In the Badduwal village of Moga district, Punjab, stands a slab erected in memory of the 26 Sikh soldiers from the 15th Sikh Ludhiana Regiment who fought during the Great War (World War I).
Built during the colonial era by the British and later renovated by these local villagers in Punjab, this was the only tribute that stood for the 26 men from the village who fought across distant shores on behalf of the British Indian Army. With no written proof or record of those who served, their names were never carved out on that piece of stone.
On November 25, and a 100 years after the Great War concluded, the residents of the village inaugurated another memorial remembering the 26 soldiers, of which seven were killed in action.
After acquiring the necessary documentation and records that prove their participation, locals have written down the names of four martyrs on the new memorial while the hunt is on to verify the identities of the rest.
For 70-year-old Karamjit Singh Kalia, the inauguration of this memorial is the culmination of a 22-year-old effort set towards finding out who these martyrs and others from the village who served in the Great War were.
His grandfather Lieutenant Ram Singh Bahadhur, and the latter’s two brothers, Sham Singh and Inder Singh, fought during the war and suffered injuries.
Starting in 1996, Kalia led the process of ensuring that all records of Indian martyrs from their village were collected, recorded and archived. After his 22-year search, he has discovered the identities of five such martyrs.
Speaking to The Indian Express, he said, “We are still unaware of at least 14 names. However, after much research from records that we were able to procure, we have managed to trace names of five of seven martyrs. My grandfather and his two brothers were injured in the war. We started efforts nearly 20 years ago, and now we know that five martyrs from our village were Banta Singh, Bhan Singh, Sujjan Singh, Uttam Singh and Khazan Singh. The name of Khazan Singh is yet to be written on the new memorial as we got document proof of his martyrdom on Sunday when the new memorial was ready for inauguration.”
Kalia’s family has reportedly spent their money erecting this new memorial. However, the biggest challenge before him was acquiring the records of other soldiers who served since their descendants have little recollection of it and even if they do, they don’t have the necessary documentary evidence.
“We had to do a long search, from books to records of cremation grounds where soldiers were buried, we did not want to put names without document proofs. We also took help of Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Some families are still in the village, but they cannot recollect [the] exact names of their elders who went for WW-I. Half of the names are still missing, but we will confirm them soon. Of seven martyrs, we have document proof of five now, and new memorial has been inaugurated,” he informed The Indian Express.
While a lot has recently gone into commemorating Indian soldiers fighting in the Great War, authorities at the Centre and Punjab government haven’t done enough. This is a sentiment which echoes with Kalia, so it is little surprise that he and his team embarked on this journey on their own.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)