South Asian Experience During The Japanese Occupation History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
The Japanese Occupation was like a long nightmare that lasted for three and a half years. The various ethnic groups of Singapore were treated differently during 3 years of Japanese ruling. Following the defeat of the “Impregnable Fortress”, the Japanese military administration in Tokyo convinced with Japanese military to use highly brutal clean-up operations against the Chinese. The Indians, on the other-hand, were either given much leeway and treated with kindness or experienced a similar fate like the Chinese. This essay will examine how the Indians were torn between two choices; for or against the Japanese military.
After the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942, the Japanese military wanted to show that the Chinese were its only enemy but spared the other ethnic groups. The ‘Sook Ching’ operations (brutal operation of the Chinese) were one way of showing that the Chinese were its only enemy and that the other ethnic groups were its friends. With the existing anti-British sentiments already present in Singapore before the occupation, the Japanese saw a golden opportunity to forge a viable cooperation with the Indian POWs because they intended to exploit Indian anti-British sentiments to sabotage British army. In fact, they openly courted the Indian community with broadcast messages telling them the Japanese had come to liberate.
The primary objective was to make use of the Indian POWs in Singapore by harnessing their patriotism to India. At that the time, the Indians in Singapore were eager to join the anti-British, pro-Japanese Indian National Army. It was hoped that they would fight along with the Japanese military in its attacks against New Delhi for the independence of India.
The Japanese formed the “Indian Working Parties in Singapore during early May, 1943. Indian soldiers who had defied the Japanese’s appeal to join the INA had to work on various Japanese contruction projects. The largest group contained 5,000 Indian prisoners which were sent to Rabual in New Britan. The second largest group was sent to Wewak, in north-western Australian New Guinea, which consisted of 3,000 men.
The formation of the INA (Indian National Army) was mooted by an Indian POW, Captain Mohan Singh, in 1942 with the aim of mobilizing Indians in Singapore to support India’s independence struggle. Captain Mohan Singh was appointed as the Supreme Commander of the Indian contingents by the Japanese; he convinced the Indian POWs to enlist in the Indian National Army, only then they are able to liberate India’s freedom from British rule.
The agreed condition was that “military action against the British in India will be taken only by the INA and under Indian command. Indian military, naval and air assistance may be requested from the Japanese by the “Council of Action”. After the liberation of India, the framing of the future constitution of India was left entirely to the representatives of India. Despite supporting the Japanese, it is clear that the Indians’ loyalty belongs to India and India’s liberation from British rule. However, Captain Mohan Singh later fell out with senior Japanese intelligence officers as he did not want the Japanese military to fully control the Indian National Army. Captain Mohan Singh was treated roughly by the Japanese military and stripped of his military powers and put under house arrest. The relationship between the Japanese military and the militant Indian National Army turned sour. The situation had turned risky. Luckily for the Japanese, Subhas Chandra Bose, another leader of the Indian National Army, returned secretly from Germany to Singapore and took over the handling of this highly sensitive matter. No one could imagine what might have happened should the situation deteriorate further as there were more than 20,000 members of the fully armed Indian National Army in the Malay Peninsula.
The Indian POWs, who eventually joined the INA, kept a wary eye on the Japanese Military. Despite the military’s efforts to gain more of the Indian population’s support, they had instilled more fear in their hearts. The brutalities shown against the Chinese sowed seeds of doubt in their hearts, many questioned if this was the benevolent governance of the Imperial Army which they promised. I will now discuss the other group of South Asian POWs in Singapore, those who were anti-japanese. Indian troops captured in Singapore were immediately separated from their European officers and exposed in INA propaganda.
There was a group of Indian soldiers who fought alongside with the British troops and held anti-Japanese sentiments from the start. After British surrendered, the Indian soldiers and many civillans were exposed to INA propaganda; those who refused to join INA, perhaps a quarter of the total, were detained within Singapore and treated as harshly as any other prisoners of the Japanese.
Initially, the Indian POWs were allowed to do as they pleased with little interference from the Japanese. However, a few months later, a POW tried to escape from his confinement and the Japanese’s attitude towards them changed for the worst. Although the attempted escape was a failure, the Japanese still demanded that all the POWs are required to sign a document that states that they would not attempt to escape. Obviously, no POW signed it. As a result, the Japanese herded 20,000 POWs onto a barrack square. They were told to remain there till the order was given to sign the document. As time persisted, still no one signed the document and the Japanese got impatient with their prisoners. A group of POWs was marched to the local beach and shot to serve as a warning to those reaming in the barracks. Only when an epidemic broke out in the barracks, the men had no choice but to sign the document. The commanding officer stated that the document was a non-binding one as it was signed under duress; medicine was desperately needed and the Japanese would have withheld it should they ignore the document. Upon signing of the document, it marked a point of no-return for the Indian POWs at Changi. Indian POWs who reject the offer to join Indian National Army were forced to work for the Japanese. During the duration of the Japanese Occupation, they had to perform grueling tasks which included working in industrial plants and mining coal in Japan. The most notable project, however, was the construction of the infamous Burma Thailand railway (Death Railway).
The Japanese needed another mode of transportation, merely relying on sea routes would leave them vulnerable to attacks from enemies. Thus, they decided to build a railway that paved a new route from Rangoon and the Bay of Bengal through Thailand to Singapore.
Under the captivity of the Japanese, the Indian prisoners were exposed to appalling brutality at the hands of their guards. Many of POWs suffered numerous tropical and dietary diseases and received also no medical care. Day by day, these Indian prisoners lived in fear of being tortured and beaten to death. Each day, they witnessed the agonizing deaths of their fellow countrymen and friends.
In summary, during the three years and eight months, the Japanese military used high-handed measures such as mass screenings and Sook Ching operations against local Chinese and attempted to create rivalry among the different ethnic groups. But little did they expect their actions to give rise to anti-Japanese sentiments even among the Malays and Indians, who began to distrust the Japanese military.
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