Annual Reports

President’s Letter

I am sure I was not alone when, at midnight on 31st December, I had misgivings about what 2024 holds in store. The international outlook has seldom looked more fragile. The war in Ukraine shows no sign of resolution, as the toll of death and destruction mounts. The appalling attack by Hamas on civilians on 7 October, has provoked a military response from Israel which is forecast to last many more months and is already causing an humanitarian crisis in Gaza. To cap it all, assaults by Houthi rebels on ships in the Gulf of Aden are threatening passage through the Suez Canal. Fortunately, none of these zones of conflict involves countries where BACSA operates. Nevertheless the prospects for world peace look bleak.

2024 is also set to bring political uncertainty, with elections scheduled in many democracies. There will be a General Election in the UK, probably in the second half of the year, and a Presidential Election in the USA, which is likely to be a roller-coaster. The three largest countries of the Indian sub-continent are also going to the polls. The General Election in Bangladesh is on 7 January. The General Election in Pakistan due to be held on 8 February was postponed. We should be grateful that the democratic process is still functioning in these countries and trust that the elections are as free and fair as possible and that the votes of the electorate are respected.

Of greater significance to BACSA is the General Election in India, which is expected to take place sometime between April and May. It is widely predicted that Prime Minister Modi’s BJP party will win a third consecutive term.

If that happens, one can only hope that the self-confidence Hindu nationalists are likely to derive from this further mark of their political dominance brings with it a realisation that modern India has little or nothing to fear from the contribution that foreign charities and NGOs make to Indian social and cultural life. Changing place names is one thing, and understandable. Neglecting or, worse still demolishing, built heritage is another. India has nothing to lose, and much to gain, from the preservation of the buildings and monuments of the Mughal and British Raj periods. They attract tourism and advertise India’s rich history.

Yet there is no denying that politics impinges more and more on the work that BACSA seeks to do. Even if the authorities in India come to appreciate that there is touristic value in our conservation of graves and cemeteries, we need to do more to create a public benefit out of our projects, wherever possible. This is especially true where the cemetery or memorial is in an urban area. Landscaping and ongoing maintenance (often very difficult to arrange) affords the community a usable green space. This is a real challenge, because engaging the support of a community is only achievable with a strong local lead. BACSA’s Executive is in no doubt, however, that the amenity element of our projects deserves greater focus if our work is to have lasting effect. This is nowhere better explained than in the second of BACSA’s Conservation Manuals, written (as the first) by Dr Neeta Das, who has done such amazing work for the restoration of the Scottish Cemetery in Calcutta. Entitled “A Practical Handbook for Historic Cemeteries in South Asia and Community Engagement“, it has just been posted on BACSA’s website as a downloadable copy and it will be reviewed in the next edition of Chowkidar.

Bearing in mind the guidance in this Handbook, we will be concentrating our major conservation efforts in 2024 on “flagship cemeteries” where we believe we can provide a lasting public benefit. At the same time, we shall be supporting conservation at smaller cemeteries e.g. Ambala, where the local community has demonstrated initiative and commitment to the project.

There have been, and are about to be, several important changes in the BACSA Executive. Already announced at the General Meeting last October is the appointment of Rachel Magowan as Communications Officer and of Robin Boon to replace Christopher Carnaghan as Membership Secretary. We have already expressed our thanks to Christopher at the GM for the 19 years he has managed and steadily improved our membership database.

Brigadier Ian Rees also retired from the Executive last autumn, but fortunately he continues as Cemetery Records Officer. This is a role he has made his own. It is one in which he has done, and continues to do, a great deal of painstaking work in preparing our records digital access.

Other Executive changes are imminent. Dr Rosemary Raza is stepping down as Events Officer (a post she has held since 2016) and Tina Davies is taking her place. Rosemary will be leaving the Executive at the AGM but has agreed to continue in her role of organising our general meetings. Rosemary supported Valerie Haye in launching the BACSA Lecture Series and, since the Covid pandemic, has re-energised BACSA’s calendar with a number of well-attended events. Her contribution will be greatly missed.

Also at the AGM, Valmay Young is relinquishing her responsibility as BACSA Website Manager – a post she undertook in 2018. She has kindly agreed to mentor Rachel Magowan as Rachel assumes the role. Valmay played a major part in bringing BACSA’s new website to fruition. Valmay’s grasp of the software underpinning the website has been truly impressive. But for her input, BACSA would not be operating on-line as it is today.

I have saved the most significant of our impending departures until last. Our Honorary Secretary, Peter Boon, retires this year after holding the post for 10 years. There are a number of routine but significant tasks which the Hon. Sec. performs, such as preparing Agendas and writing Reports for Executive and General Meetings, liaising with and reporting to the Charity Commission, keeping track of the audit process and the need for elections and co-options to the Executive, and being guardian of the Constitution. All these tasks Peter has performed admirably, and well in advance of any deadlines. But the tribute I would wish to pay is to Peter’s mastery of the annals of BACSA. If anyone ever wanted to do know when BACSA had last been consulted about, or received a report on, a particular cemetery or monument, Peter immediately had the answer. If we needed to know who had been generous with a donation, and when, and for what purpose, Peter always had the information at his fingertips.

He has also taken several important initiatives, amongst them securing the transfer of the Cemeteries Endowment Fund, and its associated records, from the Delhi High Commission to BACSA, obtaining the repatriation of BACSA funds which had become frozen in a dormant Madras bank account, proposing the creation of the post of Cemetery Records Officer and the posting of newsletters and blogs on the BACSA website.

Blessed, it would seem. with a prodigious memory, and certainly the skills of a former diplomat, Peter has brought so much “added value” to the post of Hon. Sec. that we have lived in dread of his departure. We are very greatly in debt to him.

However, no one is irreplaceable. We believe we have found a worthy successor to Peter as Hon. Sec. and hope to make an announcement to that effect at the AGM. Peter has agreed to share the post until the GM in order to give his successor support and thereafter is willing to be co-opted onto the Executive for a further period. So, we will not be losing his fount of knowledge of BACSA just yet.

It remains only for me to wish all our members the best of health and good fortune in 2024, and to repeat my entreaty that, before 2025, they recruit at least one new BACSA member (by subscription or Life Membership), who is under the age of 60!

Mark Havelock-Allan
10 January 2024

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