AS INDIA marks 50 years since the 1965 war, the Golden Temple is not involved in any of the commemorative ceremonies. Yet, despite sharing a troubled history with the Indian Army, the walls inside the temple are a veritable roll call of Sikhs who laid down their lives in that war as well those before and after it.
Sikh soldiers have a tradition of offering prayers and thanks to the Almighty and commemorating martyrs at the Temple . The stones are a part of this tradition.
More than a dozen commemorative stones for Sikh soldiers who fought in the 1965 war find a place in the temple.
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“Sikh Sangat 4th Horse (Hudson’s Horse) donates in the sacred memory of the soldiers who achieved martyrdom in Sialkot sector during September 1965 India-Pakistan War”, reads one stone carved with names of 18 soldiers and installed by 4th Horse Regiment of the Indian Army while making an offer of Rs 1,001 at the Golden Temple.
Parallel to it is a stone of the same size, installed by ‘Lt. Col. Rajeshwar Singh and All Ranks’, in the memory of 14 soldiers killed in the 1965 war.
The Indian Express found 13 such memorial stones on the premises of the Golden Temple with reference to the 1965 war.
The tradition dates back to 1783 when Sikhs took away a marble slab from the Red Fort in Delhi after capturing the Mughal seat and offered it at the temple. This slab is still preserved, in memory of the victory, in Bunga Ramgarhia in the Golden Temple.
Sikh soldiers in the British Army continued the practice, and later, it was followed by the Sikhs in the Indian Army too.
But most of the stones installed by soldiers in the Golden Temple are for those killed in the 1971 war. There are also commemorative stones to mark raising days of regiments and other such occasions.
There are some stones in memory of non-Sikh soldiers, too. The 3rd Battalion of Mahar Regiment donated Rs 5,000 and a stone inscribed with names of all 23 non-Sikh soldiers who laid down their lives for ‘O P Riddle’ in 1965.
Next to the community kitchen entrance is another stone installed by the 7th Sikhs. It carries 54 names. Another stone has the names of 14 soldiers of Poona Horse. One 1965 memorial stone installed on the community kitchen entrance side bears a bullet mark from Operation Bluestar. It reads: “Col. Ranjit Singh and all Ranks to commemorate the Battalion victory in battle of Burki in Lahore Sector during Indo-Pak conflicts of September 1965.”
Inscribed on it are names of 21 soldiers. The bullet has hit the stone in the lower portion. Most of the ink has faded, and the bullet mark is more prominent than the names of soldiers.
Some stones have been installed in memory of martyrs from different wars.
24 MED Regiment (SP) have listed martyrs from 1944 (Second World War)to 1971. The stone has names of four martyrs from the 1965 War.
The 4th MECH INF(1 SIKH) has installed a list of martyrs from infantry who were killed in different wars from 1947 to 1996. It carries the names of around 150 soldiers, eight of whom died in the 1965 war.
The 2nd Battalian Sikh Light Infantry remembered their 7 soldiers and Rashtriya Indian Military college, Dehradun five soldiers given the ‘Roll of honour’ on separate stones.
The 6th Battalion of Parachute Regiment mentioned ‘fighting on Wagha-Lahore Sector from Sep 15 to 23’ with names of eight martyr soldiers on stone installed entrance from Plaza.
The family of Captain Sant Kumar Walia remembered his martyrdom in the battle of Hussaini Wala in September 1965 by making a donation of Rs 1,001.
The military has continued the practice of installing commemorative stones even after 1984, the year in which the Indian Army entered the temple as part of Operation Bluestar.
Sikh Sangat ‘C’ Son 8th Light Cavalry installed a stone on January 25, 1999 to remember one soldier each from World War II and 1965, and two from a combat operation conducted in 1988 in Jammu and Kashmir. The regimental crest also mentions seven names from ‘OP Riddle’ in Khemkaran sector on stone shared by 10 other soldiers who participated in OP Cactus Lily in 1971 war.
According to SGPC records, the Army has installed 20 stones in the last four years, the last one in March 28, 2015.
“Most of the stones have been installed by Sikh regiments. We still want government of India to recruit more Sikhs in the Army. Whether it was the freedom struggle or any war, Sikhs have always fought from the front. You can count the ratio of sacrifices by Sikhs on the battlefield for the Indian Army. It will be much higher than other communities despite the fact that we are micro minority in this country,” said Daljit Singh Bedi, additional secretary, SGPC.
He said no organisation of Sikh extremists have ever objected to installation of these stones by Sikh soldiers on behalf of the Indian Army.
“There is no logic in seeing a contradiction between Operation Bluestar and the stones installed by Sikh regiments or Sikh soldiers of the Indian Army in the Golden Temple. Even while being in the Army, Sikh soldiers are always dedicated to Guru Granth Sahib. They take pride in installing the stones at the Temple,” said Bedi.
However, the tradition may not continue for much longer as engineers have adviced against installing such stones as it may affect the stability of the building. Special permission from the management is now required for commemorating soldiers this way.