Y.S. Rana : JANGL BERI (Hamirpur)– Jangal is not for a forest as means in the Oxford dictionary. Instead, it is like any other village in Hamirpur district of Himachal Pradesh except for one thing that differs it from others, is that some 96 years ago, 121 of its valiant sons of this habitat fought the First World War in 1914 for British Army. Of these soldiers, who belonged to the Dogra and Baloch Regiments that time, eight were killed in the war. But their names—Sepoy Mohan Lal, Lakh Ram, Ranu Ram, Praja Ram, Kashmira Singh, Bali Ram and Subedar Harkhu Ram—do not figure in any mentions.
The only tribute to these men of courage who served and died for the British Army, is the war memorial the British Government got constructed in the village to salute the valiant act of these soldiers in 1921. After Independence, facing neglect and indifference attitude of the successive state governments and the administration had irked the villagers.
A visit to the site that symbolically represents the valor and sacrifices of its valiant sons now reflects penury of spirit and care. While it marks historical event of patriotism, in a sense it does signify to those who happens to pass the memorial.
Now the memorial is in a state of neglect and whatever maintenance is there that is too due to the villagers who do not forget their valiant sons. However, there was not much that the villagers could do on- their- own. A former, panchayat pradhan stated that after his retirement he had decided to make efforts for the maintenance of the memorial. He began to collect funds from villagers and initiated the renovation of the memorial.
In 1985, he wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher and brought the issue to her notice. She forwarded the letter to the British High Commissioner, New Delhi, to look into the matter. The High Commissioner had asked his military attaché to visit the spot for on the spot information.
The military attaché visited the war memorial and interacted with the villagers. But the presence of INA freedom fighters those fought against the Britishers annoyed him and he left the place in a huff without doing anything for the memorial.
Later, he wrote back saying that he was hurt to know that people in India still had bitter feelings about the British and saw them only as aggressors. Hence, his visit was ended in vain.
Then the matter was brought to the notice of the then Himachal Pradesh Governor Admiral RKS Gandhi. He visited the village and donated Rs 25, 000 for the upkeep and provision of lights around the memorial. Now, with some years gone, the memorial is again in need of funds and villagers are looking up at the government to facilitate the repairs.
It will not be an easy to spot the village, situated on the banks of river Beas on the Hamirpur-Sandhol road, on the district map but it is hard to ignore its presence in the Indian Army. The village is a cluster of 200 houses and has around 800 ser ving or retired soldiers. A member of each family is serving in the Indian Army. It is an unique in district Hamirpur.
The villagers get sentimental when “olive green” is the topic of discussion and the retired soldiers just need to get together to have one. The enthusiasm despite all this has not died, they do not shy away from articulating their opinions about the present policy of the central government of recruitment in the Armed Forces.
Talking to the retired soldiers, they stressed for a regiment from Himachal Pradesh may be formed on the analogy of Sikh, Bihari, Maratha and Garhwal to give an identity to its soldiers. True to the spirit of a soldier, the men in Jangal have not lost hope. Sooner or later, things in this small village begin to turn for better. But the question still remains, does the administration thinks it is worth preserving. EOM