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

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Unsung Heroes Detail

Janaki Thevar

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December 24, 2021

Second in command in the Rani of Jhansi regiment of INA

Janaki Athi Nahappan, also known as Janaki Thdevar (25 February 1925 – 9 May 2014), was a founding member of the Malaysian Indian Congress and one of the earliest women involved in the fight for Malaysian (then Malaya) independence.

Janaki grew up in a well-to-do Tamil family in Malaya and was only 18 when she heard Bose’s appeal to Indians to give whatever they could for their fight for India’s Independence. Immediately she took off her gold earrings and donated them. She was determined to join the INA. There was strong family objection especially from her father. But after much persuasion, her father finally agreed.

Having been brought up in a well-to-do family, she initially could not adapt to the rigours of army life. On her first day, the food served made her cry. However, she gradually got used to military life and her career in the Regiment took off when she ranked first in the officer’s examinations and rose to become the second-in-command in the Women’s Regiment.

In late 1943, Rasamma and Janaki Thevar were two teenage Indian girls among roughly 500 Indian women who enlisted at the Rani of Jhansi’s Regimental Headquarters of Singapore’s Waterloo Street. Here, they were placed in the charge of Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan, the daughter of an Indian National Congress politician, who had settled in Singapore shortly before the outbreak of war. The daily drill was tough, conditions not unlike the privileged middle class world to which many of the girls were accustomed.

Janaki had explained: “It was all wooden huts, you know no beds, nothing…. We have to get up very early in the morning. As soon as gong goes, you have to go. And you see a thousand girls in the camp rushing for bathrooms. It is so cold in the morning. Shower, go out and rush for physical training. That was going on for half an hour. Then we came back. Then we have our breakfast….. Then started our army training.”

Janaki Thevar, second in command in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, wrote years later of the ‘marathon walk from Rangoon to Bangkok’ as the Indian National Army treated: “Covering more than 23 days through virgin jungles and the most difficult terrain often in blinding darkness, crossing turbulent rivers and streams, marching in absolutely drenched and tattered uniforms and blistered feet under vulturous eyes of enemy planes.

The schedule of training of Volunteers in the Rani Jhansi Rani camp was as follows:

Time Activity
8.30 to 9.00 a.m. Physical training
9.00 a.m. Breakfast
9.45 to 11.45 a.m. Military training
1.00 p.m. Lunch Served
2.00 to 3.00 p.m. Rest
3.00 to 4.30 p.m. Hindustani Class
4.30 p.m. Tea served either with fruits and groundnut or ragi porridge
5.00 to 7.00 p.m. Military training with games for half an hour
8.30 p.m. Dinner served
9.30 to 11.00 p.m. Lectures on alternate nights
11.00 p.m. Lights off

After World War II, Janaki Thevar emerged as a welfare activist. She joined the Indian Congress Medical Mission in Malaya and visited rubber estates throughout the country. This experience made her aware of the need for some political organisation within the Indian population. In 1946, she helped John Thivy to establish the Malayan Indian Congress, which saw Thivy as its first president.

Later in life, she became a senator in the Dewan Negara of the Malaysian Parliament. She died at her house on 9 May 2014 due to pneumonia.

Source: Tamil Nadu State Archives, Chennai