| History | Malaysia, Singapore | 20 July 2017 | Asia Samachar |
A note from the author: I had just finished reading a few books on the Indian National Army. In all these books, only Dr. Laksmi Sehgal’s name is mentioned together with Janaki Devar and another woman. There is no mention of Sikh women. This regiment went up to Burma with the INA in a non-combatant role. The women in the regiment provided medical and nursing services under trying circumstances. After the reconquest of Burma by the British, members of this regiment had a trying time making it back to Malaya. This article is meant to make our young Sikhs aware that our women had not shied away in lifting up the sword when the occasion demanded such an action.
By Rajindar Singh Bedi
In July 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore to take over the Indian Independence League and to revive the Indian National Army (INA) which had been inaugurated on 17 February 1943 by Captain Mohan Singh but which had been disbanded in November 1942 after Captain Mohan Singh realised that the Japanese were not sincere in their dealings. As a result Mohan Singh was kept under house arrest on Pulau Ubin.
Subhas Chandra Bose renamed the force the Azad Hind Fauj.
During this period he met Dr. Lakshmi Swaminadhan a practising obstetrician with a clinic in Geylang and a member of the Indian Independence League. Subhas Chandra Bose encouraged Dr. Lakshmi to form a women’s wing of the Azad Hind Fauj. Influenced by the fiery and inspiring speeches of Bose she set out to form such a force which was named the Rani Jhansi Regiment.
Her initial success netted only 20 females who volunteered. But she did not give up and went on a recruitment drive exhorting Indian women to volunteer. By the end of 1943 at the passing out parade of the force numbered 500 women. The majority of the volunteers of this force were of south Indian origin. They were from a broad spectrum of the local Indian society. Among these were women from the Sikh community.
SEE ALSO: Mohan Singh started Indian National Army
Sikh women, too, answered the call to fight for Indian Independence and joined the force. They came from the Straits Settlements, Malaya and some came from Siam. The number of Sikh women and their identities is not known as all records of the Rani Jhansi Regiment were lost or destroyed.
However some names have come to light.
- In December 1943 a Mrs. Gurudayal Kaur arrived in Singapore from Bangkok with eight other women to join up.
- There was also a Gian kaur a daughter of a very wealthy Bangkok landlord who joined up.
- From Kelantan 16 years old Jaswant Kaur joined in May 1944. She was married to a soldier of the Indian army. She is reported to have collected money and clothing for the war effort.
- Deep Kaur daughter of Shamir Singh a driver of the Singapore Traction Company was also a volunteer.
- At the passing out parade of the first batch of volunteers there is mention of a Sathiawant Kaur who came first in nursing course and Gurdit Kaur who was placed third in rifle shooting contest.
- Guru Updesh Kaur the daughter of a Police Interpreter from Seremban joined in August 1943.
It is regrettable that no written record of the experiences of the Sikh women exist. There must be photographs, documents and other items including uniforms that could be in the possession of the families of these women which can be collected to form an exhibition.
If any of these members of the Rani Jhansi Regiment are still alive they would be in their late eighties or nineties. It would be wonderful if their experiences could be recorded as oral history of the Sikhs in Malaya and Singapore.
SOURCE FOR THE ARTICLE: Some of the information in the article were gleaned from newspapers published between February 1942 to September 1945, especially the Syonan Shimbun.
Rajindar Singh Bedi, a retired medical assistant who lives in Penang, Malaysia, has been keenly interested in history, especially Indian and Punjab history, since young.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
Indians in Malaya (Asia Samachar, 22 June 2017)
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Mohan Singh started Indian National Army (Asia Samachar, 29 July 2015)