Un­veiled a week ago, WW-1 Sikh sol­dier’s statue de­faced in UK

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - FRONT PAGE - Press Trust of In­dia

LON­DON: A UK po­lice force on Satur­day launched an ap­peal to ar­rest van­dals who at­tacked a newly-in­au­gu­rated In­dian war me­mo­rial in the town of Smeth­wick in the West Midlands re­gion of Eng­land.

West Midlands po­lice said of­fi­cers are treat­ing the van­dal­ism to the re­tain­ing wall sur­round­ing the “Lions of the Great War” sculp­ture as “racially-ag­gra­vated crim­i­nal dam­age”.

The 10-foot high statue, which de­picts a Sikh sol­dier sym­bolic of the con­tri­bu­tion of South Asian sol­diers to World War 1, was un­veiled last Sun­day at a spot be­tween the town’s High Street and Toll­house Way and is be­lieved to have been tar­geted with graf­fiti in the early hours of Fri­day. “We un­der­stand that this at­tack has caused a lot of con­cern in the com­mu­nity, and we are work­ing to un­der­stand the rea­sons be­hind it and iden­tify who­ever is re­spon­si­ble,” said sergeant Bill Gill from the Smeth­wick neigh­bour­hood team of West Midlands po­lice.

“Of­fi­cers had al­ready planned to be at the re­mem­brance event which is hap­pen­ing on November 11 at the statue. I’d urge any­one with con­cerns to speak to the of­fi­cers at­tend­ing the event,” he said. He added that CCTV footage is be­ing re­cov­ered and of­fi­cers are work­ing closely with wor­ship­pers and man­age­ment at the Guru Nanak Gur­d­wara Smeth­wick, which had com­mis­sioned the statue to hon­our the sac­ri­fices made by South Asian ser­vice per­son­nel of all faiths from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent who fought for Bri­tain in the Great War and other con­flicts.

The words “Se­poys no more” were daubed on the base of the sculp­ture while a thick black line was drawn through the words “Great War”. “Se­poy” was the term used in the Bri­tish In­dian Army for a sol­dier.

“There was some van­dal­ism to the back wall which is dis­ap­point­ing. The graf­fiti was cleaned off and the mat­ter re­ported to the po­lice,” Jatin­der Singh, pres­i­dent of Guru Nanak Gur­d­wara Smeth­wick, said in a state­ment.

He added: “Work­ing with the coun­cil, we won’t al­low this van­dal­ism to un­der­mine the very strong mes­sage cre­ated by this new mon­u­ment and the over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­ac­tion to its un­veil­ing.”

“What makes this in­ci­dent par­tic­u­larly dis­tress­ing is the com­plete dis­re­gard and lack of re­spect for the sig­nif­i­cance of the statue and in­scrip­tions in­stalled re­cently to com­mem­o­rate the losses felt by many South Asian fam­i­lies who lost their dear ones dur­ing the First World War and to mark 100 years since the end of the Great War,” he said.

The bronze statue was un­veiled last week to com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War 1 in November 1918, also re­ferred to as the ‘Great War’. The gur­d­wara do­nated around 20,000 pounds for the sculp­ture, with the lo­cal Sandwell Coun­cil in­vest­ing in creat­ing the pub­lic space with seat­ing and light­ing to house the new mon­u­ment. The in­au­gu­ral event was at­tended by hun­dreds, in­clud­ing Labour Party MP Preet Kaur Gill, the UK’S first fe­male Sikh MP.

“It is an of­ten over­looked fact that one in every six Bri­tish sol­diers was from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, mak­ing the Bri­tish In­dian Army larger than all the Com­mon­wealth forces that they fought along­side, com­bined,” the Birm­ing­ham Edg­bas­ton MP said in her speech.

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(Above) The statue of Sikh sol­dier that was in­au­gu­rated on November 4; and (right) the de­faced re­tain­ing wall.

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