Chennai, India +91

M. Govindhammal

(1927 – 2016) – (Tamilnadu)

Govindammal (Aged 89) was born in 1927 and became a member of the Jhansi Rani Army, the women’s wing of the Indian National Army formed by Netaji in 1943. Her father, Munusamy Chettiar, was a weaver who moved to Malaysia with his family three months after Govindammal’s birth. He knew Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and English, so he worked in the post office in Malaysia and later in jewelry for a few years.

Govindammal studied up to the eighth standard in education and got married to Arunachal Chettiar in 1940. She worked for some time in a Malaysian rubber plantation. Netaji’s campaign for Indian independence was a turning point in her life. During the Indian Liberation War, many Tamil workers in Malaysian rubber plantations joined the Indian National Army. This was mocked by Churchill, who said that the blood of Tamils sucking rubber milk in a Malaysian garden was clotted in Netaji’s brain.

Netaji retaliated by inviting the workers to join his army, and Govindammal was one of them. In the 1940s, Netaji campaigned for Indian independence in countries such as Myanmar and Malaysia. Govindammal listened to his heroic speech while campaigning in the Malacca region of Malaysia and donated six pounds of bracelets and a one-acre rubber plantation from her wedding fund.

A few months later, she campaigned for the youth to join the Indian National Army. Netaji also invited women to join the Jhansi Rani force, the women’s wing of the Indian National Army. Accepting the invitation, Govindammal joined the Jhansi Rani Pada on 12.12.1943. Up to 1,500 women joined the force, which was formed by a woman named Lakshmi Swaminathan with 20 Singaporean women. Of the 1,500 women, the first 100 were selected and trained to shoot multiple rounds, and Govindammal was one of them. Netaji praised her for her honesty and promoted her to Lands Hero.

She served in the army until 1.10.1945. After the disbandment of the force on August 16, 1945, she and her husband came to Tamil Nadu in 1949 with only six children. The war was raging then, but the Janshirani force was stationed on the Indian-Burmese border. There, they overcame an attack by guerrillas, and the path to the arrival of food and ammunition was paralyzed. Due to the cruelty of hunger, they had to eat wild fruits that caused diarrhea, vomiting, and toxicity.

In this situation, Netaji, who could not cope with the war, ordered the return of the army to Malaya so that it would not be captured by the enemy. But the leader of the force, Ilakshmi Sakal, refused. That night, the hospital was the target of an airstrike, even though the Red Cross was identified as the hospital. The hospital was leveled to the ground, and Commander Ellappa was severely injured. Some more were killed by British guerrilla bombing in an attempt to escape. Her lifelong friends Stella and Josmin were also killed in the fighting.

The Central Government of India refused to pay her a pension, but she has been receiving a pension from the Government of Tamil Nadu since 1970. She lost her husband in a road accident on 14.8.1960, and then married off her four daughters.  She worked for wages to make her two sons study.  Govindammal then did various chores, such as cooking lunch at a school and working as a laborer in a flour mill. At one point she was unable to do any work due to old age. She lived on a meager pension provided by the state government. Govindammal, who grew up in poverty, died due to old age. She passed away by 2016. She gave all his property for national liberation and lived and died without a home of his own till the end.