India had the first all-women infantry regiment in the world: Vera Hildebrand

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Author Vera Hildebrand talks about her book on the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, the first all-women infantry regiment in the world.

Vera Hildebrand has authored a book that takes us back in time. The history of women at war. We have always known of India’s freedom struggle and women who have led that but very little about women who were part of uniformed regiments fighting battles. In her book, Women At War, Vera has outlined the Rani Jhansi Regiment and how its women under the guidance of Subhash Chandra Bose took on a mammoth effort to fight for freedom.

“Their fight for freedom coincided with the feminist movement in the late 30s,” she says in a chat about her book with Poorvi Gupta, correspondent with SheThePeople.TV. Talking about India’s feminist history, she claimed that the fight for equality happened during the same time as the freedom fight in the 30s and 40s. “It is perhaps difficult to separate the two but I asked the Gandhis when I interviewed them if women’s rights were foremost in their minds and only one said that that was one of her main thoughts, others only had the freedom objective in their minds,” shared Vera.

Her inspiration to write came from meeting Indian women who she says were very nice to her husbands, would eat after them etc, an idea she says was alien in Denmark where she is from. “I thought this is very different from Danish women, I found it strange,” recalls Vera. This triggered her curiosity about women in India and their history. In her research she discovered that India was the only country with an all women regiment, one that existed in Subhash Chandra Bose’s army called the Rani of Jhanshi regiment. “Oh now we had something totally different.” She was later introduced to Lakshmi Sehgal and went to her house in Kanpur and stayed for five days talking about Subhas Chandra Bose and the Rani of Jhansi regiment. This triggered the idea of a book and she travelled across the region to fetch women who were associated with the regiment.

Vera is Danish and grew up in Copenhagen. She picked Germanic languages for her Masters at Harvard University and completed her doctorate in liberal studies from Georgetown University. She has traveled extensively in India, Malaysia, and Singapore to locate and interview women who served during World War II with Subhas Chandra Bose in the Indian National Army in Burma, in alliance with the Japanese as part of the failed attempt to liberate India. Her book Women at War: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Rani of Jhansi Regiment will be published in 2016 by HarperCollins.