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Saturday, December 12, 1998

This above all
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The unknown massacre at Andamans

A slice of history

By Mohinder Singh Dhillon

PERCEPTIONS differ about the massacres carried out by the Germans and Japanese. Hitler and Hirohito were both tyrants and scourge of humanity who brought misery to innocent men, women and children.

Historians and Allies have taken cognizance of what happened in Europe during World War II but have failed to do justice to all that occurred in East and South-East Asia. The slaughter of the French in Oradaur-sur-Glane; of Czechs in Lidice; of Jews in Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Ravensbruck; of Syrians at Hama and Palestinian massacre in Lebanon are well known all over the world. But people are not aware of the Japanese brutalities at Manchukuo, Chahar, Hopeh, Tientsin, Shanghai, Nanking, Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, Burma and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

For Asians, World War II started in 1931 with the occupation of South-East Manchuria; for Africans in 1935 with the attack on Abyssinia; for Europeans in 1939 and for Americans in December 1941. For the Chinese, 1930s were most terrible as they suffered humiliation and horrors, They underwent the worst tortures that Japanese soldiers indulged in, and were made victims of their indescribable ruthlessness. The story of China, particularly that of Nanking, would have gone into oblivion but for a few Americans and Europeans who were witnesses to crimes committed by the Japanese. A number of Chinese too survived to relate the story of woe. Iris Chang, a Chinese American, author of "The Rape of Nanking", is a living legend who has courageously unfolded this tragic tale. Her book, I’m sure, will survive as a classic among the annals of history — a marvellous contribution to the culture, heritage and civilisation of China.

There is a big question mark in my mind, as to why the rape of Nanking, the Bataan march in Manila and the massacre of Port Blair in the Andaman Islands failed to stir the consciousness of mankind. In my opinion its roots lie in global politics.

The Japanese culture will remain stagnant until it apologises to the countries it conquered. The story of the Japanese carnage in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is altogether different. It is unknown even to its countrymen and the government is indifferent to this important event of history. The chain of these islands is situated in the Bay of Bengal at a distance of 780 miles from Calcutta, 740 miles from Madras and 120 miles from Cape Nargis in Burma. Like the Pentoville prison at Port Arthur, the British colonised these islands for the transportation of criminals and freedom fighters.

Details of inhuman slaughter of innocent, unarmed Indians at Port Blair may stimulate academicians and research scholars to make a fresh appraisal of the freedom movement of India.

Twenty thousand Japanese soldiers landed at different places in South Andamans on March 23, 1942. There was no resistance from the local population and within three hours they were in complete control of the islands. A big crowd gathered at the jetty to welcome them. The Japanese used those that were there to welcome them as labourers for unloading arms, ammunition and stores. The same afternoon a different group of soldiers pounced like hungry wolves on shops, looting everything they could lay their hands on. Some of the groups entered the most populous area of Aberdeen and indulged in looting and taking liberty with the women. The inmates looked at them helplessly with dazed eyes. Their oppressive and most undignified behaviour stunned the people who never expected such misconduct from the Japanese, who had innovated the dogma of of South-east Asia.

A young man Zulfikar Ali picked up his BB gun and fired a few shots in the air to scare them away. The Japanese ran away but came back soon with a large armed force and laid siege of the town. In the meantime Zulfi, as he was called, somehow escaped to another area to avoid the Japanese wrath. They ransacked the whole town and misbehaved with women and young girls. They asked the villagers to produce the boy next morning, failing which they would have to face the consequences. While they were leaving they set fire to the house and in no time the rising flames engulfed the nearby houses too as they were made of wood. A few responsible people approached their undisputed leader, Dr Diwan Singh Kalepani, for his advice. He told them to produce the boy next morning. Early next morning, six Japanese soldiers dragged the boy in front of the villagers. He was beaten, kicked and fiercely thrashed till he was unconscious. Again they lifted this half-dead boy, broke his joints and bones and made him the target of bayonet charge. His grave in Port Blair will ever remind the butchery of the Japanese soldiers. To soothe the feelings of the Indians, after a few days the Japanese charged A G Bird, a British POW, on the charge of spying. The same drill was repeated and his body was cut in small pieces for animals to eat. His head was hanged on a tree. In a daring move, Diwan Singh and Sebastian Pinto (assistant to the doctor) collected A G Bird’s remains to give a decent Christian burial. The Japanese took serious offence to this.

To strengthen their hold, a civil government was established. A Governor was appointed who was to be assisted by the Vice-Admiral. The Japanese indulged in the rape and abduction of women. The soldiers in liaison with civil police would enter the houses of the people and forcibly rape women and indulge in sodomy with young boys. The Japanese surpassed Halaku and Chengiz Khan in deriving pleasure from the unbelievable orgies they engaged themselves in. The conditions in the villages situated in the hinterland became so pathetic that a number of locals became collaborators to gain favours from the unscrupulous Japanese.

Diwan Singh, the healer of the people, was their only ray of hope. He, as Director, Health, President of the Indian Independence League, the Indian National Army, peace committee and the Seva Samiti met the Governor every day to seek intervention for the mitigation of people’s misery. This provoked the Japanese police and administration so much, that with the help of local collaborators they started poisoning the ears of the Governor. But Diwan Singh continued to serve his people undeterred.

To further strengthen their hold, and to create awe among the people, the Japanese arrested eight high-ranking Indian officials who were considered to be very close to them in the first spy case in October, 1943. They were tortured and beaten for a number of days to extract false confessions. After they confessed, they were starved and taken to an isolated place. They were forced to dig a trench and buried alive up to the waist. The soldiers then struck them in their eyes, head and waist with their bayonets, then sprayed bullets till they were dead. Diwan Singh lodged a strong protest with the Governor and the Vice-Admiral. To silence him the peace committee was dissolved.

Diwan Singh was arrested on October 23, 1943. On entering the jail, he was jeered, abused and beaten mercilessly. In a week’s time, all his 2000 associates who were the members of the peace committee, the IIL, the INA, the Seva Samiti and the Punjabi Society, were also arrested and huddled in the jail. The Japanese beat and tortured them with water treatment, electric shocks, hanging them upside down, and burning heaps of paper under their thighs. A very large number of them died, some committed suicide and a few made false confessions to save their lives. They were taken to a far-flung place, killed and buried.

Diwan Singh was brutally tortured for 82 days, a parallel of which is difficult to find in human history. He was hung with his hair from the ceiling. At other occasions, his ankles were tied to ceiling, water was pumped through his mouth and nostrils, and he was tied to a stake, and his bones were crunched and subjected to electric shocks. Fire was burned under his thighs; nails pulled from his fingers and toes. Flesh from various parts of his body was pulled daily, and he was forced to sit on a charcoal stove. His eyeballs were gouged, but the Japanese failed to break his spirit. He died on January 14, 1944.

After his death the Japanese let loose a reign of terror. Young girls and women were forcibly taken to the officers’ club to give comfort to the Japanese elite and army officers. A shipload of Korean girls was also brought to give comfort to every soldier.

It was free for all. Men, women and children were shot dead or hacked by sword for no reason.

In the first week of June, 1945, hundreds of educated families were lodged in the cellular jail on a false promise that they are being taken to a virgin soil to lead a comfortable life. They were boarded on a number of transport aircraft. On sighting the Havelock Island, situated at a distance of 50 miles from Port Blair, they were ordered to jump in the sea. Whoever hesitated was beaten with the rifle butts, some were struck with swords and bayonets. Out of 1,500, about 250 swam ashore to die of hunger and starvation. In a fortnight half of them died; the rest were struggling to survive on the leaves and bark of trees, as the soil was saline and unproductive. In the end only one person named Mohammad Saudagar survived to tell the story of woe.

Within a week of this cold-blooded massacre the Japanese again chased people from villages and lodged them in a central village to facilitate their transportation to a nearby island. After keeping them hungry for 24 hours they were taken to Tarmugli Island. All the 900 people were tied with trees of the soldiers’ bayonet practice. Petrol was sprinkled and they were burned to ashes while some of them were still alive.

More than 2,000 people were crammed in the cellular jail and due to the shortage of space the remaining few hundred were kept in Thokuman and Namtal. They were starved and beaten, and a large number of them died. Apart from these massacres, hundreds of people were killed in villages and on roads. The whole island had become an inferno. Out of the total population of 40,000 in Port Blair, 30,000 were annihilated.

This holocaust is unknown to the world, maybe because it was a penal settlement for the dreaded convicts and freedom fighters. The world along with Japan grieves every year for the victims of the atom bomb. But historians and journalists have not made any effort to unmark the mass killings of innocent people at Port Blair, complete devastation of an Indian island, continuous suffering of the people for a period of three-and-a-half years. Japanese politicians and bureaucrats have made deliberate efforts to distort the facts of history.

Posterity will ask uncomfortable questions about the vandalism of the Japanese and the role played by them for the freedom of India in collaboration with Subhas Chandra Bose. Ironically, Bose was in Port Blair between December 29-31, 1943. He visited the cellular jail where Diwan Singh, the president of the Indian Independence League and hundreds of his companions were languishing, but he did not visit them. After wining, dining and dancing in the Ross Island he went back to Singapore. This is how Tojo helped Bose to get freedom for India from the British.

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East has taken note of the Nanking massacre, the Bataan march in Manila where hundreds starved and the sick fell dead; of the savage treatment meted out to the labourers engaged in the Siam-Burma railway line, of men exiled to the New Guinea and Papua Islands to die a slow death, and about the medical experiments of the Japanese on their POWs. But it has not made even a reference to the holocaust in the Andamans.

The rape of Nanking would have gone into the dustbin of history but for some foreigners who not only stayed to witness the horrors of the Japanese atrocities but also sent information to the western world. A fairly large number of Chinese survived to relate this gory tale of the military adventure of the Japanese army. The diaries of John Rape and Wilhelmina Vaturin, commitment of Dr Wilson and Symthe, dispatches of Frank Tilban Durdin of New York Times, Acrhibald Steele of Chicago Daily News and C. Yates MacDaniel of Associated Press acted as beacons of light during the greatest bloodbath of world history. Similarly, the contribution of Raoul Wallenbergs, a Swedish diplomat, in saving the lives of 100,000 Jews by giving false passports, Schindler, a Nazi in saving 1200 Jews from the Auschwitz gas chamber and the courage of Mies Giep, an Austrian to give shelter to young Anne Frank and her family in her attic in Amsterdam cannot be forgotten.

But the story for Andaman is all together different. There was only one Dr Diwan Singh, the dark times failed to paralyse and who set aside all precautions in resisting the unpredictable Japanese. This gruesome event of Japanese Barbarism must be unfolded to convince the world about the ‘dirty war’ waged by the Japanese. The boundaries of Japanese misdeeds are wide and scattered.

Their international conference of scholars, writers, historians, journalists and human rights champions should ponder on my suggestion.back

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