'What we are seeing today is not the country of our dreams, it is some injustice of God'
They had not expected this, not after months of sacrifice
and deprivation. They had dreamt of a free India, of a
glorious national future, of a welcome reserved for heros
who had sacrificed their all for their nation.
What the Indian National Army soldiers got instead were
a Red Fort trial, dishonourable discharge from an army that
refused to accept them even after Independence, no pension
and a swift disappearance from an extremely short
Besides, both the INA personnel and their families also faced
mental trauma. Says Avtar Singh Khera, "Soon after my
father, Lt Shangara Singh Khera, joined the INA, we got a
letter saying that he had become a casualty. We believed
them and even performed the bhog
ceremony. Three years later, my father returned home
safely." Such false reports led to traumatic consequences as many
women set up homes with other men, thinking their
husbands had died.
Khera, senior, who died two years ago, left a boxful of
documents in Urdu, which reveal that he had strongly
objected to the formation of the Rani of Jhansi regiment for
women and advised Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose not to waste
his meagre resources
on it. Netaji told Khera he hoped the Indian soldiers in the
British army would not fire against Indian women in uniform
and would even revolt against the British.
The INA soldiers believe India would have been different had Netaji
survived the 1945 air crash in which he perished. All of them agree they would have been drafted into the national
army. And, as 75-year-old Pritam Singh, a wireless operator
with the INA, puts it, "All this corruption would not not have
happened. Netaji realised the need for a limited dictatorship
for India. Only then would have the people realised the
value of their votes."
Avtar Singh, military officer in the INA's intelligence service,
adds, "Netaji's single-minded devotion to the country is the
need of the hour today. We (the former INA personnel) too
would not have faced so many problems if he was there. We
are facing this step-motherly treatment only because of the
Congress's opposition to the INA movement and the fact
that there was no dynamic leader after Netaji."
It was only in 1972, after many of their comrades-in-arms had
died in abject poverty, that INA veterans were awarded
a pension. No wonder then, the disillusioned survivors of Netaji's
INA are in no way enthused by the
celebrations plans for the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence.
''This is not what we had fought for. What we are seeing today
is not the country of our dreams, it is some injustice of God,'' says
Pritam Singh. While Lt Kartar Singh, whose discharge card reads
''dismissed from service for being an ex-INA member,'' is most
disturbed by highly placed politicians who indulge in corruption.
He feels the anniversary celebrations are just a show to gain
Both Pritam Singh and Kartar Singh believe the INA hastened
the Independence process. Their bravery motivated the soldiers in
the regular army to revolt against the British; the naval mutiny in
Bombay was, they believe, a fallout of the INA's battle for
They also mourn the fact that the INA was not successful in freeing
India from the clutches of the British. Avtar Singh insists this failure
was the direct result of a lack of dedication in many INA soldiers
who had joined the force only in order to reach India. "Many of them just
threw away their weapons and surrendered on reaching the
Indian borders," he mourns.
The more fatalistic Pritam Singh says God foiled the INA's
intentions by bringing in the monsoon a fortnight ahead of schedule.
The INA was caught unawares in Imphal as "rivulets became
rivers and all movement came to a standstill."
Even in those circumstances, Netaji never caved in. Pritam Singh
recalls Netaji's ADC, Captain Shamsher Singh's words, "You (the
soldiers) are better off during the air raids in Rangoon.
You can at least take shelter. Netaji does not even get up
from his desk during the raids."
Widows of INA veterans who survived the war related how
their husbands were unable to adjust to the new environment
or to the fact that they did not get their due from Indian society.
The veterans feel they should be part of the golden
jubilee celebrations. As Pritam Singh says, "Very few of us are
left; they should involve us in some way so that the young
generations will be inspired."
'The people in charge of this
country are a self-serving bunch of tired old men'