Monday, 16 December 2013

The Saragarhi Tour 2014

After our successful launch at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst we are pleased to announce that in 2014 we are taking Saragarhi on tour!

The story of Saragarhi is an important one to appreciate - the battles which took place on the frontier are oft forgotten but form an important part of understanding why Sikhs fought for Britain and how their heroics not only protected India but cemented their reputation ahead of the Great War.

Having read, researched and written about Saragarhi we've unearthed many amazing facts, inspirational stories and never-before-seen images.

Only 75% of our research has been published in "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" ... the rest we will be sharing in our Saragarhi presentations and future documentary.

The tour presentation features original images from Saragarhi, satellite analysis of the terrain and the stories of those who fought on the Samana.

Journalist and filmmaker Jay Singh-Sohal will take you on a journey of discovering just what makes Saragarhi one of history's greatest last stands.


The presentation includes a screening of one of our "Sikhs At War" films and a Q&A/book signing (as above) by the author.

We will announce in due course the location of these tours taking place in the New Year.

If you are interested in organising a presentation in the UK, USA, Canada or Europe as well please contact us directly via this email.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

MOD Press Release: Sikhs in the British Army Meet Schoolchildren at Saragarhi Book Launch



PRESS RELEASE


127/2013                                                                                                                      
26th November 2013


Sikhs in the British Army Meet Schoolchildren at Book Launch


The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst hosted a unique event last week as serving Sikh soldiers joined Sikh schoolchildren at a book launch which explored the history of Sikhs in the British Army.

Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle was written by Jay Singh-Sohal, who is also serving in the Army Reserve, and focuses on this significant battle and its relevance today for the community as well as serving Sikh soldiers.

At the event Sikh school children from Upton Grammar and Slough Sikh Academy, were given a tour of Sandhurst and the Indian Army Memorial Room, received a special screening of ‘Sikhs at Sandhurst’ and had the opportunity to speak to and question current serving members of the British Army.

Following the event, the book’s author, Jay Singh-Sohal, said:

"To pay tribute and reflect upon the story of those Sikhs who fought and died on the frontier and in the Great War in the prestigious Indian Army Memorial Room was a tremendous honour. In launching my book "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" at Sandhurst I hope many more will be inspired by this story of bravery and courage."

Captain Sartaj Singh Gogna, REME, who works as a cultural specialist with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit, attended the event and was a panellist in the Q+A session. He said:

“This was a great opportunity to find out more about the long standing and prestigious history of Sikhs and the British Army spanning over 150 years. In addition, it afforded a fantastic opportunity for the inquisitive students to engage with serving Sikh soldiers, learning about their experiences and roles. It is important that we remember our proud and distinguished heritage serving both alongside and within the British Military, and that young Sikhs today do not forget the sacrifices made by their forebears.”

The book centres on an infamous battle that took place on the North West Frontier in 1897, and saw 21 Sikh soldiers fight to the last in defending a small outpost. The actions taken by these soldiers have cemented the reputation of the Sikhs as brave and loyal fighters.

For further information e-mail DMC-OpsPRArmyNationalPR2@mod.uk

Notes to Editors

  • Also speaking at the event was the Sikh civilian chaplain to the Armed Forces, Mandeep Kaur. Her role is to provide pastoral care and look after the spiritual welfare of serving Sikhs within the Armed Forces and in the wider community.
  • The MOD has very clear policy to ensure that people are able to accommodate their religious beliefs by balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the Armed Forces.  The Armed Forces employ Chaplains from most major world religions including Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh.

  • Service personnel are free to practice all aspects of their religion provided that it does not impact on Operational Effectiveness or the Health and Safety of an individual or their colleagues.

  • Every ship, Army unit and RAF station has a trained Equality and diversity Advisor (EDA) to ensure that all personnel are supported properly, whatever their background, culture or belief.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Why "Sikhs At Sandhurst" was an historic occasion

** Many thanks to Juggy Rehnsi from Wedshot for the wonderful photos herein **

On Wednesday 20th November, history was made as the British Army invited Sikhs to the prestigious Indian Army Memorial Room at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to pay tribute to the enduring legacy of Sikhs who served Great Britain.

"Sikhs At Sandhurst" was a first, and a phenomenally successful event.  One which I'm proud to have been involved in organising.

Visitors were greeted with the lovely smell of vegetarian food, kindly laid on by Punjab Restaurant (Covent Garden) who are themselves great supporters of Sikh heritage events.

School pupils from Upton Court Grammar (Slough) and Guru Nanak Academy (Hayes) were given a tour of the historic Old College building by the Curator of the Sandhurst Collection, and got to hear about the heritage contained therein.

The event proper began with a welcome by Colonel Vickers (above left) from the Royal Military Academy - himself a 5th generation British officer - who knew full well the contributions the Sikhs have made.

Lt Colonel John Kendall from the Army's Civil Engagement then introduced the first element of the afternoon - my film from which the event took it's name and which explores the history of Sikhs at Sandhurst (you can watch it for free here).

An Army panel consisting of British Sikhs was then introduced - two male Sikh officers, a female soldier and the Sikh Chaplain to HM Armed Forces.  The audience got to ask questions of them, ranging from what inspired them to conflicts they've fought in.

Then I was introduced to speak (left).  I delivered my speech to launch "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" , spoke about the defeat of the Sikhs after the Anglo-Sikh wars and how they were recruited and utilised by the British - and proved on the frontier their bravery, dedication and heroism.  These qualities turned the once-foes into staunch allies and friends.  I then took some rather interesting questions from an engaged audience, who I'm glad to say were very positive towards my research.

The event drew to a close with book signings and meeting many of those who attended.  And media interviews.

My only regret of the event was we couldn't get more people in - we were fully booked within days of announcing the programme and couldn't hold more than the +130 guests who came!  Nonetheless we had a fantastic and diverse audience, ranging from school children to businessmen, professionals and some veterans.  Our international guests included people from India and the USA.

Below are some of the comment's we've received about the launch.  I would appreciate your thoughts too so please reply to this post if you attended, or if you would like to in future:

"I felt that the event had taken me through a journey in time from the birth of the Khalsa reminding us of the Sikh values that were bestowed upon us by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, to the battle in 1897, to the World Wars and then introducing us to 4 of the Sikhs currently serving in the British forces. Bridging over 100 years of history of the Sikhs serving  in the British forces was effortless and inspiring.  Every aspect of the event was organised and executed perfectly." Surbjit Chadda


"I was privileged to be there and participate. The speakers, all of them, were superb. My special thanks to the organisers who spared no effort into making the event a complete success.  Great credit to the author Jay Singh-Sohal for publishing the book.  The news of the event last Wednesday (20th inst.) at Sandhurst should spread in the community and I hope more young Sikhs will come forward to join the armed forces."  Rajinder Singh

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Saragarhi At Sandhurst

It gives me great pleasure to announce that we will be launching our new book about Saragarhi and screening our latest film "Sikhs At Sandhurst" at a special event at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

The British Army have invited us to hold an event in the Indian War Memorial Room - and discuss the historic contribution made by Indians who fought for Great Britain on the frontier and during the Great Wars.
Taking place beneath the inspirational remembrance stained glass images of Indians of the time - the event will highlight the key contribution made by the community during the Great War and on the North West Frontier beforehand.

It is a key theory of mine, as covered in my new book, that the exploits at Saragarhi cemented the reputation of the Sikhs as brave, loyal and trusty soldiers of the British.  And that without these heroics the Sikhs would not have been so heavily deployed in every arena of battle during the Great War.

Indeed, the event will take place beneath the stained glass remembrance image (above) which was created to celebrate the contributions of the Sikhs on the frontier.

So it is a tremendous honour that we will be discussing this history at Sandhurst - a place that inspires so many to serve Britain.

More details will be released soon - but as spaces are limited please email dothyphen1@gmail.com for more details or to RSVP.

Event: Sikhs At Sandhurst
A rare opportunity to discover the hidden history of Indians who fought for Great Britain during the World Wars.  With a screening of the new film "Sikhs At Sandhurst", launch of the book "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" and opportunity to speak to serving soldiers and officers.

Where: Indian War Memorial Room, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, GU15 4NP

When: Wednesday 20th November - 12pm arrivals

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Jay Singh-Sohal, Writer & Filmmaker

With the centenary anniversary of the Great War next year, we've been contacted for various programmes being made.

Writer and filmmaker Jay Singh-Sohal is available for all media contributions and discussions regarding the significance of Indian soldiers who served during the Great War - from Flanders to Mesopotamia to the NW frontier.

Jay can also be contacted directly for events, public speaking and consultancy via the following methods:

Text: 07908226667
Email: jay @dothyphen.co.uk
Twitter: @DotHyphen
FB: Jay Singh-Sohal

Contact us directly for media or commercial bids via email.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Publishing a book is like having a baby

*** BIG ANNOUNCEMENT ABOUT BOOK LAUNCH COMING SOON ***

Publishing a book is like having a baby.  I should know - in 2013 I have both written and released my fourth book AND been blessed with a wonderful child who brings a smile to my face.

My book "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" is a factual account of events on the Samana in 1897 in which 21 Sikh soldiers defended a small outpost against the onslaught of 10,000 Pathans.

My child is now seven months, and a wonderfully inquisitive child.  I didn't know I would be writing a book in the same year we had her, but in doing so I am hopeful she will take a deep interest in all things Sikh and history.

Both are my babies, bringing tears as well as much pride over the past year; but I'd honestly say writing a book was just that bit slightly more difficult.  It's because Saragarhi is a well-regarded battle with an almost mythical status.  Often compared to Thermopylae, the battle cemented the reputation of the Sikhs fighting for Britain during the Empire and before the need ever arose for Indian soldiers to fight in the Great War.

But the battle is still largely an unknown one, so I'm hopeful my research will bring it to mainstream audiences.  In researching the military history I relied upon the few primary sources that are left in the sub-continent and in London to tell the tale of the brave Sikhs who fought against overwhelming odds.  Finding never-before-seen images of the site was a real discovery, as has been using my military knowledge to find the site and location of the battle site.

Not to say having a child is easy, the broken sleep and sudden responsibility is overwhelming (as are the nappies) but somehow the mind adjusts to fatherhood very quickly - the body eventually follows.  It has no choice.  A child needs constant attention, and being disciplined and prepared for feeds, changes, and nap time requires a military mindset.

Both publishing and fatherhood are certainly complimentary in what they bring, late nights and bad memory.  The random moments of zoning out in quiet contemplation provided a distraction from each task, whether it be contemplating historic matters or recovering from lack of sleep.

With a book, the hard work is in finding the knowledge and bringing it together in a meaningful way to impart wisdom.

With a baby, every day is full of development as a child develops all the practical skills and experiences needed.

Both would not have been possible without teamwork. While my wife endured the hard work of bringing the latter into this world, the book is also a product of input from friends (and the other half again) who have helped in research and editing the final version.

I do not know whether my child will have any enduring memories of the process of me writing the book, but in dedicating it to her I am sure it will one day mean something.

Whether other children grow up reading about the glorious past of Sikhs who fought for Britain is something I can only hope will also happen.


Monday, 7 October 2013

My fascination with Saragarhi

I'm a journalist by profession - I produce live breaking international news in a rolling news environment. So why did I write an authoritative military history of the Battle of Saragarhi?

I'm trained to tell a story, and for me the opportunity to narrate the heroics of Sikhs who fought for Britain has become a passion.  Anyone who hears about the bravery shown at Saragarhi will understand why.

The battle took place in 1897 and saw 21 Sikh soldiers from the 36th Sikh Regiment defend a small outpost against 10,000 tribesmen.  They fought for more than six hours until their outpost fell.  They died fighting to the last.

I first heard about the battle several years ago, when I was approached (as a broadcaster) to present a documentary about it.  The project never happened, but that did not stop my interest in finding out more.

So I read about the battle online, but I felt unsatisfied about the story as there seemed to be so little research and authority on Saragarhi.

Nor could anyone tell me why it was significant today - historic events can inspire us but where was the analysis?

It was said to be one which was on a parallel as a last stand to the story of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae - but if this was the case then why had it not received wider attention?  Why had it been forgotten?

My journalistic nature led me not to accept what I was being told by heritage groups and those Indians who professed knowledge of Saragarhi.  My curiosity led me to do my own research and discover the battle's significance for myself.

After years of quiet research and much of 2013 spent collating and writing my manuscipt, I'm pleased to be releasing "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle".

The book is one I'm proud of, it's not my first book but it is the first military history I have written.

I hope you will enjoy it and share the true story of Saragarhi with others - and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Saragarhi Day


Our work and attention now turns to the forthcoming book "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" which we will be releasing shortly.

Today marks Saragarhi Day, the battle honour and commemorative day awarded to 21 Sikhs for their bravery and valour in fighting for six straight hours against 10,000 tribesmen on the NW frontier.

The gallant last stand is one which has received a lot of attention in recent years - and one which through my authoritative research and analysis I have written about.

It'll be available via Amazon and on Kindle soon - for now do enjoy this short promo for the book.

#Last Stand
#Saragarhi

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

How to watch the "Sikhs At War" series

An interesting question was asked, of what order one should watch our productions in order to fully appreciate the story of "Sikhs At War".

While there are some gaps in our productions - with films we need to bring you to give better understanding of the Sikh contribution; here is the current order you should watch them in (so far):

Where Sikhs Went 1914-18

Sikhs At Sandhurst

Inside the Royal Memorial Chapel, Sandhurst

Sikhs At War: Jaspal's Story


Official Launch by HM Attorney General







Thursday, 22 August 2013

Watch Now: "Sikhs At Sandhurst" HD

This time last summer, my filmmaker colleague Juggy* and I walked through the corridors of Royal Military Academy, to discover the hidden history of "Sikhs at Sandhurst".

Being given rare access to film around the site was a tremendous honour- and on a hot English day we were duly rewarded for our efforts in capturing our glorious past with remarkable insight into the place where British (and Commonwealth) officers come to train.

It's a place that has a phenomenally strong Sikh presence- yet it's largely unknown to those outside of the military community.  As a reservist I've always been in awe of the glorious ways in which Sikhs are celebrated at Sandhurst, but many Indians might not appreciate it's sentiment or meaning without being prompted.

So we've made a film to highlight the Sikh story at this fine military institution - and crucially to provide a broader understanding of the Sikh presence there and what it means today.

It's our latest production from the "Sikhs At War" series of online films we make to raise awareness of our history and heritage.

In the film you will particularly discover:
- Why Queen Victoria gave special permission to the son of the last ruler of the Punjab to attend the academy
- Why the British deployed Sikhs in large numbers to unruly Afghanistan
- How the British chose to remember the Sikh bravery and heroics with a special stained glass window
- How British-Sikh history continues to inspire current generations to serve their country

"Sikhs At Sandhurst" is available to watch in HD widescreen below or here.


Sikhs have a unique and fascinating story of interaction with the British, something that as a third generation British Sikh I am very proud of and want to ensure people from all backgrounds appreciate too.

This interaction began with the Anglo-Sikh wars, which saw the British conquer the Punjab after two bloody wars which they nearly lost.  The fall of the Sikh empire was a tragic loss, but rather than remain enemies the Sikhs served the British and soon became the most trusted of allies.

This swift transition laid the foundations for the valiant contribution of the Sikhs on the frontier and during the World Wars, which we will be exploring as we head into the conflicts centenary.

We will soon bring you an update on how we intend to launch this film - and give it the international media publicity it deserves.  We will also be showcasing it worldwide at film festivals and presentations.

Until then - do watch and enjoy the film and do continue to visit and support all our channels and social media networks:

Twitter: @DotHyphen


* Final thought: a special thanks to Juggy Singh Rehnsi, my creative director (left), who has stood by this project and it's aims and aspirations through the technical difficulties we encountered in bringing you this story.

This film should have been released earlier than it has.  Not to bore you with details, but quality productions are very important to us.  So is being innovative and working with the limited resources we have to make films that do justice the story of Sikh bravery and heroism.

It is my hope that while we continue to use our expertise and passion for British Sikh history to bring you such productions, we also have your support in making them happen.

If you would like to contribute by funding or sponsoring a production please do email us directly.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Queen Victoria and Saragarhi

Much is made of Queen Victoria receiving news of the events at Saragarhi - but is this fact or fiction?

One myth already established, through my research for "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" is that there was no standing ovation in Parliament as the news of the battle was read out.

This is incorrectly stated on many websites (including Wikipedia) and incorrectly pedaled by heritage types - I'd suggest going onto the official record of Parliament on Hansard and searching for yourself.

Another reason why no ovation took place is because it is not in order to clap in the chamber (while this rule has been tested in recent times e.g. Tony Blair's last PMQ's during Victorian England this would never have happened).

So what did Queen Victoria know of Saragarhi?  From my research I discovered that:
- Victoria was at Balmoral in Scotland at the time
- She received a Renter's telegram about the battle four days after it happened

And most importantly:
- She writes about the “splendid behaviour of the Sikhs in defending Fort Cavagnari for 30 hours.”

More details can be found in "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle"

[PS would someone like to update Wikipedia?!]

Monday, 12 August 2013

Remembering Saragarhi: Author's Interview with Jay Singh-Sohal

Here's the latest "Remembering Saragarhi" clip.

In it, I answer the four questions that people always ask me about Saragarhi:
- What is it?
- What exactly happened?
- Why write about it
- Why was it forgotten.

In short, here's some answers from the clip:
- It's a battle of epic proportions that took place  in 1897
- 21Sikhs made a defiant last stand against 10,000 Pathans, fought and died
- Because it needs exploration through factual history
- It was overshadowed by other campaigns and eventually the Great War, but it's significance is strong


Monday, 29 July 2013

Sikhs At Sandhurst will be releasing soon - watch this space!

The film tells the story of the British-Sikh experience captured at Sandhurst, as well as the first person of Sikh descent to attend the Royal Military Academy.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Remembering Saragarhi at the launch of NSRF

In my speech at the recent launch of the "National Sikh Remembrance Foundation", I spoke about acts of bravery such as Saragarhi, and its meaning for British Sikhs today:


Friday, 5 July 2013

National Sikh Remembrance Foundation

I had the pleasure of speaking at the launch of the National Sikh Remembrance Foundation yesterday (4th July).

The NSRF was launched by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve and Paul Uppal MP.

The trustees, including Cllr Santokh Singh Chhokkar, have done a fantastic job in setting up an organisation to work with the Royal British Legion and others in commemorating the Sikh contribution during the Great War.

Their commemorative launch magazine is on the left.

The launch was an excellent chance to hear from dignitaries about the Sikh contribution during the War, as well as speak to people about it too.

Below is my speech from the event.  If you quote from it please ensure you attribute it to "Jay Singh-Sohal":


"As we head into the anniversary year commemorating the start of the Great War it’s important for us all to remember the contributions of the Sikhs AND to ensure their story is also remembered in wider society.

After all – our success today as British Sikhs is due to the historic and heroic contribution of those from the subcontinent who defended Britain and thereafter found a welcome home on these shores.

We can take immense pride as a community in the 150 years of British and Sikh interaction.  Particularly as Sikhs chose to serve in the Empire that had annexed the Punjab – they stayed loyal during India Mutiny and they fought on the unruly frontier with Afghanistan.

Alongside them there in Malakand was a young Winston Churchill – who said of them: “the Sikh will go on under circumstances which will dishearten and discourage his rival.”

If to prove his point - shortly thereafter at Saragarhi - 21 Sikhs stood firm against 10,000 enemy tribesmen.  Cut off from reinforcements and facing overwhelming odds– they made a gallant last stand - fought – and died – rather than surrender or flee.

In these frontier wars the Sikhs earned their spurs - cementing their reputation as brave, loyal and the staunchest of British Indian soldiers – before their need even arose in the Great War.

My forthcoming publication “Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle” details this – and WHY they selflessly served Britain:  It’s because their martial creed as Sikhs fostered a belief in fighting for a righteous cause; embracing the will of God and – if need be - sacrificing their life for a higher purpose.

They reflected on the words of the tenth Guru Gobind Singh - in remembering WHY they fought injustice and tyranny.  It is our national anthem:


Sikhs fought for the British – from the frontier to the fields of Flanders - because they were warriors.  They had sworn an oath to do so – because they believed the British Raj would benefit their people.  They heard stories of how the Guru had told of their coming and how it would spread the seed of Sikhi.

Whether that prophecy is true or not is insignificant ...letters sent by Sikhs from the trenches of Europe to the sands of Mesopotamia show that those who fought for the British believed in it.
In retrospect we can see that service in Empire enabled the Sikhs to spread worldwide, doing what Sikhs do best – and creating – friendships, communities, places of worship, families, businesses ... prosperity. 

From British Columbia  to Hong Kong.  Tanzania to New Zealand – and all the places in between, you can always spot a Sikh!

We British Sikhs are the best example of this legacy –we’ve followed in the footsteps of our ancestors who served– and been honourable, honest and hard working servants of society.  Only rather than the battlefield we now make our mark in business and commerce; defending the interests of Britain by creating wealth.

Dare I say we even exude conservative qualities – of duty, tradition, and strong family values.
But along the way we’ve somewhat lost track of the need to tell others – in fact to boast - of the immense contribution Sikhs made in fighting to uphold the rights and freedoms of ALL.

As a British Army reservist - I welcome the launch of the National Sikh Remembrance Foundation to ensure this story is placed high in public consciousness– and educates a new generation - about the War and those who fought in it.

I leave you with the words of General Sir William Lockhart, who remarked after the battle of Saragarhi that: “may the heroic national spirit of the Khalsa continue and flourish, and in future wars may Sikhs ever be found fighting as trusty comrades side by side with their British brothers-in-arms.”

That they did – but let it not be forgotten.  Let’s ensure this spirit continues to be remembered –and inspires others to serve our country - with works that make the story of Sikhs At War resonate within all corners of society.  

They did their duty – it is now time for ours."

A video of the speech will be updated here in due course.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Canon at Saragarhi Gurdwara, Ferozepur

My last post, about losing the heritage of Saragarhi, was met with much response, negative and positive towards the issue of Punjab losing it's history.

But I re-iterate what I said earlier, appreciating heritage and the memorials to those who fought and died is crucial not just for us but future generations.

Establishing fact and researching deeper into historic events to find the truth is also key.  I feel privileged in being able to do this with my journalistic skills, military know-how and understanding of Sikh faith and values.

I recommend that you all also try and discover more about Sikh heritage - ask questions and read more.

It's something I regularly do, and here is a point in case.

The the state of the Saragarhi memorial in Ferozepur brought much joy, kept in much better condition than the 1901 memorial in Amritsar and a thriving Gurdwara where langar is served and visitors regularly attend.

But my attention was drawn towards the canon placed at the four entrances to the Gurdwara.

What were they?  Where were they from?  And how did they get to the memorial?

With help from Neil Carleton, an expert on historic gun pieces, I can shed some light on these canon, and hopefully raise more factual awareness about something which you might take for granted at the memorial.


Here is the paragraph from my forthcoming book "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle":

"
"Outside the memorial are placed canon at each of the four entrances; one light 6-pound field gun and two 9-pound wheeled carriage guns.  The latter is an example of a bronze field gun which saw service in the East India Company during the Anglo-Sikh Wars, a rare treat as these were melted down for scrap metal and replaced by iron and steel artillery pieces from the 1860's.  The lighter gun is dated 1856 and from its inscription we can tell it was built by Captain A. Broome who was in charge of the British gun foundry at Cossipore on the Hooghly river near Calcutta.  It is possible that these treasured pieces saw action against the Sikhs and during India Mutiny, but now in a twist of irony they stand as guardians to the sacred Sikh scriptures placed inside the Gurdwara."

Please do, as always, message me and comment here on these posts.  But also, should you find yourself in Punjab, make a pilgrimage to the Saragarhi memorials in Amritsar and Ferozpur - in remembrance to those who fought on the Samana and their enduring legacy.

PS - if you are quoting this post, as some websites are, please make sure you attribute it properly!
http://sikhs-at-war.blogspot.co.uk/

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Losing Saragarhi's Heritage

It was with much sadness that I saw the below scene of the Saragarhi memorial in Amritsar.


This was the memorial created after the battle in which 21 Sikhs heroically stood to the last against 10,000 Afghan tribesmen on the frontier.

Their last stand, chronicled in my next book, cemented the reputation of Sikhs as brave and loyal soldiers of the British Empire.  A reputation still remembered to this day, albeit not as much as it should be.

This post is about the decline of Indian (specifically Punjabi) heritage.

The memorial Gurdwara was unveiled on 16th April 1902 by General Sir Arthur Power Palmer, the Commander-in-Chief, who said:  “The memorial is the outcome of the spontaneous appreciation of the gallantry of a representative detachment of the Sikh nation, proving that they possess one of the finest of soldierly characteristics – namely, that they prefer death to surrender.”

The names of the 20 Sikh soldiers under Havildar Ishar Singh were written onto plaques outside the front door leading to the Guru Granth Sahib, the names were to:  "...be kept as an example to others, in order to show how brave men should behave when facing fearful odds." said Power Palmer.

So it's very sad then that the memorial is falling into a dilapidated state.  It needs repairs and freshening up, as does the grounds around it.

But rather than preserving this memorial, the SGPC (in charge of Sikh shrines) seem more interested in building accommodations for foreign devotees (Sikhs and non) who visit the holy city of Amrtisar.  The building which looms over the memorial is such a hostel, which will no doubt when complete dwarf the Saragarhi memorial.

This is a surprise, as in recent years Saragarhi seems to have made a resurgence as a story of bravery, with Sikhs trying to bring back awareness of it through various means, the SGPC commissioning artwork and a cartoon book on the story being released.

But the state of the old memorial is an example of Punjab losing it's physical heritage, which are being bulldozed and replaced with western-friendly facades.

In this instance, the memorial hasn't suffered that fate (yet) - but awareness of historic actions which the Sikhs were involved in are in danger of being forgotten if not becoming merely political ploys for the establishment.  The lessons they contain and the context of their history are seen as no longer relevant.

Power Palmer, in 1902, also stated that the memorial was erected at the headquarters of the Sikhs so that:  "...as long as the British rule lasted the brave Sikh soldiers of the King might realize that their deeds would never be forgotten.”

Perhaps its because of this connection to Empire that the memorial has been forgotten about?  Can Sikhs no longer feel proud of their contribution during the history of British India?  Is it too difficult given the independence movement?  Is it too embarrassing for ruling elites to propagate?  Or simply a fruitless endeavor?  Or do the simple folk who have little reading of such history simply not care?

I, for one, take a lot from the story of Saragarhi - but then I am a British Sikh and feel a connection between it and the subsequent heroics during the World Wars and then the migration and integration of Sikhs in Britain thereafter.

Whatever the outlook, heritage groups are missing in this equation - where are they?  Are there any in India who'll work to fund repairs at the memorial?  The UK-based heritage groups seem more interested in posh polo matches, is the story of Saragarhi becoming abused for others gain?  What about groups in the USA/Canada, where there are a lot of Sikhs?  I'd like to know your views ...

My hope is that someone will take this post to heart to work to restore the memorial.  But the effort must come domestically within India, there is not much we in the diaspora can do - money is not the answer to everything, as Sikhs abroad seem to be thought of as cash cows by our Indian cousins.

Rather, Indians in India MUST work to protect our memorials, such as Saragarhi, for generations to come. If it was in my back yard, I would! 

To conserve our heritage we must embrace it and radiate it's significance to those who can see, feel and taste its presence.  The old adage stands, we shape our buildings and thereafter our buildings shape us.

I feel like I've done my part by writing a book about the factual story of Saragarhi and its significance, to be released in September 2013.

It's now for others to take it and the story of Saragarhi to ensure it is not forgotten, but that the heritage connected to it is also not lost.

What to call my Saragarhi book

During my research into "Saragarhi" I thought long and hard about what to call the book.

Is it a lost battle?  Is it a true narrative of events?  Is it about the politics of the Raj or the Sikhs?

The original concept for my work was about the "21 Sikhs" and the last stand at Saragarhi - but with its proven hard to tell the stories of the individuals involved at the battle because so little primary material exists.

I went for "The Forgotten Battle" because the events of Saragarhi have been largely lost to mass public consciousness.

It fits my theory also, that the myth of the battle and the falsities that have cropped up are now more well known than the actual fact of what happened at Saragarhi.  This involved the wrongful claims that the battle was ranked by UNESCO, that news of the event raised a round of applause in the Commons.  There are more also.

Saragarhi is a forgotten battle for another reason, for access is no longer possible to the area where it took place.  To discover more about the battle and why it took place, we need an appreciation of the geography of the land and the significance of the communications post.

This is detailed in my book which will be released in September 2013.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Sikhs and the EDL

It's late, a little before midnight, and I'm writing my latest book "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle."

The chapter I'm currently drafting is about the subsequent aftermath of Saragarhi, where 21 Sikhs fought bravely to the last against the onslaught of 10,000 Pathans in 1897.  And what happened after the Samana range, which was defended by a mix of Sikh and Royal Irish troops, was cleared of the enemy.

What happened next was that the British forces (comprising Sikhs also) were sent to the Tirah to deal with the tribes there who had caused such havoc on the frontier.  This was one of many expeditionary forces into Afghanistan before the turn of the century.

And this was before the Sikhs were sent to fight in the Great War and Second World War.

So looking for a short break from writing, I turn to that tool of procrastination that is Facebook; and click on a link a friend has shared with me.

It is about an EDL rally that took place earlier near the Cenotaph where the speaker references the bravery of the Sikhs.

I've been out the news loop today so I watch and I listen.

Then I trawl down my FB timeline and notice other Sikh friends sharing the same video.

So the English Defence League find it fitting to talk about the bravery of the Sikhs during the Wars, and Churchill's admiration that the Sikhs were vital to the war effort.

Thank you EDL for the reminder of this history.

But should Sikhs support the EDL in their endeavours as they seem to like the community because they are integrated in Britain, and not waging holy war against the UK?

This is the crux of what the video, the statement in it, and the social media sharing that is going on must surely centre on.

But wait, I hear you say, as a blog that promotes British Sikh history during the Great War is it the realm of this medium to share thoughts on such a highly political matter?

Probably not.

I'll do it anyway.

But I'll do so without passing an opinion on whether Sikhs should support the EDL - that isn't a community matter but a personal and individual one.  One which each Sikh out there needs to find an answer for themselves - much like who to vote for or what to have for lunch.

Nor will I pass judgment on those friends who I know have shared the EDL/Sikh video and other material, I know some people who do support the group that aren't white, skin heads or racist, but that's all.

And I won't indulge in the topic of talking up or down Islam; I'm not Muslim so I can't say much for how they feel after the horrific death of Drummer Lee Rigby at the hands of someone who called himself a Muslim.  But I'll presume he wasn't a good one because not all Muslims run around trying to behead Brits (or maybe it's the whole Muslim community that aren't really Muslims because they're not trying to .... ???)

Anyway .... what I will talk about though, keeping to the historic purpose of this blog and away from statements that might inflame someone to declare a jihad against it; is another element of forgotten British history which members of the EDL or anyone thinking of going on an anti-Islamic crusade should think about.

And that's that it wasn't only the Sikhs who fought for Britain during the World Wars.

Plenty of Muslims did too!

The Punjab Regiments that we are so proud of that fought in the trenches of Flanders, fought to capture Baghdad, fought in east Africa, fought in Europe and in Burma and else where ... were made up of x2 companies of Punjabi Mussulman - and they fought alongside Sikhs.

This might have been a long-winded posting to just saw that, but that was the gist of what I wanted to impart in this blog.

But for those Sikhs reading this and wanting some sort of a political response to whether the Sikhs should be supporting the EDL I will share my opinion by saying this:  engage with the political system, engage with the media and be a player within the civil society that we live in.

Should you fail to raise your voice and be heard in the arena's of our liberal democracy we so strive to protect, then I think you will be entitled to join any ultra right/left/up/down group you desire.

Should you fail...

Friday, 24 May 2013

RIP Drummer Lee Rigby

Thoughts and prayers with the family of Drummer Lee Rigby.

More info on his military career and tragic untimely death here.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Letter from Saragarhi


In a weeks time, Mullocks Auction house will auction this letter from a soldier describing the scene at Saragarh.

It makes for an interesting read, not least because the writer describes the scene at the outpost as "an aweful sight".

Does anyone have any more information about J A Lindsay who served in the Tirah campaign?

And are there any other letters out there describing Saragarhi which have remained lost?

Friday, 3 May 2013

Sikhs At Sandhurst - nearing completion

It's nearly a year since we embarked on creating a new film for the "Sikhs At War" project.

"Sikhs At Sandhurst" is about the hidden history of Sikhs which can be found at the Royal Military Academy, one which not many know about apart from the officers who are trained there.

It tells the story of the first person of Sikh decent to have been accepted there - Victor Duleep Singh - the son of the last Maharaja of Punjab.

Victor's story is fascinating, as he is the product of British Sikh integration.  He lived a Christian life, and hisis life was as colourful as could be for a Victorian gent! 

The new film touches upon Victor's time at Sandhurst - and how he should not have been allowed to go to Sandhurst.

It delves into the history of Sikhs who served during Empire, and how their contribution in the frontier with Afghanistan is remembered to this day.

In fact, it fits in perfectly with my other research venture at the moment - the story of Saragarhi.

For me, the Sikh effort on the frontier is an epitome of the valiant and invaluable contribution Sikhs made during empire.  Which was so fruitful that the British (indeed the world) reaped the rewards in the Great War and WW2.

Back to the production, and editing took a lot longer than we would have liked, due to some technicality but is now nearly completion due to the hard work and 'never say quit' attitude of my fantastic editor Juggy.

"Sikhs At Sandhurst" will be released soon ... if you'd like to access it for your film festival / event / screening, it runs 20 mins long and you can contact us via this email.

Found Saragarhi!

So further to my last post, I've been fortunate enough to have found a military expert who has helped verify my theory about where Saragarhi and the nearby forts are.

Great!

So I'm looking forward to releasing this soon in the book - the next challenge is actually getting access to the location, which is an army cantonment!

Not so great!

It's a reminder that the area in question is highly dangerous even 116 years after the Sikhs fought there for Britain.

Nonetheless looking forward to continuing my research and finishing the book.

Which is being entitled "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" ... look out for it!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Where is Saragarhi?

Writing on my next book on Saragarhi is gearing up ...

Here's a Google map photo of where the battle site MIGHT be.

If you can help my research with any photos or details please get in touch.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Why the BBC are wrong about M Duleep Singh

The source of inspiration and strength for all Sikhs, historically and presently, is the amrit (or Khande di Pahul) which the tenth Guru Gobind Singh gave to devotees to turn them into Khalsa (or Pure).

Taking amrit is a sacred and transformative ceremony which is commemorated every year on April 13th (or 14th) - the original five (Panj Pyare) who took it had to give their heads.

Next Sunday 14th April, the BBC will in a new documentary about the life of M Duleep Singh connect the story of the last ruler of the Punjab to the Sikh ceremony to mark the Vaisakhi.

In doing so they will say that Duleep took amrit to once again become a Sikh.  The amrit initiation ceremony is detailed here.
Duleep Singh living the life of a country gent at Elveden
But did the Maharaja really undertake the initiation ceremony?

I was pre-interviewed for the programme and shared with my thoughts that he could not have done so because:

1 - he could not have taken amrit as he did not have 5 Singhs at his side or Guru Granth Sahib to undertake the ceremony when it's supposed to have taken place


2 - even if he had done he did not maintain his rehit (conduct) as a Khalsa Sikh by abstaining from meat, alcohol, illicit relations

3 - he also did not keep his hair unshorn

4 - in Paris in later life and with the death of his son, he continued his Christian beliefs - and was finally buried in a Christian burial.

I stated to the BBC that Duleep's re-embracing of his Sikh roots was purely selfish - in his pursuit to stick it to the British and his dream of regaining his lost kingdom and inheritance.

He re-embraced Sikh values by becoming a learner and absorbing the story of his ancestors.  Yet whether he undertook some sort of a ceremony (even children are given amrit as choole) is a matter which is under researched.

Through my own reading I've come to the conclusion that he did reaffirm himself to be a Sikh in some manner - but not through the process of becoming Khalsa.  Nor did he espouse Khalsa values or wish to.

I also know, off record, other BBC contributors who severely doubt that Duleep became Khalsa - and so steered away from the issue in their interviews.  What makes the edit and how the programme is presented for Vaisakhi is another matter.

Sadly, the BBC might be putting out there this myth that Duleep had takem amrit.  So I urge others to research into this and tell his story more accurately based on fact and not for the sake of telling a 'Sikh story' at Vaisakhi, a form of festival journalism which the BBC are developing a record of.

Duleep's life story of tragic-privilege is very relevant to British Sikhs today - I would suggest all to read into it and understand it, primarily because it helped successive Sikhs migrants prosper and integrate into a British society that understood their culture, roots and background.

It's an aspect of Sikh history I cover in my book "Turbanology: Guide to Sikh Identity".

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Sikh At Queen's Coronation

Check out this cool clip of a Sikh soldier getting ready for the Queen's coronation in June 1957...



Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Editing...

We've been in post-production on "Sikhs At Sandhurst" for several months - the short film should have been done last year but we've been working on the sound and graphics.

Filmmaking is difficult enough, but more so when you work on a minimal (or non-existant) budget.  I've spoken to several people in the past few months about why factual films on Indian history don't get made - it must be because of the reluctance of investment into this area from within the community.

We've always had difficulties with raising funds for the "Sikhs At War" project, but thankfully we've had volunteers undertake the work because they're passionate about it.

Hopefully this means we'll have the new film done by this Vaisakhi (April).

And then I'm exploring looking at a few other areas - if you have access to Sikh war medals from the Great War please get in touch via email.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Jallianwala Bagh and Sikhs today

Yesterday was a very auspicious occasion - David Cameron became the first sitting British Prime Minister to visit Sri Harimandir Sahib*.

Sikhs believe that for anyone to visit and pay their respects at the site in Amritsar is a blessing - bathing in the sarovar (pool) around it washes away sins, bowing at the house of the Lord brings you closer to the Almighty.  This applies equally to all people - regardless of sex, race, creed, caste.  To symbolise this Harimandir Sahib has four entrances and is a place where any can find peace.


On this visit the PM also saw the langar (free kitchen) which feeds thousands upon thousands of people of all distinctions a simple vegetarian meal - a central element of the Sikh faith is seva (selfless service).

The PM also visited Jallianwala Bagh nearby, where in 1919 Brigadier General Reginald Dyer massacred hundreds of people who had gathered in a protect on Vaisakhi day.  Dyer thought it a major insurrection - how wrong he was.

Now you might wonder where this fits in with the historic context of this blog, which promotes Anglo-Sikh history during the Wars.  I'll try to explain, keeping it short and succinct (so apologies in advance if this is too general):

Sikhs had been loyal soldiers for the British since the annexation of the Punjab in 1849.  They stood firm and loyal during India Mutiny in 1857.  And for their dedication and bravery were trusted to be sent to every arena of British conflict - from the North West Frontier, to China, to E Africa, to Mesopotamia.   During the Great War Sikhs fought in every arena the British did - including for the first time in Europe.

But Jallianwala Bagh changed the sentiment of the Sikhs - many of whom were butchered at the site.  It came just a month before the Third Afghan War when once again Sikhs were sent to Afghanistan in large numbers.  They served, but the mood had changed.  The British were no longer seen as the guardians of their lands, the decay of Empires was setting in and the Brits were becoming excessive and strong handed.  Not to say that these instances hadn't happened before - but now a wider Indian audience became receptive to this form of injustice.  Sikhs would join the movement for a Free India in droves and be at the fore of the independence movement.

I would recommend Sikhs today read more into the events - and find for themselves how it resonates for them.  For me it's an episode which marks the decline of the Raj because the British had lost their stronghold over the Sikhs - a relationship based on mutual respect.  It was the beginning of the end of the jewel in the crown, and many of those feelings continue to inform how Britain and India do business today.

There have been many questions about whether the PM should have apologised for the incident - I'm not a fan of politicians apologising for past historic mistakes.  But showing respect is a higher form of apology.  The fact that Mr Cameron made the effort to visit Amritsar and show respect at Sri Harimandir Sahib for me is more than enough (as many Indians may feel).

Journalistic bit
I shared many of these views with journalists who'd requested an interview yesterday on the visit.  I was also inundated by Sikhs trying to get on to the television to talk about it (a bizarre day when one is both subject to and object of media bids!)  BUT I was unable to go on due to commitments.

So I wanted to finish this post with some advise as many wanted to know how to represent the Sikh view in mainstream media.  It's important to make mention here, as I feel some media outlets missed a trick by not speaking to identifiable Sikhs in the UK:

1 - I'm easily contactable so contact me direct if you require my expertise.  I have a strong social media and web presence and one of my numbers is easily reachable.  So you don't need to be shifty or shy about how you got my number.

2 - Media are always looking for new, fresh, young voices on any issue (not just Sikh stories) - as long as they can articulate ideas.  So if you're trying to pitch me your 'community leader' and I ask if they speak English don't be offended, but don't lie ... I know everyone!

3 - Don't call a Gurdwara a temple - I know what a Gurdwara is, you know what a Gurdwara is so let's call it so.  If I can't take you credibly as a 'Sikh expert' how can I expect others to?  Similarly don't water down who you are - be proud of your faith and language.

4 - Let's be friends!  You don't need a lawyer to get in touch, play with a straight bat.

5 - Engage!  There is one Sikh organisation (which doesn't represent mainstream views) but is getting booked by many outlets.  It's because they engage with media - this doesn't mean sending out badly written press releases, but making contact with and keeping links with editors - and on a myriad of topics not just Sikh ones.

* Some might colloquially term the shrine "Golden Temple", but is a western invention which has stuck, which one doesn't like using.  Sikhs don't pray in temples but Gurdwaras.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Visit to the Royal Memorial Chapel

The Royal Memorial Chapel, Sandhurst, holds tributes to British officers who fought during the Great War and Second World War.

What's so unique about the chapel's memorial is that it pays tribute to the officers who led Sikh soldiers.

Sikhs fought for Empire for more than 100 years - from after the annexation of the Punjab in 1849 up to the Second World War in 1945.

They were loyal, brave and maintained their Sikh faith and traditions in battle.

I had the opportunity recently to visit the chapel and see the memorial to those who fought and died.

Hopefully, this short film for "Sikhs At War" will give you an idea of the significance of their sacrifice - and the importance of the act of Remembering those who served.


Volunteers required

The "Sikhs At War" project is looking for volunteers who can offer any assistance in the following ways.
- video graphic production
- graphic designer for print publications
- music production
- marketing experts

If you're interested, drop the team a message via: press@dothyphen.co.uk