Garhwali Soldiers of Azad Hind Fauj-Indian National Army, by Devendra K Budakoti

The story of the Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose is now the part of Indian Freedom struggle. As part of defending their empire from the invading Japanese forces, the British had logically used their colonial army under their command. The troops from India were also sent in large numbers to what was then called Malaya- Singapore to defend their colonial territory.
Right from the late thirties the British were making defenses against the invading Japanese army. Malaysia was a major British colony in the east with Singapore as the major trading port city and had their business interest in Rubber, tin and Palm oil in what was later called Malaysia. They were also seeing and monitoring the Japanese troop’s movement in Far East, where the Japanese had overtaken parts of China and much of Korean peninsular. Despite the reinforcement of British Indian Army in Malaysia along with other British Colonial army regiments and presence of the Australian Army and Air Force, the motivated Japanese army and their logistics support could not be matched by the British controlled armies. Similarly, the French in Indo-China and the Dutch in Indonesia also could not check the Japanese advances in Far East. British along with their allied powers had concentrated in Europe and then in North Africa. By the end of 1941, the Japanese had overtaken the Malaysian Peninsular and by February 1942 the British were defeated and surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore. This must be the only time in war history when the British must have ever surrendered to any power in the world. Indian soldiers who were prisoners of war (POW) were motivated to join the Azad Hind Fauj-INA of Subhas Chandra Bose. Later they fought along with the Japanese troops in the Jungles of Burma and in the eastern frontier of India with the British Indian Army. Once the Japanese were finally defeated in the Burma front and in the battles fought in Manipur and Nagaland, many of the INA soldiers died in this war theatre. Those survived were arrested and dismissed from service by the military court of inquiry in 1946. The INA soldiers were not taken back in the army by the British but after independence the Indian government rehabilitated them by inducting them in the central and state police forces. Many of the officers, who had joint and were associated with the INA, were also suitable rehabilitated in various state, central police and civil services.

INA-Moirang Kangla near Imphal TripuraMoirang Kangla near Imphal in Manipur. It also has the INA Museum.

From Garhwal, the soldiers particularly those from the second and the fifth battalion of the Garhwal Rifles who served in the Malaya-Singapore front died in the battle field and some died in captivity. Those who were arrested by the Japanese and made prisoners of war were motivated to join the INA to free India from the British rule by the towering personality of Subhas Chandra Bose.

I felt privileged to meet and know the following soldiers who served with the Indian Army and later with the Azad Hind Fauj. Now those surviving INA soldiers must be in their nineties and most of them must have left for their heavenly abode. I wish I could meet more of them and know their thoughts and experience.

Murli Singh Rawat, was born in the year 1919 in village Khaindodi, now in Devikhal block of Garhwal district. His certificate of service issued in 1946, when the British were still governing India. He was enrolled in the year 1937 and was with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Garhwal Rifles. As a part of a Brigade he embarked from Mumbai on 28.10.1940, which also had his Battalion on board and embarked in Singapore on 13.11.1940.
His non-qualifying service period is shown from 15.02 42 to 18.03.1946. This is the period where he served with the Azad Hind Fauj-INA. In INA he was a Lieutenant and served with the 4th Guerilla Regiment.

Murli Singh

His certificate of service also shows that he was dismissed by the order of the Commander in Chief in consequence of conduct while Prisoner of War (POW). He was all praise for the Japanese soldiers who were disciplined, did all kinds of work without any discrimination, very obedient, very patriotic and ever ready to die for the nation. The Japanese soldiers also tried to teach the spoken language of everyday usage to their INA colleagues. Presently Murli Singh lives in Kotdwar.

Had the pleasure of meeting two other soldiers of Azad Hind Fauj. One was Bhim Singh Bisht in village Panai near Gaucher and Bakhtawar Singh Bisht of village Srikot at Gauchar in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand state.

Bhim Singh Bhaktawar Singh

Both were enrolled in the year 1940, when the Second World War was at its initial phase. After a short training of 4 to 5 months, they were drafted into the newly raised 5th battalion of the Royal Garhwal Rifles, at Lansdowne. Bhaktawar Singh was not keeping well when I met him.

Soon after they were sent to Malaysia and their certificate of service reads as, ‘Embarked Bombay, 21.12.41 and Disembarked at Malaya on 3.1.42. Soon on landing they were sent to the battlefield in the jungles of Malaysia to fight the Japanese onslaught. The second battalion of the Garhwal Rifles was already in Malaysia to fight against the Japanese advance. In this war against the Japanese advance many were killed, injured and the rest who survived were taken as prisoners. Like many others they were also motivated to join the Azad Hind Fauj-INA, especially after Subhas Chandra Bose took the command of INA. Like others they also fought along with the Japanese forces in the Jungles of Burma. After the defeat of the Japanese, they like other were transported back to India from Malaysia. Back in India, all the INA soldier’s were interviewed and discharged from service officially in April 1946 and sent back home. Their army certificate reads as, ‘Discharged by order of His Excellency the Commander in Chief in consequences of service no longer required.’ Many of the INA soldiers were later absorbed by state police forces. Much later all the INA soldiers were given pension by the government of India. Today those surviving must be in their nineties, just like Murli Singh, Bhim Singh and Bhkhtawar Singh.
All the three have been honored by the state and the central government on various occasions and also by the local authorities and organizations.

On interaction with them, I could see that these soldiers were disillusioned by the state of affairs in the country and the state. These soldiers’ dream to see India as a developed and prosperous nation is yet to be realized. I feel sad along with them.

Jai Hind to them.

The Author is a Development consultant and can be contacted on- ghughuti@gmail.com

Author: Uttarakhand