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Sikhs highlight Neuve Chappel combat
Wednesday, September 6, 2006 (Neuve Chappel):
Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee's presence on the 91st anniversary of the battle of Neuve Chappel in France is important.
Around 90,000 officers and men of the Indian army from all parts of the subcontinent in two cavalry and two infantry divisions fought on the western front.
A further 50,000 worked in bases behind the front line remote villages in northwestern France.
During the first and second world wars the Indian National Congress had opposed the deployment of Indian soldiers fighting for the British.
The memory of the men has been forgotten over the decades but now there is a change in attitude.
In the bitter winter of 1915 British troops moved up the western front to attack the German army - more than half of this attacking force was made up of Indian soldiers.
The men were fighting thousands of kilometers away from home. They were often used as cannon fodder by allied forces who pushed them into the killing zone first.
The fighting was some of the most brutal in military history if the bitter cold and the ruthless German Army weren't enough.
There was poison gas to contend with and thousands of Indian soldiers fighting along the frontlines were exposed and died a miserable death.
Many of those killed in Neuve Chappel were Sikhs - men, whose forefathers had fought for the freedom of France.
Today, the Sikh community in France deeply hurt at being denied the right to wear their headgear in schools has a message - respect us our religion and the memory of our men who fought for your country.
"We want to remind the Indian government that forefathers of the Sikhs who laid their lives for France are not being allowed to wear turbans in schools," said Shingars Singh Mann.
The memorandum presented here said no Sikh should be asked to take his turban off arguing that Sikh soldiers died on French soil wearing their turbans.
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