Today India has women officers in its Armed Forces including pilots; however there are no women soldiers–in other ranks. The women officers had to fight a bureaucratic and legal battle to get permanent commission in the armed forces. To imagine that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943 had the vision of Women’s Regiment when he commanded the Indian National Army (INA) is amazing. The INA’s woman’s wing was named after the great Rani of Jhansi. The government of India can now propose to have the world’s first All-Women’s Regiment-The Rani of Jhansi Regiment and thereby keep the spirit of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Subhas Chandra Bose’s arrival in Singapore on 23 June 1943 to take over the leadership of India Independence League and the Indian National Army on 5th July 1943 galvanised the whole movement of Indian people in South East Asia against the British Raj, fuelling new enthusiasm amongst the Indian Prisoners Of War (POWs) who joined the INA and marched against the British in the Burma frontier war. A large number of the Indian diaspora in Malaysia was also motivated to join the INA after listening to the speeches of Netaji. In these mass rallies, Netaji also gave a call to women volunteers to join the all women regiment for the liberation of India from foreign rule.
The Rani Jhansi Regiment, the brainchild of Bose of having women warriors against the Raj made many people sceptical but Bose had faith in the Indian women and their capabilities to rise to the occasion even at the battle front. He evoked the heroic action of Rani of Jhasi against the Raj in India’s first battle of Independence in 1858, and thus named it Rani Jhansi Regiment. What a co-incidence that the Rani of Jhansi was Laxmi Bai and the commander of Rani of Jhasi Regiment was also led by Lakshmi.
Many women were enthused to join Rani of Jhasi regiment commanded by Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan. In many cases Lakshmi had to interact with the families of volunteers that they could get the family approval to join the women’s regiment. Such was the case with many teenage girls who volunteered to join the Rani Jhansi Regiment of INA. Most of the women in the Rani of Jhansi Regimen of INA were illiterate Indian Tamil women from the rubber estates in then Malaya.
On 21 October 1943, the Provisional Government of Azad Hind was declared and on 22 October, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment’s training started. They had a gruelling three month army training and had to show their mettle to earn their INA badge. For Bose they were not just for symbolic reasons but were to be physically and mentally fit to face adverse conditions in the battle front. Netaji had said, ‘it is not important how many guns you can carry or how many cartridges you can fire. It is the spiritual force which will be generated by your heroic example that is important.’
In one of the many mass rallies in Malaysia including the one in Ipoh town, besides the two sister-Rasammah and her elder sister Ponnammah, many other teenagers got all set to join the regiment. Rasammah was only 16, when she volunteered to join the Rani of Jhansi Regiment in 1943. On the question of her motivation to join the Rani of Jhasi Regiment of INA, in her biography, “Footprints On the Sands of Time: Rasammah Bhupalan: A life of Purpose” by Aruna Gopinath, mentions that, ‘My father had a copy of the banned book, “Jallianwala bagh-The Amritsar Massacre” which years later in 1942, I had read the details of the horrible, inhuman massacre. I was then only 15 plus, this account greatly influenced me.’
We had the privilege of meeting the 90 year old Rasammah Bhuplan in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Rasammah was born on 1st May 1927, the youngest in a family of six children-four girls and two boys. Post INA she was in the teaching profession and very active in teacher’s union and also heading the teacher’s union at the national level, participating in various international forums. She has also been recognized and rewarded at national and international levels.
She recollects her interaction with Netaji with reverence and remembers Netaji saying, ‘Live for others if you want to live’ and that is what she did all her life.Related posts: