by Vera Hildebrand
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018. Pp. x, 324.
Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1682473155
Fighting for India and Against the Raj
Dr. Hildebrand’s book, originally published in India in 2016, is the first scholarly treatment of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment (RJR), the women’s arm of the Indian National Army (INA). The INA was raised by the radical Indian revolutionary nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) from among Indian prisoners of war held by the Japanese in Burma, Malaya, and Singapore, and was intended to spearhead India’s liberation from British rule, with the aid of the Japanese.
In preparing this work, Hildebrand drew on interviews with surviving “Ranis” and some others, and her discussion of how she found these women and men itself makes for interesting insights in how to conduct research. In addition, conducting a remarkably thorough search, she turned up many long forgotten documents that help fill out the story of the RJR, the NIA, and Bose himself.
In her account, Hildebrand opens with an overview history of the women in Indian society. She then discusses Indian independence movement, which brings her to the outbreak of World War II. After outlining India’s role in the war, Hildebrand examines the origins of the regiment, the background of the women recruited and how the came to join, with many personnel profiles. She covers the combat training these women underwent, their wartime service, and their post war lives.
Hildebrand lances several myths associated with the RJR. She notes, for example, that the regiment never numbered more than a few hundred women, rather than some thousands often found in accounts by Indian nationalists. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, she stresses that, despite their combat training, the women of the RJR were never committed to combat, nor even came near the front, their actual services, valuable to be sure, being confined to more traditional female roles, office work, nursing, and so forth.
As she discusses the RJR, Hildebrand also gives us an outline history of Bose, the radical wing of the Indian independence movement, and the INA, and, of course, an outline history of Second World War in Asia.
Women at War is recommended reading for anyone interested in India in the World War II or women military service.
Note: Women at War is also available in several e-editions.