Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Freedom fighters of a different genre

The Tribune Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Chandigarh, India by Harwant Singh
The freedom movement was fast gaining momentum and all of the military could not remain totally unaffected. During leave, members of the regiment came in contact with Congress workers and some revolutionaries. On return, they disseminated what was picked up during leave. A few nationalist newspapers too were secretly being brought into the regiment. Since all ranks, to the exclusion of British officers were in it, this development remained under warps. There were a few secret meetings where nationalist feelings were expressed openly and vociferously, by the more vocal.
World War II had started and Indian troops were being moved to check the Italian offensive in North Africa. Soon this regiment too, received orders to move to that theatre of war. At one of the secrets meetings in the regiment it was unanimously decided by all personnel that they will decline to board the ship for move to North Africa to fight Britain’s war.
The regiment was moved to Bombay, on way to the war zone. At Bombay it was ‘formed-up,’ by squadrons, on the railway platform to be taken by train to the dockyard for further transportation by sea. There was a light drizzle and the atmosphere was surcharged with expectations of frightful consequences, as squadrons waited to defy orders. Then the adjutant gave orders to the troops to board the train. The Dogra and Jat squadrons mounted the train, forgetting the collective decision not to go abroad to fight Britain’s war, while the Sikh squadron personnel kept standing and did not react to the adjutant’s order. The adjutant repeated the order and still the Sikh squadron did not respond.
This disobedience by the Sikh squadron came as a great shock and surprise to the British officers of the regiment. The Sikh squadron had an enviable service record, spread over nearly a century, including during World War I and its personnel were considered fine soldiers, valiant, imbued with the spirit of sacrifice, loyal and true to their cause and oath.
The squadron was ordered to ‘ground arms,’ which the personnel dutifully did. Thereafter they were marched off to the barracks and placed under arrest. Several court martials were held. The charge was one of mutiny. Many were sentenced to be hanged, more were sentenced to life imprisonment, some others to varying lengths of prison terms. The remaining cashiered from service and the squadron was disbanded.
At the centenary raising day celebrations of the regiment in the late fifties, some from that squadron too came to join in the activities. Most amongst them had served life imprisonment and some others lesser terms, while the remaining had been cashiered from service. They had no regret for their action, nor any bitterness or rancour towards those, who had betrayed the collective decision not to fight Britain’s war, or remorse for the sufferings they had to undergo. They had acted according to their light, suffered much, lost everything and wanted no recompense for their tribulations. They too were freedom fighters, but of an altogether different genre.
Freedom fighters of a different genre

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