women-at-warSINGAPORE – THE RANIS PREPARE FOR WAR

In the fall of 1943, young women began to enlist in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army in Singapore and in Rangoon. The RJR needed a base camp in Singapore, a facility that would provide secure lodging for the female soldiers as well as sufficient space outdoors for military training.To the Japanese military authorities, female infantry was a preposterous waste of money and when they learned of Bose’s idea, they protested. Regarding the RJR, the Japanese officers found it completely incomprehensible that Bose would allocate precious ordnance and rations to women.

One way the Japanese sought to prevent the creation of the Regiment was their unwillingness to allocate real estate in Singapore for the training of women for combat. The Japanese administration refused every abandoned property that Captain Lakshmi found and proposed as possible housing for the RJR. In the end, the Ranis did receive quarters, weapons, uniforms and training, but the cost of the RJR was borne entirely by donations from Indians living in Burma, Singapore and Malaya to the Azad Hind government, while the Japanese government financed only the male forces of the INA.

The chairman of the Singapore branch of the Indian Independence League, Attavar Yellappa, a barrister, consequently took upon himself the task of finding a home for the Regiment. He persuaded some of his wealthy Nattukottai Chettiar banker clients to fund the refurbishment of a dilapidated building, formerly serving as a refugee camp and currently belonging to the IIL. The property was enclosed with a high fence to shield the female soldiers from the curious eyes of Singapore citizens, and several new barracks were erected.The standing buildings were fitted with new plumbing, and bathing facilities were installed. After three weeks of around-the-clock activity, the Singapore Central Camp, the Ranis’ first training centre, was almost ready for the first contingent of volunteers to move in on the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.

In his inaugural speech at the RJR training camp on Waterloo Street in Singapore on 22 October 1943, Bose welcomed‘the first one hundred and fifty women’ who had moved in the evening before.

The opening of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment Training Camp is an important and significant function; it is a very important landmark in the progress of our movement in East Asia.To realize its importance, you should bear in mind that ours is not a merely political movement.We are, on the other hand, engaged in the great task of regenerating our Nation. We are, in fact, ushering in a New Life for the Indian Nation, and it is necessary that our New Life should be built on sound foundations. Remember that ours is not a propaganda stunt; we are in fact witnessing the re-birth of India. And it is only in the fitness of things that there should be a stir of New Life among our womenfolk.

Bose went on:

Since 1928, I have been taking interest in women’s organizations in India and I found that, given the opportunity, our sisters could rise to any occasion. … If one type of courage is necessary for passive resistance, another and more active courage is necessary for revolutionary efforts, and in this too, I found that our sisters were not wanting. … Unfortunately, Jhansi Rani was defeated; it was not her defeat; it was the defeat of India.

She died but her spirit can never die. India can once again produce Jhansi Ranis and march on to victory.

by Zafar Anjum

Nilanjana SenguptaThe Female Voice of Myanmar: Khin Myo Chit to Aung San Suu Kyi by Nilanjana Sengupta (Cambridge University Press, India) is a scholarly treatise on Myanmar. The book will be released in late September in Singapore. Sengupta is a Visiting Scholar at Asia Research Institute (National University of Singapore).

There aren’t many Indian writers who write on Myanmar, so this is an important work of scholarship. The publisher describes the book as a “commentary on the evolving state of Myanmar and female thought from colonial times to the present, seen through the eyes of four Burmese female activist-writers”.

The book presents a female perspective on the history and political evolution of Myanmar. Through an exploration of the literary works of four carefully selected women activists— four major voices in the book: Khin Myo Chit, Ludu Daw Amar, Ma Thida, Aung San Suu Kyi—who have also been prolific writers of their times, the book seeks a fresh evaluation of the Burmese narrative.

Tell us about your interest in Myanmar? What got you started on this project that tracks the lives and thoughts of four strong female voices of Myanmar?

If I really dig long and hard, I think my interest in Burma stems from a childhood spent in Calcutta. Frequent references to Burma are to be found in old Bengali literature when under the British, Rangoon or the beautiful mountainous town of Maymyo (later renamed Pyin U Lwin) was an alternate home to Bengalis; when many Bengali families considered Bengal to be their janmosthan (place of birth) but Rangoon to be their karmosthan (place of work). I cannot forget the Burma of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Srikanta—a place where the hero comes of age and is forced to redress his moral and ethical perspective. Or the letters Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose wrote to his brother in 1925 when he was imprisoned in Mandalay, marvelling at the social status of Burmese women.

So if you ask about my interest in Burma, I would credit it to a strict mother who insisted I read Bengali literature at length before delving into anything Western!

In early February, I managed to negotiate my way past barbed wire barricades into a majority Muslim neighborhood in Sittwe: a dry and dusty town that sits next to the Bay of Bengal on Burma’s western coast. Automatic rifles were propped against a small wooden table next to the barricades; one policeman manning the post explained that it was his job to ensure no Muslims left the neighborhood — those who tried would be apprehended and taken back to their homes.

Orwell'shouseCobwebs cover its furniture and its rooms are long deserted, but a crumbling house in northern Myanmar is at the center of a conservation battle by locals who say it was once home to George Orwell.

The remote trading post of Katha on the banks of the Irrawaddy – and the house lived in by Orwell in the 1920s – were immortalized in the acclaimed British author’s first novel, “Burmese Days”.