Armed Forces Day Leicester

A highly emotive tribute was paid to the fallen on the occasion of Armed Forces Day (24th June) at Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre, Leicester with a special exhibition showcasing the Role of Indian Soldiers during the First World War and tracing down the Indian contribution over centuries in the making of present-day Great Britain. The day-long programme organised by the Golden Tours Foundation was a part of the “Remembering Indian Soldiers in World War 1” project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The programme was supported by BBC Radio Leicester, Friends of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and the St Philips Centre Leicester.

The exhibition which was housed at the BBC Leicester studios for a week prior to arriving at the Belgrave Neighbourhood centre is a documentation of the Indian contribution during World War 1, otherwise unheard of in reference to history of WW1. The visitors were prompted to question their own personal history and any possible association with the World War 1. Ayesha Sharda, a young visitor recalled vaguely, her great grandfather who fought in the World War 1 and hailed from a village in Punjab (India): “I don’t remember his exact name but will ask my father when I go back. We have heard our grandfather mention a few times how my Great Grandfather fought in WW1.”

The programme held in the afternoon was conducted by Kamlesh Purohit, Deputy Editor of BBC Radio Leicester.  Lord Mayor of Leicester, Cllr Rashmikant Joshi attended the programme and commended Nitin Palan MBE for his vision and role in ensuring the Indian contribution wasn’t forgotten from the institutional memory of WW1 history. He also congratulated the GTF for choosing the Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre as the venue for organising this programme as the Centre was a leading example of inter-faith congregation and interactions. The programme was also attended by Mr Amit Sharma from the High Commission of India. The High Commissioner of India who was unable to attend the programme himself sent a video message and a letter of appreciation for Golden Tours Foundation congratulating Mr Nitin Palan MBE of his efforts and best wishes for the work.

Cllr Manjula Sood MBE Assistant City Mayor joined the commemoration and congratulated Golden Tours Foundation on behalf of the City Mayor for bringing the exhibition to Leicester and bringing together individuals sharing their personal accounts of this painful history. “My own Mother in law’s father died fighting in the Great War in Baghdad and she was left to bring up her children all alone, living with the pain of the great loss. The sacrifice isn’t just of the soldiers who fought but also their families and villages.”

Nitin Palan MBE, Chairman of Golden Tours Foundation sharing the vision states, “All Nations want to instill pride in their people. Often in recognising other Nations’ and their peoples’ contribution may interfere with their own sense of pride. The West has traditionally not viewed India as an equal partner and always considered it as part of The Third World. On the other hand, India as a Nation has failed to recognise their own Indian soldiers’ contribution during The Great War as it is looked with pain and not relevance.”

Among the various presentations were two panel discussions, firstly discussing “How do we use the legacy of conflict to bring about community harmony”, chaired by Tom Wilson, Director of St Philips Centre. Among the speakers were Raj Chauhan from the Friends of OCHS; Dilwar Hussain, Academic and Advisor, New Horizons; and Bobby Singh, Historian and Filmmaker. Discussing arts and their contribution were Vipula Athukorale from The Art of Cuisine who also showcased his award winning Butter sculpture of soldiers at war; Ishy Din, Playwright of The Wipers; and Flt Lt Harriet Tadikonda who composed the famous symphony as part of One Voice bringing faiths together in uniform. Among the voices less heard was George Ballentyne who spoke about the Bahai contribution during WW1. Connecting the then to the now was Kishor Chauhan, father of a fallen hero, Flt Lt Rakesh Chauhan who died at the young age of 29 years in Afghanistan in 2014 who spoke about the legacy of this young officer and his immense contribution to creating safe flight paths in warfare.

The programme concluded with musical tributes paid on this occasion by locally based artistes Madhu Chauhan of Pukar Women’s Group of disabled artistes, Jay Rathod and team, JK Arts and Flt Lt Harriet Tadikonda. 

The exhibition will be housed at the BBC Leicester studios from 26th June to 30th June; at Cossington Centre from 3rd July to 10th July and finally moves to the Peepul centre from 21st July to 28th July before moving back to London towards end of July. Anyone interested in the exhibition may visit it at these locations or may request for this to be displayed in their local areas by emailing: lakshmi@goldentoursfoundation.co.uk