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The Soldaderas of India: Rani of Jhansi regiment

Rani of Jhansi regiment was one of the most unusual and vibrant female (only) military units that history has ever witnessed to. The contribution and initiative of Subhash Chandra Bose of creating the woman wing in the mid-20th century has great consequential impact upon our nation as India today is the only country in South Asia where women are permitted in Army and treated as equals therein.

Across the world, Women, who are often seen with the biased painted lens, where women are considered to be creatures more confined to the four walls as home- makers and care- takers are proved wrong when it comes to the land of India. From Eugenie MikhailovnaShakhovskaya (1909, first woman to become military pilot) to GunjanSaxena (first Indian woman pilot, Kargil war, 1999), women through the blank pages of history have engraved their names in golden ink.

Announcement for the formation of the Regiment was made by Bose on 12 July, 1943. The composition of the regiment included teenage women of Indian descent from Malayan rubber estates.The core formation of the Regiment finds its roots in Singapore with hundreds of initial combatants. The cadets were given ranks of non-commissioned officer or sepoy (private) according to their education.

Later, camps were established in Rangoon and Bangkok and by November 1943, the unit had more than three hundred cadets.Their aim was to overthrow British Raj with the aid and assistance from Japan. This regiment was led by CaptainLakshmi Swaminathan (better known as Lakshmi Sahgal). The unit was named the Rani of Jhansi Regiment after Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi. The cohort got their training in Singapore. Almost 500 women received their training and passed out of the training camps in Singapore, and, around 200 troops were also selected for nursing purpose which led to the formation of the Chand Bibi nursing corps.

Women joined military for their own liberty, for their own freedom, for their rights which they were deprived of and this created a sense of awareness and vigilantism among them to fight for the nation and necessity.Author Vera Hidebrand in her book, ‘Women at war: the Rani of Jhansi Regiment(2016)’ says that when she asked the volunteers of the Rani of Jhansi regiment, who are now in their 80s and 90s about their experiences, tells her(Vera Hidebrand) that she wanted to know the stories which people now don’t want to listen.

During INA’s Imphal campaign, hundreds of troops hailing from the regiment were moved to Maymyo to vanguard the Gangetic plains and act as nursing troops in fighting against the invaders. However, after the fall of Rangoonand withdrawal of Azad Hind Government the troops got disbanded from Burma. The remaining troops got retreated along with the Japanese forces on foot. On retreating, the troops were attacked and suffered serious causalities both from allied troops and Burmese attacks and this led to the perishing of the regiment into the granules of history.

The noble initiative by Bose however has a great impact upon the current scenario of India, as the nation is getting better day by day in terms of gender equation even in the field of Defence. Now, women are treated equally and even given substantial weightageover men in military sphere, being given proper education and training just to recognise their call and vigour towards their longer envisioned commitment and sincerity in their efforts.

Jai Hind!

Aditi Sinha

(This article is by Aditi Sinha. She is a Ist Year student,Faculty of Law, University of Delhi)




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