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Saraswathi Rajamani joined Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army at 16, as a spy, and has lived a sensational life that seems like fiction now. She passed away in January this year.
Ever heard of Saraswathi Rajamani? Maybe not, as she is one who sacrificed her whole life for the National freedom and like many other freedom fighters slipped into oblivion. Very few people know her, even though she was in Netaji’s Indian National Army! Yet, her role in the Independence Movement reads like a spy action thriller!
Rajamani was born in 1927 in Burma (Myanmar) to an affluent and liberal couple. The family was patriotic and passionate about freedom for their country. Her father owned gold mines in Tiruchirapally but had settled in Burma to avoid arrest by the Britishers.
The great freedom fighters Gandhi and Subash Chandra Bose, who cherished antithetical styles of attaining liberty for their nation, were known to the family. While Gandhi advocated non-violence, Subhas Chandra Bose chose the violent way. His chant, “Give me blood and I will give you freedom,” appealed to the young Rajamani. There was ample liberty in her household and she could read and practice whatever interested her.
Once Gandhi had visited her house in Rangoon (Yangon) and the whole family was excited and all introduced themselves, but little Rajamani was not to be found. Everyone, including the great visitor, searched for her! Eventually, she was found practising shooting in the backyard. Evidently, Gandhiji was surprised and enquired as to why she needed to practice shooting.
“To shoot down the Britishers, of course,” was her firm and candid answer.
“Violence is not the answer, little girl. We are fighting the British through non-violent ways. You should also do that,” Gandhi ji had counselled.
“We shoot and kill the looters, don’t we? The British are looting India, and I am going to shoot at least one Britisher when I grow up,” was her quick and unwavering justification.
A few years later when the 2nd World War was at the peak, Subhas Chandra Bose had visited Rangoon to seek help for the great cause of freedom and also to recruit soldiers for his INA. Rajamani had heard his passionate speeches, and had been intensely impressed. She gave away all her jewellery, both gold and diamonds, that she was wearing.
The wise Bose presumed that she had done this impetuously and innocently. Therefore, he went to her palatial house and returned her jewellery to her father. The gold miner smiled and remained silent. But his young daughter fumed and asserted that the jewellery was indeed hers, and that she had the right to donate for a noble cause. She would certainly not take the ornaments back.
Subhas Chandra Bose was amazed at her precocious statement and said; “Lakshmi (money) comes and goes but not Saraswathi. You have the wisdom of Saraswathi. Hence, I name you Saraswathi.” She had immense sanity and knowledge. Thenceforth, she was called Saraswathi Rajamani.
But the story does not end there. The 16 year old had been electrified by Bose’s fiery speeches and the Indian National Army. Hence, she insisted he enrol her in his army.
Ironically, to join such movement, it was mandatory for a girl/woman to get the permission of her father or male relative! So convincing and adamant she was, that Bose recruited her and four of her friends as spies in INA’s intelligence wing. Thus the 16 year old Sarawathi Rajamani became the nation’s youngest spy, who smuggled secrets for the INA.
Her involvement in the freedom movement and actions are exciting and fearful. If caught, the punishments could be terrible. In fact she and her friends were advised to avoid being caught. The girls dressed as young boys and Saraswati Rajamani’s name was Mani. They started working as errand boys at British military camps and officers’ houses.
For almost two years, the girls carried out the daring task of conveying messages. Unfortunately, one day a spy colleague was caught and jailed. The consequences would be fatal, and Saraswati Rajamani could never leave her friend in the mire. The gutsy girl dressed as a dancer entertained the officers, and drugged them. However, while escaping with her friend the Britishers fired at them. A bullet hit Rajamani’s foot, but the brave girl ran. It is said that the two girls clambered over a tree and camped there for three days while the Britishers continued their search. Eventually, the two girls escaped.
The bullet wound left an eternal limp on her foot, but Saraswathi Rajamani was proud of this. It was like a memento of her exciting spy days! Netaji was quite delighted with her great escapade and lauded her lavishly. The Japanese Emperor himself awarded her with a medal and also the rank of Lieutenant in The Rani of Jhansi Regiment! The young girl was ecstatic.
When the war was over and The British won, Netaji disbanded his INA. He asked Saraswathi Rajamani and her friends to return to India. The family of the brave girl donated all their wealth and came back to their country almost as paupers. Life was too difficult and poverty stricken. But their spirits remained undaunted.
Later, Rajamani continued contributing towards social causes. For a long time, she lived alone in a small room surrounded by Netaji’s photos and fond memories of her kaku. Only in 2005 this veteran freedom fighter was given a small one room flat by the Chief Minister in the Tamil Nadu Housing Society!
It is believed she collected small pieces of cloths from tailors and stitched clothes for the poor, the old and orphans. When in 2006 disastrous floods struck Chennai, she donated her humble pension which she was drawing as freedom fighter.
Many freedom fighters especially, women hardly received recognition and Saraswathi Rajamani was one. The country, for which she had struggled so hard, must honour her with recognition and respect. She died of cardiac arrest on 13th January 2018, in Chennai.
Image source: YouTube
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