The B.C. government has awarded the Indus Media Foundation a one-time grant of $248,000 to share South Asian heritage through exhibition displays and learning tools intended for B.C. schools and community spaces.
"My daughter came back from school. She'd brought a book back. It was about John McCrae's In Flanders Fields and I looked through it and I didn't see a single picture of a turbaned soldier. To my mind, then that book is factually wrong," said Steven Purewal, managing director and curator of the foundation.
The foundation's interactive guided tour called 'Duty, Honour & Izzat — The Call to Flanders Field' commemorates the contribution of the Indian army to the First World War.
During the war, Punjabi soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Canadian troops and suffered enormous losses, according to the exhibit.
"With a common heritage under the Crown, there are many inspirational stories of diverse peoples coming together in solidarity," said Purewal.
Komagata Maru connection
The look of the Indian army could have been much different, believes Purewal, relating the timing of World War One to the Komagata Maru incident in 1914, when a ship full of Indian passengers was turned back from Vancouver harbour.
"The Punjabi community, I feel to it's credit, decided to join the Indian expeditionary force when they could have, you know to be reasonable, they had provocation to not join the expeditionary force. They could have easily said no," said Purewal.
Instead, he says, Punjabis honoured their oath to the sovereign and went to war for their country and its allies.
In the Indian Army, 300,000 soldiers were from the same villages as the people who were onboard the Komagata Maru and denied entry to Canada, said Purewal.
It was the Indus Media Foundation exhibit that encouraged Gurpreet Kaur Bains to connect the dots of her family history.
"I found out that my maternal grandfather, my nana ji, had actually served with the British Indian Army during the Second World War and that he was, in fact, a prisoner of war for five years in a German camp," said Bains, who is the language department head at Surrey's L.A. Matheson Secondary School.
"Seeing the stories woke me up to what was not present in our textbooks and in our society. Everything from history, to Remembrance Day took on new meaning having seen the presentations."
The new funding will help Indus Media expand its existing display exhibit and create a resource package for teachers that can be shared in classrooms throughout the province.
"World War One's legacy will forever be remembered by British Columbians of all backgrounds," said Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
The contributions of the British Columbians of Indian descent will be fully implemented in the school curriculum by Sept. 2018.
"Now, we're able to say we were there as well. Not only were we there, we were a huge part of the victory. We were significant in the victory," said Purewal.