Paris, Dec 22 (IANS) In a moving ceremony, organised here for the first time, martyred Indian soldiers were remembered at the iconic Arc de Triomphe, which is home to the Flame in the Memory of the Unknown Soldier.
The flame has been rekindled by the French army every single day since November 1923, even during the Second World War when Paris was occupied by the Germans. However, so far it had never been done in the memory of Indian soldiers, even though over 10,000 of them laid down their lives in the defence of France and other allied nations in the First World War, which had seen over 130,000 Indian soldiers arrive in France to battle the Germans.
The proof of the valiant Indian soldiers lies in Neuve Chapelle, a small village on the border with Belgium, where 4,200 Indian soldiers were killed in intense fighting that lasted over three days. The Indian armies finally drove out the German occupiers and gained control of this strategic village.
To commemorate these soldiers, the Indian community got together with the Indian embassy here, to organise a ceremony for the first time. The initiative was taken by Rajaram Munuswamy, secretary general of GOPIO International, the organisation that brings together persons of Indian origin in various countries around the world.
“In this centenary year of the World War I, we have organised several events to honour Indian soldiers and that is why we approached the French defence ministry to allow us commemorate the ceremony at this unique monument. This is the first time in the history of France that the Indian community is remembering its soldiers,” Munuswamy told this correspondent.
For this occasion, GOPIO chose a very auspicious and indeed apt day, December 16, which is also celebrated as the V-Day in 1971 war with Pakistan and which led to the creation of Bangladesh.
The flame was lit by Indian Ambassador Mohan Kumar in the presence of over 400 members of the Indian diaspora, who had gathered not only from France but also from Britain, Guadeloupe and Mauritius, among other countries. Notable among those present were GOPIO International president Diljit Rana GOPIO International chairman Mahen Utchanah.
Before the fflame was lit, the diaspora members organised a small march on the Champs Elysées, bearing the Indian tricolour as well as the flags of France and GOPI.
On the occasion, Mohan Kumar thanked the Indian community in France for having taken the initiative and joining in the efforts of the Indian embassy to ensure that a proper recognition is awarded to the valiant efforts and sacrifices made by the Indian soldiers in France over a century ago.
After the brief ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, the event continued in a near-by hotel where the Indian ambassador and prominent GOPIO members shared their thoughts on the unity and cohesion needed among the communities worldwide to combat the terrorism which has no frontiers and affects the humanity.
(Ranvir Nair is a Paris-based senior Indian journalist. He can be contacted at email@example.com)