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Indian soldier fought WWI, widow battles for his honour

Posted on Mar 30 2014 | IANS

By Vishal Gulati, Shimla, March 30 : As Indian soldiers who fought World War I are going to be remembered and honoured by Britain this year in commemoration of the 100th anniversary, a George Cross recipient Indian soldier's widow is struggling to get the lost honour back.

For Brahmi Devi, who received the George Cross awarded to her martyred husband from Viceroy Field Marshal Lord Wavell in 1946, the celebrations have no meaning.

"A series of events lined up to commemorate the centenary anniversary of the battle have no relevance for me. Till date, I am not able to get back the last remembrance of my late husband," Devi, who lives in a village in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh, told IANS Saturday.

Her husband Naik Kirpa Ram was awarded the George Cross, considered the civilian counterpart of Britain's highest military decoration -- the Victoria Cross -- for sacrificing his life to save his comrades while disposing of a misfired rifle grenade at a camp in Bangalore Sep 12, 1945.

But the medal was allegedly stolen from Devi's house in 2002. After a prolonged legal battle, her counsel in Britain managed to get back the medal. But it is still lying with the counsel. Devi said the British authorities have so far not facilitated the process for the return of the medal to India.

"The medal is lying with the counsel (in London) for more than three months now. Neither the Indian nor British authorities have so far tried to return the medal to me," she said over phone.

"If Britain intends to honour the World War I heroes, restoring the bravery medal to its original owner will be another honour for a soldier who survived the British Indian Army's Burma campaign (1944-45)," she added.

Members of the Indian community in London have raised a charity of GBP12,000 (over Rs.10 lakh) to procure the medal from Ashok Nath, a former Indian Army officer who purchased it from an antique shop in Delhi.

Devi's nephew Surinder Thakur, settled in Shimla, once a village that served as the summer capital of British India between 1864 and 1939, said the medal is currently in the possession of one of her counsel, Vijay Sharma.

"We are grateful to the Indian community raising a charity of GBP12,000 to procure the medal. But now we expect the authorities in London to return the heritage back to the rightful owner at the earliest," he said.

According to Thakur, an Indian philanthropist contributed GBP8,000.

A court in the UK last year declared the medal was the property of the soldier's widow Brahmi Devi and was to be kept with the British Metropolitan Police till Dec 31, 2013.

But the Queen's Bench division in the high court of justice, in its order dated June 5, said before the medal was restored to her, the defendant (Brahmi Devi) would have to pay the claimant (Nath) costs and expenses to the tune of GBP12,000.

"My only wish is to get back my husband's last memory before I die," Brahmi Devi, 80, said.

The issue of the stolen medal came to light when Britain's leading auction house Dix Noonan Webb listed the medal for auction Dec 2, 2009.

When the controversy arose, the head of the auctioneer, based in Mayfair, London, had then said Ram's George Cross medal was "disposed of" by his widow in 2000 -- and not stolen from her house as she claims.

Later, on the intervention of the Indian government, the British authorities ordered the medal be withdrawn from the auction.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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