From a military legacy left by the British

The current generation may be unaware of the Order of the Britons India (OBI). Established in 1837 by the East India Company (EIC), the OBI was a coveted military decoration and chivalric order presented for “long, faithful and honorable service”. The powers of the EIC ceased after the Indian mutiny and the OBI became part of the British honors system in 1859. However, the Order became obsolete in 1947 after the partition of British India.

The OBI recognized Indian officers serving in the East India Company’s military forces. However, these so-called “native officers” faced slow promotion under a seniority-based advancement system.

My paternal grandfather, Lieutenant M Narayanasami (Sirdar Bahadur), who lived at 127 Thimmiah Road in Shivajinagar, fought in the Great War (WWI) and served in theaters such as Afghanistan, Turkey and the ‘Iraq. Among his coveted war decorations are the OBI (First Class) awarded at the 1911 Delhi Coronation (King George V and Queen Mary traveled to Delhi for the Durbar after their coronation in London), Indian General Service (IGS) Afghanistan 1919 clasp and the General service Clasp Iraq 1921.

Grandfather’s OBI and other stripes and medals are now a treasured family heirloom. His certificate indicates that he joined Madras Sappers and Miners Regiment on 13.06.1906 and served the force with distinction for nearly three decades. His headstone in Kalpalli Cemetery shows that he died aged 65 on January 31, 1950. Like many Army Officers of old, he had a passion for horse riding and the elders remember having seen him on his mount.

In September 1939, the British extended eligibility to include native officers serving in Indian States forces, border corps and the military police. In January 1944, they expanded to include native officers and Indian warrant officers in the Royal Indian Navy and the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery and foreign officers.

In addition, they could be made honorary members of the Order.

—Ravi Chander, a resident of HRBR Layout

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