Penang Story: Remembering Malayans on the Death Railway and the INA

Penang Story: Remembering Malayans on the Death Railway and the INA

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Penang Story Colloquium

Date: Saturday, 19 October 2013

Time: 9.00 A.M. — 2.00 P.M.

Venue: Hindu Mahajana Sangam, Gandhiji Ashram, 467 Jalan Kebun Bunga (Waterfall Road), Penang

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Penang Heritage Trust championing Penang’s heritage (a tax-exempt charity) supported by Gandhiji Ashram & Think City

Malaysia is yet to fully recognize the immense contributions of the Malayan Indians towards the nurturing and strengthening of the struggle against colonialism. This spirit of nationalism was vigorously encouraged by NetajiSubhas Chandra Bose towards freeing India from British colonial rule by establishing the Indian National Army, the Jhansiki Regiment and the BalakSena.

The Swaraj Institute (Swaraj meaning ‘self-rule) for training espionage and propaganda agents as well as the Azad Hind School operated at the site of the Penang Free School on Green Lane. During the Japanese Occupation, many Indians as well as other ethnic groups, both men and women, had sacrificed their lives on the “Death Railway” construction.

Once the Japanese forces surrendered in Malaya, and India gained its independence, the Malayan Indians used this new found sense of nationalism and patriotism to seek independence for Malaya.

This history colloquium is held on 19 October, 2013, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the completion of the Burma-Thailand Railway and the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India) by NetajiSubhas Chandra Bose in 21 October 1943.



9.00am                 Registration

9.35am                 Welcoming remarks by Khoo Salma, Chairman, Penang Heritage Trust

9.40am                 Opening Address by YB Prof Dr.P. Ramasamy, Deputy Chief Minister of Penang

10.00am               Keynote speech by Prof. David John Boggett, Emeritus Professor at Kyoto Seika University, ‘The Death Railway’

10.40am               Question and answer

11.00am               Morning Tea

11.20am               Chandra Sekaran, Efforts to remember the workers on the Death Railway

11.40am               Jeyaraj C. Rajarao, ‘Indian Nationalism and BalakSena Days in Penang: Personal Experiences’

12.20pm              Himanshu Bhatt, presenting the story of 91-year old Gujarati, GirishKotari, who was a member of the Indian National Army.

12.40pm              Discussion

1.00pm                Closing remarks by Dato’ Anwar Fazal, Chairman, Think City

1.15pm                Lunch



To mark the 50th Anniversary of the ending of World War II, in 1995, The Japanese Yomiuri Television Station aired a special documentary entitled “The Tragedy of the Thai-Burma Railway” (Thai-Men Tetsudo no Higeki). Most – if not all – of the persons interviewed in this documentary have since passed away during the intervening 20 years and it will not be possible to create a record of a comparable standard again. The documentary is one hour long and in Japanese, but notwithstanding the inevitable difficulties of explanation, excerpts from this production form a suitable “keynote” to the 70th Anniversary of the Death Railway’s completion. The excerpts include footage demonstrating the pride of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 5th and 9th Railway Regiment in their achievement in constructing the railway; interviews with former British Prisoner-of-War (POW), Trevor Dakin, who returned to live in Kanchanaburi until his death; former Kempeitai (Japanese Secret Police) translator, Nagase Takashi, explains methods of torture used on prisoners; interviews with Asian “Romusha” from Central Java and the moving story of BuntanWandi, also from Central Java, who still remained living in Thailand at the time of the documentary’s making. The speaker, besides explaining the Japanese language content of the documentary, will try to add further observations gathered during his leading groups of Japanese and Thai students on Field Study Trips to the Railway over a period of some eight years. Hopefully, this documentary material will provide some overall background against which the experiences of other Asian labourers – including those from the Tamil, Malay and Chinese communities of Malaya – can be better understood.


David John Boggett was educated at Read Grammar School, Drax, and Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating in History in 1969.He became the first sabbatical president of the Cambridge Students Representative Organisation (now the Cambridge Students Union). In 1970, he was sent to South Korea to investigate human rights issues affecting a South Korean student from Cambridge University. Thereafter he relocated to Japan. From 1972 to 1975, he was editor and writer (based in Japan) for the small Hong Kong magazine, “Ronin”, a journal on East Asian affairs, later extended to South East Asia. From1975 to 2010, he was a Professor at the Faculty of Humanities, Kyoto Seika University. Around 1980, he took did research during his Sabbatical year, attached to Social Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. In 2010, he was appointed Professor Emeritus of Kyoto Seika University. Now retired he lives near Chiangrai, North Thailand. Prof. Boggett is the author of several articles on East Asian and South-East Asian affairs in various Japanese language publications, and eleven articles on Asian labourers on the Death Railway, published in English in the Journal of Kyoto Seika University.


Jeyaraj C. Rajarao was born in Penang in December 1932; thereafter, he lived and schooled in Penang, leaving for Singapore in 1953 for his University education. Rajarao was an excellent student at the Penang Free School, and secured a First Class Honours’ degree in History at the University of Singapore where he was an active socialist, including being, at different periods, the editor of FAJAR, the Secretary General, and President of the University Socialist Club.  He proceeded to the United Kingdom for his postgraduate studies on a British Council scholarship, and also won the Commonwealth scholarship. He taught History for brief periods at the Universities of Singapore, Malaya and in Penang Free School.  He was also employed as Assistant City Secretary, City Council George Town, Penang from 1965 to 1966. He left for Kuala Lumpur in mid-1966 to head the Publications, Library and Information Division of the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia. He retired in 1987.The Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945 had a strong impact on Indians. Generally, the Indians became severely anti- British and sternly anti-colonialists. They vigorously championed India’s freedom struggle. Rajarao moved with this spirit and became a Balak Sena member, while one of his elder brothers joined the Indian National army and was involved in building the “Death Railway.”


Himanshu Bhatt is a veteran journalist based in Penang. His range of writings and news reports cover a wide array of issues, including politics, arts, business as well as special features on society and culture. He was previously the news editor of The Sun daily before joining where he currently writes. A scholarship graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Himanshu is also involved in Penang’s theatre industry. He is the director of the Cape Poetics Circle, an independent arts concern focussed on literature and drama.


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