While India was a colony of the British at the time of the First World War, it actively supported the war effort in its struggle to achieve dominion status. Middle-of-the-road political opinion was of the view that India must shoulder its share of imperial defence in order to realise its political aspirations for self-rule. Successive political dispensations after Independence have sought to distance themselves from both World Wars, stating that they were not our conflicts and that we participated in them as enslaved people.
The more pragmatic view is that at this juncture, when we seek to sup at the high table of the world’s nations as a rising regional and economic power, it is in our interests to gently inform global opinion about the role we played in both the conflicts.
Strenuous efforts by a number of historians, lobbyists, enthusiasts and others concerned with India’s image have borne fruit and the government has decided to join the worldwide commemoration of the First World War.
A joint project between the ministry of external affairs and the country’s premier think tank on national security, the United Service Institution of India (USI) will highlight India’s role in the war. Within the USI, the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research (CAFHR) will spearhead the effort to bring home to the world and mainly to Indians themselves, the contribution of India to the war effort, the effect it had on the country’s social and political life, and the tremendous sacrifices made by our jawans.
Squadron Leader Rana Chhina, CAFHR’s peerless secretary with a real passion for military history and unmatched knowledge of the subject, will coordinate the work. Over the next four years, the joint project will organise a series of events to mark the commemoration about which I shall be writing separately.
Tunes of the 16 Sikh Light Infantry pipe band
As I wrote earlier, Beating the Retreat this year was the usual precise, well-organised extravaganza of military music, a feast for the senses. While all bands played very well, one pipe band stood out for their impressive bearing with tall, imposing bandsmen performing in complete unison. Not surprisingly, they were from that excellent regiment, the Sikh Light Infantry - from the regiment’s 16th Battalion to be precise.
As the photograph shows, the pipers with their scarlet coats, blue trousers, white spats, regimental pattern cummerbunds, white leather belts, saffron turbans surmounted with steel Chakars (quoits) stood out from the other no less striking musicians on parade. Adding to their swagger and style, traits so common among pipe bands, was their overwhelming pride in their regiment and its rich traditions and history.
The 16th Battalion is a comparatively newer unit having been raised on June 26, 1987, at the Sikh LI’s regimental centre at Fatehgarh Cantt in Uttar Pradesh. It has served in various operational areas along the borders of the country. Army Chief General Bikram Singh commanded the battalion in the early 90s.
Last year, in November, a 160-strong contingent from the unit took part in ‘Exercise Hand in Hand’ with the Chinese Army at a training area south of Chengdu in south-west China. The Sikh LI Jawans did well in anti-terror exercises with their Chinese counterparts and impressed them no end with a display of Gatka, the famous Punjabi martial art.
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