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A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

ISKCON France Participates in the 100th Commemorative Ceremonies of the Armistice After World War I
By Gaurangi Dasi   |  Feb 07, 2019

Eighty countries sign another peace treaty in Paris

November 11th 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice of World War I. On this occasion, France was very busy receiving 72 heads of state and hundreds of diplomatic missions who had come for a collective rememberance of this terrible war during a grand celebration inmemory of the millions of soldiers who gave their life for freedom. In Paris President Macron, representing France, Angela Merkel, representing Germany, along with representatives of 80 other countries signed another world peace treaty with the hope of ending all wars in the future.  

Honoring the 80 000 Indian soldiers who gave their life for freedom

As a member of the Interfaith Shaheedi Commemoration Charity, ISKCON devotee Nitai Gaurasundar Dasa, previous president of ISKCON Paris for 20 years, was invited to Laventie, a village in Northern France, for a special event. It was the first time that a commemorative sculpture made in India was installed in a French village. It was in Laventie, located in the Somme area, that about 80 000 Indian soldiers serving the English Raj had lost their life. Different personalities had come to the military celebration: Mr.Saïd Attah Hassrain, a retired Indian general of the Indian army, Laventie’s mayor Jean-Philippe Boonaert, an ex mayor of South London  and hundreds of  French Indians from the Paris diaspora. The French and Indian flags were ceremoniously hoisted and fluttered in the air. 

Many Sikhs’ names on the Richebourg wall commemorating the fallen Indian soldiers.

In his speech the ISKCON Vaishnava glorifies the courageous Indian soldiers  

“The memory of these 80 000 Indian soldiers will remain engraved in this statue for future generations, emphasized Nitai Gaurasundar Das. These dear soldiers are often forgotten in history textbooks, even though  they had done the  ultimate sacrifice of their life; they had left their families and their country for the first time, never to return. They had to undergo many austerities, very cold climate, food that was rationed and very different from the one in their native India; they also had to face a kind of primitive racism which obliged them to keep a subordinate position under the British command, whom they served with dignity and submission. 

At a time when more than 80 countries are signing yet another world peace treaty in Paris, also at a time when there has never been so many weapons and sophisticated military equipment, when the threats of economic, political and military wars have never been so strong, we hope that our humble efforts to participate in a lasting peace will be considered. We will never forget the sacrifice of these millions of Indian soldiers who died in this country so that today’s world may know peace, love and freedom.”

Unveiling of a bronze statue of Indian soldiers 

After the few official talks by dignitaries a local marching band played the French Marseillaise and the Indian National Anthem. Then the mayor of Laventie and interfaith president Ramesh Vohra unveiled the commemorative bronze sculpture representing Indian soldiers during  World War I. This 47-kilogram sculpture measures one meter high and one meter long.  They also planted a “Tree of freedom”  (Arbre de la Liberté) in the surrounding gardens of the local church and the few hundreds participants were received in the main town hall for a cocktail and lunch, which included some Krishna prasadam.

Nitai Gaurasundar Das and others planting the Freedom Tree in Laventie

If there are enough finances another higher and larger statue (4 meter high and 12 meter long), weighing 12 tons, will be erected near Laventie, in the town of Richebourg. 

After the war, the British erected there a huge memorial in Indian architectural style, which has the names of the 4,500 Indian soldiers who died in that area. In 2015, Nitai Gaurasundar and several ISKCON devotees participated in the Richebourg commemorative celebrations, which gave them the opportunity to meet various personalities, both Indian and French: the Indian ambassador in Paris, a deputy, a catholic bishop and some army generals. 

Gaurangi dasi during the 2015 ceremony in Richebourg

Tag: armistice , france , history , war , wwi
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