Saragarhi statue unveiled in multicultural town of Wednesfield

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Unveiling the Saragarhi bronze statue: (L-R) Wolverhampton Mayor Greg Brackenridge, Major General Celia Harvey, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha’s Bhai Mohinder Singh, Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh, Saragarhi Foundation founder president Dr Gurinderpal Singh Joshan, West Midlands deputy Lord Lieutenant Dr Satish Sharma and Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield

By Kamal Preet Kaur | Britain |

The reverberation of Sikh battle cry ‘Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal’ in the multicultural town of Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, on Sunday (12 Sept 2021), must have held a deeper, firmer resonance and resolve thousands of miles away on the North Western Frontier of the British India, 124 years ago. On this day, the 21 brave hearts of Saragarhi laid down their lives, bravely fighting a 10,000-strong Afghan enemy tribe.

As the saffron covering over a large piece of sculpture was slowly removed, an impressive and imposing bronze statue of Havildar Ishar Singh, the commanding officer of the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Army, drawing out his sword, was unveiled in the presence of Jathedar Sri Akal Takht Sahib Giani Harpreet Singh.

Speaking on the occasion, Harpreet said: “The bravery of these Sikh soldiers of Saragarhi reflects the historic battle of Chamkaur Sahib where 40 Sikhs, under the guidance of Guru Gobind Singh, fought and ultimately sacrificed themselves facing the 10 lakh-strong enemy. The soldiers at Saragarhi had a choice to leave their post and save their lives, but they chose to fight. They fought for Sikhi, they fought for their turban, they fought for their faith.”

This anniversary celebration of one of the greatest last stands comes at the time when the eyes of the world are glued to the current situation in Afghanistan and concerns are being raised for its minorities.

“As we remember those who gave their lives in the line of duty, the site of the battle reminds me of the current plight of Afghan Sikhs, who have had over 500 years of association with that country and many have had to leave everything behind,” said Birmigham EdgbastonMP Preet Kaur Gill.

The cost of the bronze statue, standing on a granite plinth that has the names of the 21 soldiers and a brief history engraved on it, is said to be over £100,000. The amount was raised after a massive public campaign and contribution, especially, through the local Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Wednesfield, its trustees and congregation, efforts of Saragarhi Foundation founder president Dr Gurinderpal Singh Joshan, local councillor Bhupinder Singh Gakhal and others.

Bakhtavar Singh (the 4th generation descendant of Havildar Ishar Singh and from Sikh Regiment) who, along with descendants of other Saragarhi martyrs, had been specially invited to the UK to attend this event, said, “Eighty percent of Punjabis do not know about Saragarhi. My great grandfather’s statue has been put here, but it is not just him, but it symbolises all others who fought and got martyred with him.” He expressed regret that the Punjab government back home had not shown such respect to the brave martyrs like his great grandfather.

Balraj Singh Sandhu, descendant of Naik Lal Singh, said the Gurus have shown us the way to live and they way to die and the Saragarhi martyrs emulated Guru’s teachings. He said he was extremely proud of his lineage and was honoured to be part of the event in the UK.

Mayor Greg Brackenridge, who, along with the other dignitaries had welcomed the Jathedar, and had escorted him to the venue, also lauded the efforts of the community for the success of the event. “I am extremely proud to recognise, celebrate and remember the brave, brave men named on the Saragarhi monument,” he said, addressing the gathering.

Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield lauded the “brotherhood of the 21. West Midlands deputy Lord Lieutenant Dr Satish Sharma, representing Her Majesty the Queen, said, “The Sikh community had always stood for justice.”

Major General Celia Harvey added that “the unflinching physical and mental courage, discipline, integrity of soldiers to refuse to surrender and their selfless commitment that prevented further killings of hundreds of other soldiers, are the traits that reflect their Sikh faith, are cherished and celebrated in the British Army.”

Hundreds of locals, especially the Sikh congregation, had gathered on the occasion, where the unveiling of the statue was preceded by a religious programme in the gurdwara, an Army and cadet parade led by the Panj Piaras and a canon fire to mark a minute’s silence in the remembrance of the martyrs. There was hardly a soul who didn’t seem touched by the sacrifice and bravery of the Saragarhi Sikh soldiers.

In an address at a local gurdwara before the unveiling, Harpreet said it was not right to call it ‘manmat’ because Sikhs were not going to worship it, it was a remembrance monument. To the question that it was not a ‘dharam yudh morcha and they were fighting for the British’, he said: “They were asked to leave the post and save their lives. They had that option to do so, but they chose to stand and fight. Why did they do so? They did it for their faith, for their turban and for the lessons taught by the Guru. They knew that if they ran away, no one will say British ran away, they would say, Sikhs ran away.”

Regarding the ‘gurbani’ reference on the plinth, the jathedar instructed it to be removed from the monument. Gurdwara committee member Paramjit Singh Dhadi confirmed that the mistake would be rectified earnestly and added that it had been an inadvertent oversight.

RELATED STORY:

British Army remembers Battle of Saragarhi (Asia Samachar, 12 Sept 2019)

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