Manjit Singh Gill, a 45-year-old sculptor from Ghal Kalan village in Moga, left his government job to follow his passion for making sculpture, and for 18 months worked on a unique memorial which is a tribute to the martyrs of the Battle of Saragarhi. The memorial with a statue of Hawaldar Ishar Singh, who led the contingent of 20 other jawans and fought till his death, is placed at Ghal Kalan in district Moga. He is holding a long baton in his hand. The names of 21 martyrs are also a part of the memorial. “I worked on the memorial because of my interest in history, sculpting, art and social work,” says Gill, who hopes that Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh will visit the memorial soon. Singh recently acknowledged the martyrdom of these 21 jawans and said that September 12 would be observed as Saragarhi Day in Punjab. Singh has also written a book on this forgotten battle, which is titled Saragarhi And The Defence Of The Samana Forts- The 36th Sikhs in the Tirah Campaign ‘1897-98’.
This little known battle was fought in Tirah region in a small village, Saragarhi, of Kohat district, now in Pakistan. It was fought on September 12,1897 between 21 Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army (36th Sikh Regiment) and Orakzai Pashtun Afghan tribals, who attacked the Saragarhi post. The Sikh contingent of just 21 jawans fought till death. While Saragarhi is now in Pakistan, in India there is a Saragarhi memorial gurudwara in district Ferozepur. British government had also conferred the martyrs of Saragarhi with the highest battle honour — “Indian Order of Merit grade II”. But limited information and details about the battle and its martyrs are available to the public. Gill has created a 16-feet memorial using metal and fibre glass to commemorate the same. He began work on it last year around March. “Many in Punjab, in fact around the country, are not aware of this battle and the story of the bravery of these men. Since many school children visit my park to see sculptures, I thought it would be the best way to tell them about the Battle of Saragarhi,” explains Gill, who has created Deshbhagat Park in Moga.
Gill has spent close to Rs 4.5 lakh on the memorial and did not take any help from the government, “It will be a reward for my work if the government recognises our effort and contribution in making Saragarhi Battle known to the masses,” says Gill, who has created memorials as a tribute to personalities that include Neerja Bhanot, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Baba Nazmi, Baba Bulleh Shah, Milkha Singh.