Since Vaisakh 1999 when European Sikhs together with the City of Ieper organised a big celebration of 300 years Khalsa, I have been involved in the remembrance of the Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army who gave their lives for the freedom of Belgium and other European countries.
The Lahore and Meerut Divisions of the British Indian Army were in North Western France and South Western Belgium from October 1914 till October 1915. These soldiers, like others on both sides of the conflict, had to fight in appalling conditions and there were many casualties. The survivors often lost arms or legs, or ended up with other disabling injuries.
For many of the soldiers that survived it raised their political awareness. They wanted at the very least to be full citizens of the Empire for which they sacrificed the best years of their lives. They soon found out that white Empire citizens were more equal than the brown or black ones.
Sikhs join the 11th of November Armistice in Ieper each year, but this May 25 May event was
organised by a group of Sikhs operating under the name of Sikh Worldwide Organisation for Remembrance Days. For Sikhs who live in continental European countries, that have no common history with the Sikhs, it is an important way of putting themselves on the map. The day was attended by about 300 Sikhs/people of Sikh background from Italy, Switzerland, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK.
In the morning we started with a meeting at the place where the British Indian Troops were deployed for the first time in 1914. The narrow country lanes were jam-packed with cars and coaches, and local traffic, even pushbikes, had trouble getting past. Apart from the Sikhs there were representatives of the City of Ieper, including our good friend Domeniek Dendooven, who truly deserves to be called an honorary sardar !
I had put together a specially adapted Ardas, about which I will write in my next article. I recited the Ardas during this morning session and again in the evening at the Menen Gate in Ieper itself. Otherwise there were as per usual too many speeches. I do not like speeches very much, and spent my time talking to other non-lovers of speeches.
In the afternoon there was a cultural programme on the Grote Markt in central Ieper, with gatka, bhangra and gidha. I spoke to a number of local people and British tourists who were curious to know what was going on. We also handed out leaflets about Sikhí, Sikhs and their history. It was a good opportunity to increase awareness.
In my next article I will write about the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menen Gate and about the ardas that was said on the occasion.