“Give me blood, and I will give you freedom”
Everyone who gets to know that I was in the Rani Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army in 1943 as a young 17 year-old, has one immediate question to ask. ?Did you ever meet Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose?' Indeed I have been very fortunate not only to have met him, but also to have been supremely inspired by him. No doubt he is one of the most under-appreciated luminaries of the Indian independence movement.
I had the privilege of meeting Netaji in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), during the Second World War. A few of us fortunate ones were often selected to act as guards during the public meetings that he graced. We would be stationed just below the stage while he delivered those historic and moving speeches which have been credited with winning over many a convert from civilian to military life.
It was during one of these speeches that I first heard what was to be his siren call to the nation's young and able-bodied: "Mujhe khoon do; mein azadi doonga." (Give me blood; and I will give you freedom). The shot of adrenalin that these words caused helped me overcome the fears that a 17 year-old girl would otherwise have experienced about going into the jungle to fight a war.
Netaji displayed particular concern for the Rani Jhansi Regiment as there were many young girls who had joined from Bangkok, Malaysia and Burma. Our unit consisted of about 200 women. We were trained not only as regular soldiers, but also as nurses. Our military training consisted of marching, bayonet and rifle practice, learning to handle sten guns and machine guns, and attack and defense maneuvers. On the medical side, we learnt about work in operating rooms as well as in general wards.
We were very young and at first we found it extremely difficult as camp life was tough. It was not easy leaving all the comforts, luxuries and good food we were used to, living under the command of higher ranking officers and undergoing rigorous training. Initially, my sister and I would often find ourselves in tears. But after about a month, we made friends and began enjoying the experience, the hoisting of the national flag every morning, the physical training, the parades, and lectures. Looking back, those were the best years of our lives.
The legacy of Netaji
The day before Netaji left to go to Japan, he talked to us and told us to be brave and courageous ? never to give up hope and never give up fighting for the Independence of our motherland. He said that "we will have to face difficulties and hardships since we lost the war", but called on us never to despair. "Aage Badho" (Go ahead).
This mantra of "go ahead" has helped me a lot in my life, and even though I am 76 years old, I still work as a Japanese interpreter and a government-recognized Tourist Guide. I am an unofficial ambassador of my country and it gives me great pride and pleasure to project it in the right way. "You say the glass is half empty and I say the glass is half full."
Personally I feel, and I am sure many will agree with me, that Netaji, the most dynamic leader of our country, has not been given due importance, credit and publicity for the part that he played in the struggle for our Independence and the sacrifices he made for the country during his life. He established the Azad Hind Fauj, within which there was absolute unity between the Hindus and the Muslims, and always said as well as strongly preached that "Hum Hindustani hein" and "Hindustan hamara desh hai." Within India, the freedom struggle was led by Mahatma Gandhi, but outside India it was Netaji who was the leader. Both had the same goal ? freedom of our country!
Why then did Netaji not become the "Great Leader of our Independence?" Definitely these two leaders who have sacrificed everything for the Independence of our country have made equal contributions to the cause, and we should never forget the fact that because of their struggle and sincere efforts we got our "AZADI."
It is heartening to note that the Government of India has honored the freedom fighters by giving them tambra patras, medals, certificates, monthly pensions, railway, bus and state transport passes, medical facilities and in many cases accommodation.
In April 2001 there was an international get-together of the Azad Hind Fauj and members of the Rani Jhansi Regiment and we were given mementos by Shri L. K. Advani and honored for the services we rendered to the nation by joining the struggle for our Independence. "JAI-HIND."
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