Recruiting the All-female Rani of Jhansi Regiment: Subhas Chandra Bose and Dr Lakshmi Swaminadhan

Tobias Rettig, Singapore Management University


The recruitment of the all-female Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army in Japanese-controlled Singapore and Malaya, with a particular focus on the period between the first female guard of honour on 12 July 1943 through to the opening of the regiment's main camp in Singapore on 22 October 1943, has to date been insufficiently studied. Starting with the conception of the Regiment in an Axis submarine by the Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose (1897–1945), this paper examines the ideas and figures that inspired the regiment and the role of Bose and Dr Lakshmi Swaminadhan (1914–2012) in mobilizing recruits. A division of labour can be distinguished, whereby Bose's rallies and speeches awakened a desire and commitment to join the regiment, whereas Dr Lakshmi used a door-to-door approach and access to homes to convince parents and to confirm participation. By 22 October 1943, 156 women and girls from among the Indian communities in Singapore and Malaya from a wide range of ethnic, social, religious and language backgrounds had joined the regiment that was part of Bose's plan to liberate India from British domination. Among the key sources used in this paper are Dr Lakshmi's late-1960s autobiography and the 2007 autobiographical account of one of her then 16-year-old recruits, Rasammah Naomi Navarednam (b 1927).