The gate stands as a narrative of collective memory, recognizing the over 1.5 million soldiers from pre-partition India
In a significant move to honour the sacrifices and contributions of Indian soldiers in both World Wars, the seaside town of Brighton in south-east England has initiated a new tradition. Starting October 2024, the town will host an annual multi-faith event at the India Gate memorial to remember the soldiers from undivided India who fought alongside British forces.
The India Gate, located at the southern entrance of the Royal Pavilion, is a poignant symbol of gratitude from the "princes and people of India" to the town of Brighton for its role during the wars. The gate itself, unveiled on October 26, 1921, by the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, links Brighton to the Indian subcontinent.
The gate stands not just as a physical structure but as a narrative of collective memory, recognizing the over 1.5 million soldiers from pre-partition India who served in World War I and the more than 2.5 million who participated in World War II. These soldiers came from the modern-day nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar, making up the largest volunteer army in history.
According to recent media reports, the decision to introduce an annual event was agreed upon by the Brighton & Hove Council’s Culture, Heritage, Sport, Tourism & Economic Development Committee. Councillor Alan Robins, the chair of the committee, emphasized the importance of sharing the diverse stories of these soldiers. “This event is a fitting way to ensure our residents recognize their contributions and sacrifices and better understand the varied histories of our multicultural city,” one news report quoted him as stating.
The event aims to extend beyond a typical remembrance ceremony by fostering an understanding and appreciation of the multicultural backgrounds of the soldiers, reflecting the city's inclusive and welcoming ethos. The gathering will be a multi-faith one, emphasizing the diversity of the Indian soldiers' religious backgrounds and celebrating the city’s reputation for social cohesion.
The planning and execution of the event will be a collaborative effort involving the Brighton & Hove Museums and the City Council. Additionally, the local Armed Forces personnel and veterans, the Undivided Indian Ex-Services Association, and leaders from the wider South Asian community will be engaged to ensure the event respects and accurately represents the histories and sentiments involved.
Councillor Mohammed Asaduzzaman, set to become Brighton & Hove’s first South Asian Mayor, is a staunch supporter of the initiative. He has been quoted as saying, “I am delighted to see this project approved. It is essential we ensure the harmonious interaction of groups with various cultural identities and celebrate their willingness to live together.”
As part of this initiative, efforts will also be directed towards the restoration of the Indian Gate and the Royal Pavilion Garden, with funding support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. These efforts aim to preserve the physical monuments and the stories they represent.
The new annual event at the India Gate will serve as a significant addition to Brighton’s cultural calendar, creating a space for reflection, education, and appreciation of the contributions of Indian soldiers to Britain’s military history. It promises to be a powerful reminder of the shared history and enduring bonds between Brighton and the Indian subcontinent.