Forty years ago our founder, Theon Wilkinson, decided to give his son an unusual 21st birthday present in the form of a joint trip to India where he, Theon, had been born and brought up. The expedition would enable the father to recapture the scenes of his youth and the son to enjoy for the first time the many fascinations of that astounding country. The trip was a great success, but in one respect it shocked Theon. He discovered that many cemeteries, after thirty years of neglect following the British departure from India, had fallen into a sad state of desolation and disrepair. They were frequently overgrown by jungle, tombs were crumbling and sometimes being used as a source of building material. Some cemeteries were being vandalised, encroached on by makeshift dwellings, used as latrines, or disappearing under new roads or housing. He decided to do something about it, believing that there must be many like himself who remembered India as it had been in former times and who would be willing to help especially if some of their own forebears were buried in Indian cemeteries. After much preparatory labour and a further fact finding trip to India, in 1977 he was able to set up the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (or Bacsa for short).
Bacsa’s historical and geographical remit is vast. Historically it extends from 1600 when the British East India Company was founded to 1947/48 when India, Pakistan and Burma achieved independence and the Malay Federation was set up; geographically it ranges from the Near East to the Far East.
It is unrealistic to hope that more than a small proportion of the cemeteries in this vast area can be preserved, but Bacsa believes that where they can be, they should be, and over the years it has helped to fund over a hundred conservation projects. Even if cemeteries must revert to nature or their existence must give way to the many new needs of a fast developing region, at least the names of those interred in them can be recorded so that, in the words of the familiar memorial inscription, they are “gone but not forgotten”. We have published over forty ‘Cemetery Record Books’ and our archives now contain many more lists of memorial inscriptions.
And we also
Can help track down graves of relatives and others of interest.
Record monumental inscriptions in the British Isles relating to the British in South Asia.
Publish our house journal, Chowkidar, twice a year, containing a wide range of news, queries about ancestors, topics of interest and reviews of books about South Asia.
Hold two meetings a year in London when members hear reports on cemeteries, the progress of restoration work and talks by invited speakers.
Arrange visits to places in Britain with South Asian connections.
Sell, exclusively to members, second hand books on subjects likely to be of interest to them.