The saga of a George Cross awarded posthumously to Naik Kirpa Ram of a Bilaspur village in Himachal Pradesh for bravery way back in 1946 and reported “stolen” in 2009 seems headed for a happy ending for his 84-year-old widow Brahmi Devi as a United Kingdom court has finally ruled in her favour.
The June 3 order of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in London brought cheers to the octogenarian Brahmi Devi that the bravery medal was her property, albeit with a rider: defendant (Devi) has to pay the claimant by way of cost and expenses of the legal action a sum of 12,000 pounds (Rs 10.65 lakh) on or before December 31, 2013.
The court ruled that in the event of default on payment by the due date, it shall be enforceable by claimant, an Indian ex-serviceman Ashok Nath, against the defendant. The medal would remain in the custody of the Metropolitan Police until the payment to the claimant Ashok Nath.
Naik Kirpa Ram was serving as “Piffer” in the 8th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles, British Indian Army, when he was killed in a battlefield. His widow Brahmi Devi, 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. After Independence in 1947, the British Indian Army was divided between India and Pakistan. The Frontier Force Rifles, due to its large Muslim composition and traditional association with the North West Frontier, was allocated to Pakistan.
However, the whole saga took a new turn when the medal was allegedly stolen from her house at Bhapral vilalge on February 3, 2002. Brahmi Devi registered a case at the nearest police station at Bharari in Bilaspur that the medal awarded to her husband by British Emperor George VI had been stolen. After a “search’’ lasting few years, police closed the case as untraced.
However, the issue was revived in 2009 when a retired IAS officer Shakti Singh Chandel from Bilaspur highlighted in the media that the “stolen” George Cross medal was to be auctioned at Dix Noonan Webb Limited in London on December 3, 2009. The medal was listed for auction by former armyman from India, Ashok Nath, in London. This alerted the Himachal government and state police, following which the auction was stalled.
Surinder Thakur, a nephew of Brahmi Devi and practicing in the Himachal high court, said that though it was a proud moment for the family, the matter was not handled properly at the official level.
Thakur, who followed the proceedings in the UK court, said that now the question of depositing 12,000 pounds was to be dealt with.
When contacted on phone, Brahmi Devi expressed happiness over the court ruling on her claim to the medal. “It will help me relive the memories of my husband 66 years ago,” she quipped.