The untold story of Andaman and Nicobar Island

The World War II as we all know was one of the greatest events of the 20th Century, a war spanning over six years effected a toll on humanity, consciousness and nevertheless, morality. This war alternated many political and geographical equations around Europe, South-east Asia, Asia Minor and Asia pacific.

India, especially yielded a significant benefit from the concurrent events. After the war Indian independence movement leaders, now pressurized the Labour Party led- Atlee government for a quick and smooth transfer of power from the British to the native Indians – hence, demanding to grant India its independence and thereby giving Indians, the responsibility for their own future.

Formation of INA

The Indians were forced to join the allies, thus forcing her to send troops, aid, food and equipment, thereby keeping the prospects of Swaraj at bay. But, former INC president and a populist leader Subhas Chandra Bose had some other plans. He wanted to take the advantage of the situation so as to snatch the freedom from the Britishers.  Thus, occurred his revered escape to Kabul and thereafter to Berlin, where he secretly met with Adolf Hitler. He made plans to build an army of British-Indian POWs (Prisoners of War) from the war in Europe and North Africa, march to India and uproot the Brits from his motherland. But the plans failed even after series of talks with Nazi Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop and Hitler as well. Hitler offered an alternative, where Axis associate Japan under Hideki Tojo would help Bose to create an army (was later named Indian National Army) and consequently establish an independent Azad Hind government.

Occupying Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Japanese with their victories in Singapore and Burma, were inching towards capturing the crucial port of Port Blair and the islands. The islands were significantly close to the great shipping lanes of the Strait of Malacca. Thus, disrupting the Allied supply lines, would largely mean a boost for the Axis powers.

Bose and his army aided by the Japanese were able to occupy the Andaman and Nicobar islands on 23rd March 1942 which remained in possession of the Japs till they surrendered in October 1945. Although, in India, the vision of Bose and his achievements are largely enamoured by everyone, but actually the occupation impregnated the pages of history with black letters.

The Japanese support for Bose was largely a political one, as the Empire of Japan wanted his dominance to be felt throughout Asia and Pacific. The major hindrances to this were the British and French, who were in possession of large territories like India, Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, French Indochina, and Dutch East Indies. Subhash Chandra Bose had reached the conclusion that supporting Britain’s enemies would be the most certain way of ensuring the exit of the imperialism from India. The Japanese on the other hand were interested in collaborating with the INA on account of the fact that Indians could provide valuable information about British Indian troops stationed at the Thai-Malay border.

The main town of Port Blair had a garrison of around 300-man Sikh militia with 23 British officers. The garrison offered no resistance to the attacks from Japanese, and were disarmed and interned; many of the Sikh militia later enlisted in the Indian National Army. The British militia officers were sent to Singapore as POWs, whilst Chief Commissioner Waterfall, Deputy Commissioner Major A.G. Bird and the other British administrative officers were imprisoned.

Three Years Horrifying Atrocities Thereafter

The events of the next three years are not easy to establish, as the Japanese destroyed all records when they left. The principal sources are an unpublished report by local resident Rama Krishna (he was actually sent on a covert mission to the islands in 1944) and other earlier residents from where we get the clear image of the numerous Japanese atrocities on the local tribes as well on the Indians.

In the early days of the occupation, local intellectuals (mostly officials and doctors) were encouraged to join Rash Behari Bose’s Indian Independence League, and a ‘Peace Committee’ was formed from its members, headed by Dr Diwan Singh. Over the next few months many of them would later fall victim themselves. In any case, there was little any of them could have done to save Major A.G. Bird, who had not been sent to Rangoon or Singapore like the other British captives, and of whom the Japanese were determined to make an example. The Japanese in their alibi falsely implicated Major Bird on spying charges, later executing him brutally. As from one eyewitness account, Maj. Bird (also called “Chirrie”- a term used for birds in Hindi) had his arms and leg twisted and broken and then beheaded by Colonel Bucho with his sword.

Korean and Malay women were brought in to act as “comfort women” for the Japanese Army. Forced labour was used to build a new airport, and in October 1942 mass arrests of ‘spies’ took place, with 300 people being confined in the Cellular Jail, where some were tortured. Of these seven were shot, including Narayan Rao, who had been Superintendent of Police under Japanese support, Itter Singh, the Deputy Superintendent, Subedar Sube Singh of the Military Police and Dr. Surinder Nag. Realising that the Japanese were targeting influential members of the population, the members of the Indian Independence League grew increasingly nervous, and ceased to engage in much nationalist activity. In 1943, under new commander of the garrison, Colonel Jochi Renusakai, and chief of police Mitsubashi, 600 people were arrested and tortured, including Dr. Diwan Singh, who died as a result of his injuries.

Bose visited Port Blair to raise the tricolour and technically take charge of the islands in December 30 1943, renaming the Andamans “Shahid Dweep” (Martyr Island) and the Nicobars “Swaraj Dweep” (Self-Rule Island).

Homfreyganj massacre is widely considered to be the harshest atrocity incurred by Indians under the Japanese, where 44 Indian civilians, suspected of spying, were put to death by the Japanese. They were all shot dead at point-blank range. The majority of the victims were members of the Indian Independence League. At the time of the massacre, the Andaman Islands were technically under Azad Hind control, although in fact, the Japanese were very much in charge. Despite the lack of practical authority, the Azad Hind government was often accused of “failing its people”. Approximately 2,000 people in the Andamans are thought to have died as a result of the occupation, and at least 501 were tortured by the Japanese. The occupation left a legacy of lasting bitterness towards the Japanese, and to some extent towards their collaborators in the Arzi-Hukumat-e Azad Hind, amongst the generation which experienced it.

Conclusion

Now, coming to the point as to why these above mention story is in relevance now, because, on 30th December 2018 Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Port Blair and hoisted the national flag to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the tricolour hoisted by Netaji at Gymkhana ground in Port Blair, declaring the islands to be the first of the Indian territories freed from the British clutches.

This events comes at a signifying time when the current ruling establishment is on a spree of changing names of various Indian cities and institutions, with a view to regain the glory of the old without carefully examining the earlier history of events or maybe trying to assimilate the fervour of patriotism deflecting the dark and painful side of the so-called historic event.

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