It is well known that after the Japanese occupied Southeast Asia in World War II, Indian nationalists formed something known as the “Indian National Army,” a military force that had the ultimate goal of freeing India from British rule.
The formation of this army was a sign that there were plenty of Indians in the region who were opposed to the British.
At the same time, there were other Indians who identified with the British.
In looking through the digitized materials in the Australian National Archives, I came across an account by an English officer by the name of Hayward Thomas Richards about a certain Jemadar Guptha (“jemadar” is a term for a military officer) who was encouraged by the Japanese in Kuching, Sarawak on the island of Borneo to join the Indian National Army.
This is what Richards wrote:
“In mid 1943 the Japanese in Kuching were endeavoring to form a kind of ‘INDEPENDENT INDIAN’ force in Kuching, and to this end [they] organized a demonstration of Independent Indians.
To this demonstration they asked Jemadar Guptha, who was in charge of a party of about 50 Indians at the aerodrome, to bring his men. He refused, saying that neither he nor his men wished to attend the ceremony.
He was then brought to Kuching and interrogated by civilian officer KUBO, in the presence of N.C.O. KOGO and lieut. NAKATA. I was present during part of this interview which was roughly as follows:
Question: Why do you not wish to attend the demonstration?
Answer: Because I am a loyal subject of H. M. King George, and a British P.O.W. My only connection with the Japanese is that I have been unfortunate enough to be captured by them in action.
Q: Why do you think so much of the British?
A: Because they have provided me with land and a livelihood, are looking after my wife and family while I am away, and will provide me with a pension.
Q: What do you think of the Japanese as compared with the English?
A: (Shrugging his shoulders) We can only judge people by their treatment.
Q: There is no need to be afraid of the two British N.C.O.’s who are present.
A: I am not afraid of anyone.
At this juncture the Jemadar was taken out and I heard and saw no more but on talking with him later I understood that he was taken to KEMPEITAI H.Q. where he was so severely ill-treated that he lost control of his natural functions and he use of his legs.
Then he was brought back to Kuching P.O.W. Camp Guard Room where he was further ill-treated. Eventually after several months he was returned to the Indian P.O.W. Camp in a very weak, emaciated and crippled condition.
Now I am glad to say, he is well on the road to recovery.”
Was Jemadar Guptha a fool who had been mentally colonized? Or was he a hero for standing up for what he believed in and for being willing to endure torture rather than to compromise his beliefs? Were the Indians who joined the Indian National Army heroes for wanting to free India from British control? Or were they opportunists who were willing to collaborate with the Japanese military, an organization that clearly demonstrated to the peoples of Southeast Asia during World War II that it could engage in acts of brutality and inhumanity?
These are tough questions to answer, but I’m glad to see that Jemadar Guptha was on the road to recovery when the war ended.