Sunday, January 26, 2014

You might know the "300", but have you heard about the "21"?

Today is India's 65'th Republic Day.

After watching a video shared by my friend Deepak Sharma on Facebook several months ago (I think it was on Independence Day on how the brave Sikhs beheaded their own women (sisters, daughters and mothers) to avoid being captured and persecuted by the marauding Muslims) I don't think it is fair to delay any longer the publishing of this post.

This year the viewers of the Hollwood film "300" are eagerly awaiting the release of its sequel. For those of you who have seen "300" you may recall that it was a landmark film in the history of films for the depiction of "Graphical Violence". Inspired by a comic written by Frank Miller, the film extolls and eulogizes the Spartan King Leonidas and his men, a total of 300 warriors for their bravery in resisting Xerxes and his army and in the process, all get killed.

As many of you might know 300 was based on Miller's graphic novel and the makers of the film have agreed that the purpose was to glamorize and fantasize the event and not adhere strictly to the historic facts. What the movie does not mention is the fact that some 700 Thespians also laid down their lives after pledging their alliance to Leonidas. Some others Helots and Thebans also died for Leonidas although a good number of Thebans deserted him and defected to Xerses in the final moments of the battle.

I clearly remember "Leonidas" and the Battle of Thermopylae was the first lesson in my History text book at school (don't know which class though) but what many Indians don't know is that one of the greatest or probably the greatest of the "Last Stands" involved 21 Sikh soldiers, of the 36'th Sikh Regiment, who then as part of the British Raj fought 10,000 Afghan and Orakzai tribesmen in a relatively unknown and unpopular battle called the The Battle of Saragarhi. The battle was fought in the North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan, when it was part of British India.

The ratio of the Sikh soldier versus the adversary  was 1:476.  All of the 21 soldiers fought till their dying breaths.  All were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, equivalent to the Victoria Cross and the Param Vir Chakra. Fortunately, the complete story of their heroic and tragic battle can be viewed online on Wikipedia. You can find it at the link below.

One of the most hardy and enterprising people I have known, and of whom India can be proud of are the Sardars. In 1996, when I first stepped outside India to Singapore, I was surprised to see in the local newspaper, "The Straits Times", the picture of the Businessmen of the Year, a couple of Sardars (I recall their last name was Takral) in all their turbans and beards and gait that they are most popular for. I even recall the gatekeeper at Singapore's popular Raffles City Hotel, dressed regally, was a tall well-built Sardar. Even in the seven cities I lived in the U.S, and Toronto, Canada, there wasn't a place where I couldn't find a Punjabi-Daba, or restaurant run by a Sardarji. Only the ubiquitous Malayalee comes close. Even in a small town such as Cypress (on the outskirts of Houston, Texas) I found a restaurant run by a Sardarji and his wife. He was friendly but talkative and he would also tell me how one of his sons was a self-made millionaire in the U.S. I wasn't surprised.

In India anyone would tell you that the entire city of Ludhiana was built with the hands of these able Sardars. Two of the biggest industries that require manual labour, the Automobile and the Argriculture industries thrive there.

When I was in school I cannot tell you how many of the brave Sikhs were my heroes. Thanks to Amar Chitra Katha, Ranjit Singhji, Hari Singh Nalwa, the Sikh Gurus - Guru Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh, and my favorites Bandha Bahadur and Satwant Kaur were stories I would read over and over again. Years later when I read an abridged version of Amrita Pritam's novel "Pinjar", I actually thought it was the story of  Satwant Kaur. And of course, the stories of Sikh bravery and sacrifice during the Partition is legendary.

Back to the Battle of Sragarhi, The Indian Army has been trying hard to get this story of courage into the History Text books in Indian schools but in vain. This post is just a tiny effort of mine to spread the awareness of this historic battle.

Quoting from the Wikipedia, Saragarhi Day, is a Sikh military commemoration day celebrated on 12 September every year to commemorate The Battle of Saragarhi. Sikh military personnel and Sikh non-military people commemorate the battle around the World every year on 12'th, September. All units of the Sikh Regiment celebrate Saragarhi Day every year as the Regimental Battle Honours Day. The Saragarhi Memorial Gurudwara (temple) was built in memory of the 21 Sikh soldiers that fought at The Battle of Saragarhi

So next time someone tells you that silly Sardarji joke you may just have the best reason to brush it aside or better still think of those "21" and say a prayer for them for laying down their lives in probably the greatest "last stand" in History.

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