Friday, 11 March 2011

A National Treasure for Sale?

All nations around the world celebrate and honor the deeds of military bravery of their troops by awarding special medals for gallantry through which these brave soldiers are forever commemorated. In Pakistan, too, we have several such medals for military gallantry awarded to a select band of heroes, since Independence in 1947.

However, the historical antecedents of the Pakistan Army (and the present Indian Army too) are even older than Independence/Partition and have their origins in the old British (colonial) Indian Army; dating back to the ‘raising’ or founding of some of the most prestigious cavalry and infantry regiments, generally in the 1840s and 1850s and in some cases, even earlier. Thus, many of the famous regiments of our brave forces today e.g. 5th Cavalry (Probyn’s Horse), 6th Cavalry (DCO’s Lancers), Guides Cavalry, 19th Lancers (King George V’s Own), the Punjab Regiment, the Frontier Force Regiment, the Baluch Regiment and so on, had their beginning in colonial roots and traditions. Indeed, some of the brave sons of this soil proved their valor in various military campaigns even back then—in particular, during the First (1914-18) and Second (1939-45) World Wars and their deeds still live on.

During the two World Wars, native soldiers from these parts (especially the former NWFP and Northern Punjab) won great renown for their bravery and were awarded many medals by the British government, of which the highest, rarest and most coveted was the Victoria Cross (VC)—awarded to only a handful of soldiers between 1914 and 1947. Of this brave handful of recipients of the VC, the most significant , perhaps, was the very first such medal ever awarded to a native soldier i.e. that given to Sepoy Khudadad Khan, a gallant Minhas Rajput from the Salt Range, serving with the old 129th Baluchis (later the 4th Btn, 10th Baluch Regt) at Hollebeke, Belgium, in October 1914. According to Dr S.D Najmuddin, a military historian, this medal “was earned for truly exceptional courage, after being surrounded and attacked by vastly superior numbers and left for dead…Khudadad Khan alone survived and reached back his battalion”.

Khudadad Khan was greatly honored and respected throughout Pakistan, UK and the Commonwealth even after 1947, as a brave man, and he went to many countries as a guest speaker to speak of his own experiences and was received by many heads of state and famous people. Then, alas, to our shame, a shocking tragedy occurred—in 1950, in Pakistan, his VC and some other medals, were stolen by some unscrupulous thief, or thieves. Despite registering an FIR back then, neither the thief/thieves not the stolen medal were ever found.

Many decades have passed since then. Khudadad Khan also passed away, his medal stolen but his name forever enshrined in history; and his family settled in the UK. Today, the very few VCs awarded to native soldiers are deemed as ‘national treasures’ and generally to be found in big museums, or preserved faithfully by the families of recipients. In the rare cases where these medals are sold they are extremely valuable and in major auction houses in the West, might fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars. But selling them is not easy. Prof. Khan, a colonial studies expert, informs us that “Medals such as the VC have a special historical value that goes beyond just rarity or material considerations. Often, a sense of national honor, national prestige, is associated with these. International auctioneers and dealers are very hesitant to sell them, without the prior approval of the recepients’ families and that of the government of the country they belong to. There are certain very strict international laws and procedures that are involved”.

Yet, despite such dire warnings, greed seems to be a strong motivation. Recently, according to confidential sources, Khudadad Khan’s VC, stolen in 1950 and never recovered by the police, has suddenly reappeared in the market. It has supposedly been ‘offered for private sale’ to rich collectors in Pakistan and abroad, secretly, but it is not clear who is the party making this sale. Sources believe that it is some jeweler or goldsmith either in Rawalpindi or Haripur area of Hazara. Would such a sale be legal, as the medal is a stolen one and, moreover, there are larger issues and international laws and procedures involved, as already mentioned?

Finally, another question: Pakistan has already been denuded of many precious antiques, historical relics and artifacts dating from ancient times. Will Khudadad Khan’s VC also fly away out of the country, forever, or will someone act now to trace and save this national treasure for posterity?  

1 comment:

  1. Long Live the gallant heritage of Subedar Khudad Khan VC...Allah rest him in peace in heavens for City of Liverpool UK