Unsung Heroes | History Corner | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Ministry of Culture, Government of India

Unsung Heroes Detail

Unsung Heroes Detail

Laxmi Indira Panda

Koraput, Odisha

August 05, 2022

Laxmi Indira Panda was born on 1930 in Myanmar. She was born in a camp near Rangoon where her father was employed by the local unit of Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army. He along with his wife was killed in a British bombardment. Young Laxmi was only 14 then and had also a brother younger than her for looking after.

The determination to avenge the death of her parents made her go to the I.N.A. Camp where she begged for enrolment in the rank and file. The frail Laxmi was refused by the Camp commanders. However, she stayed put outside the camp gates, and when Subhas Chandra Bose came for inspection, she blocked his way. She was personally taken aside from him, and her determination melted the hearts of the I.N.A. leaders including Subhas. She conveyed her deep desire to join the freedom struggle by saying that age should not be an obstacle in the path of patriotism. After knowing that she was an Odia, Subhas became more sympathetic to her and allowed her in the Rani Jhansi Regiment under Captain Lakshmi Sehgal. Initially, she was given soft jobs of housekeeping and cooking, but the young Laxmi soon proved her mettle and won the hearts of her superiors. She was trained in swordsmanship, shooting, and espionage. As she was well versant with the Burmese language, she was often sent across enemy lines for the collection of intelligence. She was working with all the iconic INA heroes such as Janaki Thevar, Gown, Shah Nawaz Khan, and Dhillon besides Lakshmi Sehgal. Six months of intensive arms training in Burma shaped Laxmi into battle readiness for the onward march to the battlefront on the India-Burma border.

She was right by their side of Netaji up till the time he gave the call for disbandment of the INA. She recollects seeing Netaji in Singapore last time on 8 August 1945 after which she came to know about his death in an air crash.

After the defeat of Japan and the fall of the INA, Netaji had instructed the Lakshmi Sehegal regiment to break into groups of 150 to move out of Rangoon when the INA was retreating. Laxmi was in the second group that was led by Janaki Thevar and had a rough retreat.

After the surrender of Singapore, the arrested members of the Indian National Army were classed as white’, ‘black’, or ‘grey’ according to the perceived innocence or culpability of their motives.

Laxmi Panda had been classified as white, meaning that she was a hardcore war criminal. Even the British Secret Service agents were baffled by this petite teen girl who had wielded .303 Lee Enfield rifles. They let her go free because of her teenager.

Laxmi then sailed back to India in a tramp steamer. At Chittagong harbor, the British secret police once again arrested all the I.N.A soldiers, where Laxmi threw all her papers, medals, and her I.N.A uniform overboard. She too was arrested again but seeing her frail health and young age she was freed again.

Left alone she came back to Odisha and married an INA veteran Khageswar Panda of Berhampur who was a driver in the Hirakud dam project. But her misfortune started after the death of her husband in 1976, which made her work as a housemaid for a living and to support her children. As she had never been to jail she was deprived of freedom fighter status and pension by the government in the center. However, historian and heritage enthusiast Anil Dhir collected all documentary evidence about her from different sources and sent it to the then President of India, Pratibha Patil who after granting a personal interview to her conferred her Rashtria Swatantra Sainik Samman on 25 October 2008. She died two weeks after and was conferred at a state funeral.