Commission in London”.
When contacted, Brahmi Devi said: “Because of my age I'm not very sure whether I'll ever be able to again touch and feel the medal but I'm confident finally the medal will be returned to India some day”.