A memorial of a Sikh soldier has been vandalised just days after its unveiling.
The Lions of Great War statue in Smethwick, Birmingham, was erected in honour of thousands of Indian soldiers who were killed in both world wars.
The 10ft-high bronze statue, commissioned by Sikh temple Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, was unveiled on Sunday November 4, one week before the centenary of the armistice.
It is the first full statue of a South Asian First World War soldier in the UK, honouring the sacrifices made by South Asian service personnel of all faiths from the Indian subcontinent who fought for Britain.
A 10ft statue of a Sikh soldier in Smethwick, is the UK’s first statue of a South Asian Soldier in WW1. It was commissioned by the Guru Nanak Gurdwara and reminds us of the Sikh soldiers that participated in the War. It was unveiled for a tribute to the “Lions of the Great War”. pic.twitter.com/o2TLVQvFwB
— Ra’naaldo (@RvNaa) November 11, 2018
According to Sandwell council, ahead of the unveiling Jatinder Singh, president of the temple, said:
The memorial opposite Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick will honour the sacrifice of all those brave men who travelled thousands of miles to fight for a country that wasn’t their own.
These men volunteered to serve and fought to defend the freedoms we enjoy today. The memorial will ensure that this part is never forgotten. So I am delighted Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick is commissioning the statue and will ensure its success.
Humbled to have been invited to the unveiling of the statue of Lions Of The Great War in Smethwick today. As always made to feel incredibly welcome with wonderful hospitality from @GNGSmethwick. It’s an amazing memorial to fallen comrades of SE Asia in the heart of the town pic.twitter.com/fhYRhtXVvX
— CO 159 Regiment RLC (@CO159Log) November 4, 2018
On November 4, he added:
I’m absolutely so proud.
The contribution of Sikhs and of all other faiths that came over from South Asia is immeasurable.
Sandwell Council leader Councillor Steve Eling said of the memorial:
I am very proud that Smethwick – a place where many people from the Indian subcontinent have made their home – is paying such a striking tribute to the very important role played by South Asian service personnel during times of conflict.
I hope this contributes to the growing recognition of the sacrifices that servicemen from Commonwealth countries have made for our country.
Yesterday I visited the "Lions of the Great War" memorial in Smethwick. If you pass by stop and pay your respects to the fallen. They gave up there's so we could have ours #life #NeverForget #remembrance ❤️🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/gCbrBgKWq0
— Singhwhenyourewinning (@pedalsingh) November 10, 2018
By Friday, November 9, the words ‘sepoys no more’ and ‘1 jarnoi’ had been spray painted on the memorial, while ‘of the Great War’ had been crossed out.
‘Sepoys’ refers to Indian soldiers serving in British or other European armies. According to The Sun, it has been suggested that ‘jarnoi’ may be a reference to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a controversial figure in Indian history who some believed to be a terrorist who wanted to create a Sikh state.
Bhindranwale was killed in 1984 in a gun battle with the Indian army.
West Midlands Police, who are investigating the vandalism, are treating it as as racially aggravated criminal damage.
— Neil Sheane-Smith (@NeilSheane) November 9, 2018
Sergeant Bill Gill, from the Smethwick Neighbourhood Team, said:
We understand that this attack has caused a lot of concern in the community, and we are working to understand the reasons behind it and identify whoever is responsible.
Officers had already planned to be at the remembrance event which is happening tomorrow at the statue.
I’d urge anyone with concerns to speak to the officers attending the event.
I'm going to take a guess that the DICKHEADS that vandalised the #Sikh #WarMemorial in #Smethwick are either left wing agitators or extremists from the "Sikh" community. If you know who they are report them, because we will find them! pic.twitter.com/6HZueSyMsh
— Vic Singh (@vicsinghb) November 9, 2018
The police are investigating CCTV footage and working with management at the temple to find out who is responsible for the vandalism.
West Midlands Police are encouraging anyone with information to get in touch. You can contact police directly on Live Chat via the website between 8am and midnight, via 101 any time of day, or via Crimestoppers in complete confidence on 0800 555 111.
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.