Lakshmi Sehgal recounts her life in the INA
Lakshmi Sehgal (24 October 1914 – 23 July 2012) was perhaps the last person from the Indian revolutionary freedom movements. NDTV records the extremely interesting reminiscences of her revolutionary days. An excerpt:
The Japanese forces attacked Singapore on December 8, 1941. Rashbehari Bose, who was a veteran freedom fighter, had come with the Japanese. He started the India Independence League. All Indians were expected to join the League. It was helpful because we got our ration cards, and Indian property was not treated as enemy property, and Indians were not recruited forcibly. I joined the League but could only do welfare work and underground broadcasts.
On February 15, 1942 the Indian National Army (INA) was formed by Captain Mohan Singh. In addition to the INA was the India Independence League which was headed by Rashbehari Bose. Other leaders included Kesava (KPK) Menon who was our political guru and SC Guha. There were military officers in it from the INA.
Netaji completely reorganised the whole movement and put it on a revolutionary basis. He first gave a call for total mobilisation of manpower and appealed to all able-bodied youth to volunteer for the INA. The response was very good with the strength of the INA doubling within six weeks from 30,000 to 60,000. The volunteers came from Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hongkong and Thailand.
At the second mass meeting, Netaji dropped a bombshell by saying that it was his intention to form a women’s infantry regiment, named after the Rani of Jhansi who had fought so heroically against the British in 1857. I already knew of this idea as he had told me earlier during an interview I had sought with him. I told him I was ready to join, and from the next day he gave me a room in his headquarters, and I started recruiting women. The date was July 8, 1943.
our regiment was able to proceed only upto the middle of Burma as the attack on Imphal by the INA, supported by the Japanese Army, was repulsed by the heavily reinforced British garrison. After suffering heavy casualties, it had to withdraw. In addition, the monsoon set in earlier than usual, making movement practically impossible. The order for withdrawal was reluctantly given by Netaji and the ill- equipped and undernourished INA retreated to central Burma where they regrouped and attacked the British Army, delaying their advance.
The Rani of Jhansi Regiment however, was disbanded and those who had families in Burma were safely sent back. Netaji himself escorted the Malayan contingent to Thailand, and then to Malaysia. In this connection I would like to mention that, without exception, all the members of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment sent a petition to Netaji, signed in their blood, saying that they were willing to die in the battlefield and did not want to retreat.
We tried to evacuate the few survivors in bullock carts, but were caught on the road to Rangoon by the advancing British forces in the beginning of June 1945.
I was separated from the other INA personnel and sent to Rangoon for interrogation, and kept under house arrest. In March 1946 I was released and taken to India.
Back in India, the INA trials attracted massive public attention. Nehru put on his lawyer’s robes to defend the INA prisoners, but it was Bhulabhai Desai who made the biggest contribution, his defence speech at the INA trial went down as the historic speech of the trial.