My friend and course-mate Colonel Qaiser Rashid sent me one of Ayaz Amir’s recent articles.
Mr Ayaz Amir, is an excellent writer whose sense of outraged justice over the treatment of Pakistan’s Christian minority has received my gratitude in writing. His nifty penmanship alone makes him worth reading while his ideas are food for thought.
How The British Rewarded Punjab is just such an idea, published in The News on November 14, which did feed my thoughts on the remembrance of Punjabi World War I Victoria Cross recipients during the commemoration ceremonies of that War. My thoughts were well fed, though perhaps in a direction not forseen by Ayaz Amir Sahib. Unless he wished to inspire debate on an open subject.
“The soldiers in question, who were undoubtedly heroes, were fighting not for India but for the greater glory of the British Empire.”
The fine article then goes on to cite historical reasons for downplaying the achievements of these hereditary warriors.
Now that is a pity.
These soldiers were neither fighting for India nor for the British Empire. They were Rajputs, Jats, Pashtuns, Dogras, Maharathas, Garhwalis, Gurkhas — Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians — you name it! Every fighting brand nurtured in the sub-continent for the duration of its history was eager to prove its mettle in pursuit of its ancestral tradition.
Closer to home are the two Victoria Cross recipients from Pothohar, both proud Rajputs, an assertion which implicitly acknowledges their Hindu Kshatriya roots, and the dharmic justification for The Way of the Warrior. When their ancestors became Muslim, they saw no conflict of interest in continuing this tradition within the framework of their chosen belief system.
And that is what led around 350 million soldiers to fight in both World Wars.
Plus the rewards.
Agricultural land in the Punjab opened up by the canal irrigation system neither belonged to the Joneses nor the Khanses, Singhses or the Mallses. Accordingly, the gora generously allotted land in recognition of services rendered at the peril of their lives to warriors considered superior to their own (not a bad promotional point …!).
On this issue at least, Indians and Pakistanis don’t fight each other!
Led by Urdu, Hindi and Marathi speakers, the urban, educated class bitterly criticizes Punjabis for not coming to the aid of the Urdu and Maharashtri speaking leadership of the 1857 War of Independence. Debauched or inept leaders had been propelled to the forefront of events by rebel Sepoys who even called Bahadur Shah Zafar “Ohé Budhae” when he hesitated to accept the honour being bestowed upon him.
I really don’t know since I wasn’t there but a gora called William Dalrymple told me that one!
The Punjabi disdain for the 1857 War of Independence (the odd chieftain apart) has its own justification.
Firstly, the leadership was as poor as the excellent illustration in Satyajit Ray’s movie, The Chess Players. The Punjabis could see no reason to shed their blood in order to restore decadence.
Secondly, from 1758-1761 the Maharathas attacked and plundered the Punjab, demanding their one-fourth share — chauth — from its farmers.
Whatever level of literacy Punjabis might have has never adversely affected their memories!
Thirdly, during the Sikh Wars of 1845-1849, nearly two thirds of the Order of Battle on the British side consisted of Uttar Pradesh soldiers known to the Punjabis as poorbiyas. They are remembered for eating leftovers of the British to kick their Punjabi brethrens’ bootyas.
A decade later, their squeals for help from a people whom they were convinced had dysfunctional memories fell on deaf ears, just as the Punjabi Sirdars’ badrak roars of help were ignored by their Maharatha and UP brethren.
Their belief system notwithstanding, South Asian warriors have fought through the ages for whoever offered them decent employment, good leadership and a chance to practice their dharma.
They fought for Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian employers.
They fought within the sub-continent and outside of it.
Husseini Brahmins are Mohyal Brahmins, like Sanjay Dutt, who are supposed to have been the guardians of the bait-ul-mal treasury at the Battle of Karbala — October 10, 680 — that involved Hazrats Hassan and Hussein!
And at the end of the day, the real reward is being reaped by around five million South Asian immigrants in Britain — 1.5 immigrant per active warrior in both World Wars. Now that’s what I call a reward!
These warriors were neither traitors, nor stupid little brown men exploited by a colonial power for a fistful of rupees and hot dal roti. They maintained the finest manly traditions of Indo-European culture and improved their family fortunes at sword-point and at the peril of their lives.
Let us honourably remember them as they and their highly educated descendants would prefer and not as a platform for political determinism.