The recent news of unveiling of a monument in the United Kingdom honouring Indian service personnel for their efforts in the First World War has stirred many emotions and kindled some hopes here in the faraway land of white clouds situated in remote South Pacific.
Indeed, among so many things like the crown, commonwealth, immigration, and mutually-shared historical experience, one another thing that would, and should, define the bond of connection between New Zealand and the UK is the mutually shared history of Indian connection in the First World War.
Indeed, the Indian connection in the two great wars is one of the most ignored or relatively less-valued aspects, of the celebratory narratives around the two wars, all around the world.
This is primarily because for a long time modern India had self-visualised itself as a construct of colonialism, and struggled to connect, take ownership of, and define a clear narrative around, it’s colonial past.
One major aberration of India’s earlier self-doubt in connecting with its colonial past and before has been that the task of celebrating Indian war efforts for the two World Wars has been largely left upon the communities and members of the global Indian diaspora.
Although this has changed in recent years, with the Indian political dispensation demonstrating a proclivity to connect more intrinsically with India’s war efforts in the two World Wars.
However, still, predominantly, the efforts in celebrating Indian war effort lies with its diasporic communities, who often being witness to global euphoria around celebrations of fallen heroes, develop a strong urge to remember their own heroes with a sense of dignity and pride.
This is evident even in the recent unveiling of a monument in the UK, which was commissioned by Guru Nanak Gurdwara, with local council investing in creating the public space with seating and lighting to house the new monument.
In that regard, there have indeed been growing sentiments within the Kiwi-Indian community of celebrating the Indian connection with the spirit of ANZAC - a spirit which defines New Zealand’s national identity.
There has been a growing academic and community interest in exploring and celebrating every bit of Indian connection with the spirit of ANZAC here in New Zealand.
The Indian Weekender, along with other like-minded organisations, academics and individuals had been committed to explore and celebrate the Indian-connection with the spirit of ANZAC and has been raising voice, and awareness, around Indian efforts in the two great wars.
Last year an exhibition was held in the Wellington Public Library, titled ‘Honour and Duty: A Tribute to Sikh Valour’ organised by the Sikh Foundation NZ which remembered the contribution of 100 Indians out of 150 odd Indians living in New Zealand in the early 1900s.
The exhibition informed that over 100 Kiwi-Indian men (it would not be inappropriate to describe those Indian-descent men as Kiwi-Indians) had enlisted themselves for the war, and four of them actually ended up fighting with 32 more in the reserves list.
This is not insignificant information, currently forgotten or not celebrated enough either within Kiwi-Indian community itself or beyond the community within broad contours that define New Zealand nation.
While the Kiwi-Indian community finds ways to connect with their past in New Zealand and the mutually-shared past of contributing in two Great Wars, the recent news of unveiling of a monument for honouring Indian efforts would naturally inspire them to do something similar in New Zealand.
For monuments or shrines, plays a vital role in inspiring future generations to remember, and celebrate the sacrifices of their previous generations, to ensure everyone enjoys freedom.
In that regard, the Kiwi-Indian community needs to dig deep within themselves and come together and work with the government, for a similar shrine in New Zealand.
The coming Armistice Day (November 11), when the First World War finally came to a close with the signing of an armistice would be a befitting opportunity, to at least start thinking on the lines of constructing such a shrine in New Zealand celebrating Indian war efforts.