PANELLISTS AT the Military Literature Festival’s session on India’s contribution to World War I have suggested to the Centre that orange marigold should be declared as remembrance flower for honouring the memory of fallen heroes, on the lines of the Red Poppy chosen for by the British government for the same cause.
The proposal, mooted by noted military historian Squadron Leader Rana Chhina, was supported in by all panelists, and it was resolved to formally forward this proposal to the Central Government. The discussion also resulted in a demand for a dedicated war memorial to commemorate the sacrifices of all the World War I heroes.
The panellists consisted of Squadron Leader Rana Chhina, Prof David Omissi, Prof. Anju Suri, besides Dr. Santanu Das and Lt. Gen. N S Brar, engaged in a discussion that underlined the social and emotional turbulence suffered by soldiers and families during the 1914-1918 War.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who was slated to participate in the discussions, could not attend the session as he was indisposed.
Highlighting the oral literature pertaining to Punjabis, who on the orders of the Empire joined the War, noted historian of Oxford University shared that Punjab had produced a powerful and diverse range of literature between 1914-18. “This land of five rivers throbbed and hummed with stories, poems, kissas, dastaans, prayers, sometimes seething and somnolent. It was never silent but full of sounds and whispers.”
With literacy rate of 6.4 per cent amongst men and less than one percent amongst women, the natives were non literate but were intensely literary, he said, adding that the the lack of acknowledgment for the stupendous role played by Indians, particularly Punjabis, in World War I was due to deliberate amnesia and not on account of absence of literature about it.
Highlighting the events leading up to the start of the Great War and the induction of Punjabis into it, Prof David Ommissi, who has extensively studied the censored letters (mostly free postcards) written by soldiers and families, said this muted and cautioned description portrayed the sufferings endured by the soldiers.
Underlining the motivation for fighting a war that was not theirs, Lt Gen Brar said it could be best described as mixture of Izzat, pride, family tradition, regimental honour, and loyalty to the salt. Discarding the notion that they were not soldiers but mercenaries, he said a soldier always follows orders and should not be connected with any political or colonial regime.
Prof Anju Suri from Panjab University suggested efforts to synchronise Indian political narrative with military history to ensure dissemination of effective message among youth.