Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Lascar War Memorial, Kolkata dedicated to Indian soldiers who died in world war I


Luscar war memorial, Kolkata. Concrete Paparazzi-blogger         

Luscar war memorial, Kolkata.The Concrete Paparazzi -blogger

Above image: Lascar War Memorial (1924), Kolkata, West Bengal.built in memory of Indian soldiers who died in WWI. The image shows  the projecting prow with the waves at the sides. ..........

The Calcutta Presidency during the hey day of the British rule saw innumerable colonial buildings and memorials coming  up and it shows the strong roots the British had in India, in particular,  Kolkata and also places like Madras (Chennai) and Mumbai (Bombay).  After India's independence, many of these monuments are wilting under age, neglect and poor maintenance. Across India efforts are underway to restore them back to old charm and grandeur. Thanks to thousands of people who want the old structures - both colonial as well as others preserved for the progeny. The Luscar war memorial near Ft. Williams and Vidhyasagar is an interesting structure that was repaired and restored back to old glory by certain responsible citizens of Kolkata. Now, this place attracts lots of tourists and in the past few years the scenario has changed  from one of gloom and despondency to that of joy and excitement. Many cultural events take place in this area. This is really a positive change for a place that had been in a state of neglect since independence. 

The Lascar War Memorial, located on Napier Road in the Hastings area of Kolkata, is a historical structure dedicated to the memory of lascars (sailors from the Indian subcontinent) who died serving on ships of the Royal Navy and British Merchant Service during World War. It was designed by the British architect 
William Ingram Keir who designed many buildings in India such as the Chittor Victory Tower,  Kidderpore Bridge, Islamia College, etc.

A lascar or Lashkar (a Persian word), means  a sailor or militiaman from the Indian Subcontinent or other countries east of S. Africa employed on British / European ships. They were  under
'lascar' agreement during the period between 16th century until the beginning of the 20th century.  The agreement entails the ship owners more control over the lascars than that does not come under the purview of the agreement. Such Indian sailors are employable for three years at a time subject to transfer from one ship to another. They mostly worked for the British officers and the lascars were referred to as "servants".

During the first World War (28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918) Indian soldiers from Bengal (undivided) fought on the allied side under the British against the Central Forces headed by Germany. About  1,300,000 Indian soldiers  had fought along with the British army in World War I in the most difficult  and grueling situation in far off countries such as France and Flanders, Egypt and Mesopotamia, etc. Their overall conditions - food, nature of job, etc., were  quite appalling  and the bad news is none was a commissioned officer  and the pay was very poor, though the money for the military  came from  the Indian exchequer. Uniforms, arms and ammunition and many  items related to military were supplied by the British India - at Indian tax payers' money!! The ones from Bengal were mostly Muslims and there was no unanimity among them to battle with other Muslim soldiers for the sake of the British. This led to some uprising among them and, at last, they were suppressed by the British; having no choice, they participated in the world war I.

Luscar war memorial, Kolkata. Rangan Datta-WordPress.com
The shipping and mercantile companies took interest and erected the memorial in memory of  896 Lascars of undivided Bengal (part became Bangladesh nation) and Assam who lost their lives during World War I.  The 100 feet tall tower was unveiled by Lord Lytton, then Governor of Bengal on 6 February 1924. 

The monument, a four-sided tall tower, has an interesting design depicting the prow of an ancient galley in the ship projected on each side of the column. The upper part of the monument has  four small minarets and a large gilt dome and it resembles the victory tower of Chittor also designed by William Ingram Keir. The design has basic Indo-Mogul architectural elements.

Luscar war memorial, Kolkata. Wikimedia Commons

There are  three plaques inside the tower below the inscription "Lascar Memorial." One plaque commemorates the unveiling of the memorial by Lord Lytton,  Governor of Bengal. The second plaques mentions  who erected the memorial and the number of Indian casualty from Bengal and other states in Upper India; the term Lascar is not used here.  The third smaller plaques tell about the renovation and lighting of the Lascar War Memorial after independence as part 40th anniversary celebration of INS Netaji Subash Chandra Bose (earlier known as INS Hoogley) on 7 December 1994. This memorial was adopted by the Indian Navy through the efforts of Naval officer Mohanti.

Luscar war memorial, Kolkata. Wikimedia Commons
 Thanks to William's son James and commodore B K Mohanti who took the initiative in the mid 1990s, repaired the monument and restored it back to glory with the help of some like-minded people and Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (Intach). After India's independence, this impressive monument was in a state of neglect and had just begun to  crumble.  

According to Mohanti, ....."a splendid memorial for subalterns exists." it happened due to the concerted efforts of various people from Bengal and William Kier's son.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Forgotten-war-memorial-gets-its-place-in-history/articleshow/17082206.cms?referral=PM

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lascar_War_Memorial