Life is never a bed of roses, especially for women who work in a world dominated by their male counterparts.
Honored with the Padma Shri in 2000, Puan Sri Janaky Athi Nahappan or fondly known as Janaki Thevar was the first woman out of India to be awarded one of the highest titles in India. She was also the first woman who joined the Indian National Army and worked for Malayan Independence.
Born in 1925 and raised by a well to do family in Kuala Lumpur, Janaky left home to join the Indian National Army (INA) at the tender age of 18 and rose to the rank of captain and second in command of the Rhani Regiment of Jhansi. She was the only female regiment in the INA.
The first decision for Janaki was to remove all of her expensive gold jewelry and donate it to the Indian National Army. Next, she declared her decision to take part in one of the most unexpected occurrences in the Asia-Pacific theatre of World War II: the formation of an all-female fighting team, the ‘Rani of Jhansi’ Regiment (RJR) of INA!
The charismatic leader made a fiery speech addressing nearly 60000 Indians (of whom Janaki was a part), encouraging all to take up arms against the British Raj. It was the inspiring words of Netaji that ignited a fervor in the young girl to struggle for the independence of a nation she had never seen but felt like she belonged to.
During World War II, she bravely took up arms against the British on the Indian-Burmese border.
Freedom; A word that takes on different dimensions viewed through a gender lens.
She persevered, preferring camp life’s struggles over the comfort of their homes. Yet, she knew the freedom of another kind was also offered by their position in RJR.
We may be the softer sex but I surely protest against the word ‘weaker’. All sorts of epithets have been given to us by man in order to guard his own selfish interests. It is time we shattered this chain of chauvinism along with the chain of Indian slavery.
Janaki joined the Indian Congress Medical Mission in Malaya when the INA was dissolved after the British won the war. She helped John Thivy create the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) in 1946, inspired by the work being done by the Indian National Congress (INC) in India.
The INC inspired her to form a political party that would lead to the development of Indian immigrants in Malaysia.
Later on, she met Athi Nahappan (then the editor of Tamil Nesan Malayan Tamil Daily) in 1948 and married him the following year.
Janaki’s spirit and commitment to serve people had barely withered with time and age. Unsurprisingly, her tremendous effort also saw her being nominated as a senator in the Upper House (Dewan Negara) of the Malaysian Parliament.
She is remembered for openly breaking gender stereotypes and proved her leadership prowess as a woman who indeed brought change.