New book brings alive women
fighters in Indian National Army
Oct 18 (IANS) They were young women, many in their teens,
who had never seen India but were ready to give up their lives
to fight for the freedom of a 'motherland' far away.
against the Raj: The Rani of Jhansi Regiment", by American
historian Joyce Chapman Lebra highlights the contribution
made by hundreds of women of Indian descent, the daughters
of poor rubber plantation workers in Malaya, who responded
to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's call and volunteered to form
the women's wing of the Indian National Army (INA).
book was released Friday by President S.R. Nathan at a crowded
book launch event organised by the Singapore-based Institute
of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). The Institute has also
sponsored Lebra's extensive research on the subject.
the history of the INA and Netaji's leadership role in India's
independence has yielded a rich body of literature in the
last six decades, not much is known about the women who formed
the rank and file of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment.
upper-class women like Lakshmi Sahgal, who commanded the regiment,
and her second in command, Janaki Athi Nahappan, did acquire
public roles after the battle for freedom got over, but the
fate of the nearly 1,500 women fighters has received scant
has given a voice to the majority of women soldiers in the
regiment whose bravery and indomitable spirit led them from
the rubber plantations of Malaya to the frontlines of the
fight in Burma but who faded into quiet obscurity once India's
independence had been won.
who taught Indian history and Japanese history at the University
of Colorado, has published widely on the INA and India's freedom
movement, including a volume on the INA and Japan.
the last few years, Lebra painstakingly located and interviewed
some of the few remaining survivors of the women's regiment
creating an eminently readable account of a remarkable band
of women who "wanted to die for India".
1943 appeal for volunteers to join the Rani of Jhansi Regiment,
named after the heroine who died in battle against the British
in 1858, was mesmerising.
of young women and teenagers came forward to take up arms.
Most of the women were poorly educated, belonging to South
Indian Tamil families who worked as rubber tappers in Malaya.
vivid recollections of four of these fighters - Meenachi Perumal,
Ammaloo, Muniammah and Anjalai Ponnuswamy - brings to life
their tumultuous war-torn travails in the jungles of Malaya
and Burma. Unlike others who had participated in Mahatma Gandhi's
satyagrahas and the swadeshi movement, these were women who
had taken up weapons to fight for India's independence.
writes that all four of these "spirited women" whom
she interviewed in Malaysia, "smiled, raised their fists,
and used the INA/Rani of Jhansi Regiment greeting "Jai
Hind!" and said they would be ready to fight again".
their order to retreat in 1944, the disheartened fighters
of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment dispersed and the women returned
to their families. There was no celebration of their days
as warriors and many of them spent the rest of their lives
these women are now in their eighties underscores the urgency
of archiving their oral histories and registering their largely
unremembered and unsung contribution to the Indian freedom
struggle, something that Lebra has succeeded in initiating
with her book.
Details: "Women Against The Raj: The Rani of Jhansi Regiment";
Author: Joyce Chapman Lebra; Published by Institute of Southeast
Asian Studies, Singapore; Pages 132; Price $29.90.