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Apologising For Pervasive Racism

Britain has apologised, although lately, for a mistake committed a century ago. London has also admitted that no one remembered the thousands of coloured soldiers who perished in the First World War, while fighting for the British Empire. Not a soul, till now, seemingly, has paid the slightest amount of respect to them in the last 100 years. There is no memorial plaque or tomb in their memory, as the British Government has always treated them simply as numbers. As per official record, the British Armed Forces had nearly 116,000 non-White personnel during the First World War. Unofficially, the figure might have been 350,000! That list includes 50,000 Indian soldiers. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission has acknowledged that Black and Brown soldiers from different parts of Asia, Africa and West Asia were victims of Racial Discrimination even after their deaths.

Millions of soldiers from various European countries, as well as India, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania, were killed in the First World War. While the White-skinned soldiers received due respect for sacrificing their lives, with the Government of Britain building memorials for each of them, the Black and Asian troops did not get the recognition, thus, due to them.

On April 23, 2021, Robert Ben Lobban Wallace – the British Secretary of State for Defence – expressed “deep regret” in the House of Commons, saying: “On behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Government both of the time and today, I want to apologise for the failures to live up to their founding principles all those years ago and express deep regret that it has taken so long to rectify the situation.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson, too, was “deeply troubled” by failures to properly commemorate Black and Asian troops who had died fighting for the British Empire during the First World War.

The Report has mentioned that General Cox, who was in charge of the Indian soldiers at that time, was of the opinion that there was no need to record the names of Hindu and Muslim martyrs from India. The General had reportedly advised the British Government not to build separate plaque or tomb for everyone. The Report, which blamed the British Government for “Pervasive Racism“, revealed that many officers of the British Army used to believe in imperialist, religious and racial divisions at that period of time. Wallace has also acknowledged this fact, stressing: “Whilst we can’t change the past, we can make amends and take action.

Indian Soldiers in British Army during WWI

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission is responsible for giving due respect to those neglected and ignored during the two World Wars. Now, the question arises here: Why does Britain take so much time to tender apology when the issue had come before the Commission almost a decade ago? Claire Horton, the Director General of the Commission, said: “We recognise the wrongs of the past and are deeply sorry and will be acting immediately to correct them.” She told the Press: “Now that we know the numbers and the areas to look – to start the searches properly to right the wrongs of the past.

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