There are thousands of British and other European cemeteries, isolated graves and monuments in South Asia. There is no official body to look after the graves of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers killed in the wars and campaigns fought by the British in South Asia, or of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who died in that part of the world from the 17th to the 20th centuries. This is where BACSA comes in. Our remit, extending to 1947, is to help with the preservation of civilian graveyards. The UK’s diplomatic missions overseas have no responsibility to care for such cemeteries and monuments. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after the World War cemeteries.
In 1949 the British Government decided not to support the maintenance of the European cemeteries in India and Pakistan and to leave the task of caring for the graveyards to those countries’ Christian congregations. The Governments of India and Pakistan gave assurances that they would protect cemeteries from destruction and desecration. In India certain monuments and graveyards are under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and of State authorities.
Without BACSA’s support many of the unprotected graves and monuments – witness to centuries of European residence in the area – will disappear. Our logo is an image of a chowkidar or watchman, for BACSA acts as a kind of watchman over those many thousands who lie ‘gone but not forgotten’ in undivided India and elsewhere in South Asia’.
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 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. For further information about the growth and development of Britain’s presence in the Indian subcontinent, and BACSA’s remit, please click here for a little bit of history.
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…
- 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 conservation work and talks by invited speakers.
- Arrange a programme of visits and activities with a South Asia theme.
- Sell, exclusively to members, second-hand books on subjects likely to be of interest to them.
How are we funded?
BACSA is a small charity without staff or offices run by volunteers working from home. It receives no tax-payer or official financial support. It relies entirely on the generosity of its members, donors and volunteers. Members’ subscriptions help to meet annual running costs such as the printing and mailing of notices and of our journal; renting rooms for our twice-yearly members’ meetings; administration expenses. Over the years members and others have made generous donations towards BACSA’s capital fund that provides an annual income that is employed to finance projects. Other individuals, charities and businesses have donated funds to aid particular projects, for example the Hyderabad Residency Cemetery and the Nicholson Cemetery, both in India. Income from the lecture programme and funds raised from the sale of donated second-hand books help finance BACSA’s conservation projects.
You can support BACSA by becoming a member, making a donation or leaving a legacy in your Will. Please contact the membership secretary.