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December 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         December 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:December' 2018


Those brave women of Netaji’s INA !


Subhas Chandra Bose, with Captain (Dr) Lakshmi Sahgal, inspecting the guard of honour presented by the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. All eyes were on the hitherto unknown Lilti Ram, given a seat of honour on the dais as Prime Minister Narendra Modi unfurled the Tricolour at the Red Fort marking the 75th year of the formation at S i n g a p o r e ’ s Cathay Theatre of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s p r o v i s i o n a l government of Azad Hind, also called Aarzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind. Age has taken its toll since the day Lilti Ram as a young man 75 years ago had joined the Indian National Army at the call of Netaji.
Now, barely able to support himself on his own legs, the old soldier of Netaji’s army still managed to summon the strength to put on his old uniform, complete with his proud INA cap, to be there at the Red Fort, not forgetting to bring an extra one to present to the prime minister which Modi kept wearing throughout the function as a mark of deference and admiration to both the old soldier and the dearly preserved cap,
Much has been written about the exploits of the brave men of the INA, all of which is part of history.
The prime minister found the October 21 function at the Red Fort a proper occasion to remind the nation of the role played by the women warriors of Netaji’s army. No occasion than October 21, 2018 could have been more appropriate for Mr Modi to extol the role of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, formed in July 1943 in the cause of India’s independence.

Vera Hildebrand It was at the stirring “Chalo Delhi” call of Netaji that young women enlisted in the regiment. With all due respect to Lilti Ram and other veterans of the INA, it would have been in the fitness of things if the function at Red Fort a few former members of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment were also present on the dais. These are days of gender equality, an idea which was very close to Netaji's heart even when he was a young Congress activist.
One can’t be sure of the number of veteran Ranis of that famous regiment still alive. But there must be a few still living in the cities of Malaysia and its rubber estates, Burma, Thailand, not to forget our own Kolkata. Many of them have been interviewed in a painstakingly researched book written some years ago by Danish scholar Vera Hildebrand.

Lt. Janaki Thevar Sisters Rasamma and Ponnamma, daughters of Mrs Nevarednam, a school teacher of the north Malayan city of Ipoh, Janaki Thevar of Kuala Lumpur, Labanya, now settled in Kolkata after the wartime exodus from Burma and the Gujarati Mehta ladies of Rangoon are some names that come to mind. They were in their teens when they responded to the irresistible call for enlistment by Netaji.
With forethought, an effort should have been made to contact a few of these women warriors, now in their 90s, and brought over health permitting, to participate in the October 21 function at the Red Fort. With 130 million eyeballs watching the televised event, it would have been an inspiring spectacle furthering the cause of gender equality.
Capt. Lakshmi’s regiment may not have seen action in the Indo- Burmese border in 1944, but, trained as they were as combat soldiers, they were willing to lay down their lives for the cause of India’s liberation from colonialism.. A PAGE FROM HISTORY 60 December 2018 Power Politics One of the first measures that Netaji took to mobilize support for the cause of India’s
independence after his submarine journey to Singapore from Germany was a call to Indian families in far east Asia to allow their daughters to join the Rani of Jhansi Regiment under the command of Lakshmi Swaminathan, a Kerala-born doctor practising in Singapore, whom Netaji gave the rank of Captain. Indian parents were not inclined to see their daughters taking to arms. Yet they did.
Capt. Lakshmi, who after the war married Col. Prem Kumar Sehgal and set up a medical practice in Kanpur, died aged 97. But before that she played a useful role in independent India’s politics which is remembered even after her death. Her 2nd in command in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, Lt. Janaki Thevar, after the war went back to her parents’ home in Kuala Lumpur to play an active part in the Malaysian politics.
Capt. Lakshmi and the Ranis of her regiment deserve a memorial to themselves like the original Jhansi ki Rani of the first war of independence, immortalized in prose, verse, sculpture and folklore, has come to be remembered.