When Japanese ate Indian soldiers

Many atrocities were made in the second world war. If one sits to find how much damage was done. It would take more than a lifetime to calculate and put together everything. On April 2, 1946 a year before India achieves its Independence. The Japanese Lieutenant Hisata Tomiyasu was found guilty of the murder of 14 Indian soldiers and of cannibalism at Wewak (New Guinea) in 1944 and was sentenced to death by hanging.

Indian PoWs and some Indian Army members were captured by the Japanese soldiers. One needs to remember that what we are talking here is the fact that occurred during World War, and India was not an independent nation then. Therefore, the soldiers were actually working for the British government as reinforcements.

Infact, India had an independent military setup under Subhash Chandra Bose, which was termed by British as a rebel or terrorist organization. After the fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942, 40,000 men of the Indian Army became prisoners of war (PoWs). Some 30,000 of them joined the INA. But those who refused were destined for torture in the Japanese concentration camps. They were first sent to transit camps in Batavia (now Djakarta) and Surabaya from where they were packed off to New Guinea, New Britain, and Bougainvillea.

At the camps, they made no distinction between Indian officers and men. Officers would be slapped across the face or beaten up with sticks for the slightest error made by their men —error in this case being a tired soldier taking a moment’s rest while on double fatigue duty, or a sick soldier failing to salute a Japanese officer. Very often, work parties of haggard men would be taken away from the camps to the shooting range where they would be used as live targets for new Japanese infantry recruits to improve their marksmanship. Soldiers who were not killed in the firing but wounded were bayoneted to death.

It was a never-ending horror for those who were shipped out to the Pacific islands. “On the ship that took them to the Admiralties, two thousand were herded below deck like cattle, were allowed on the hatchways only once a day…” The Times of India reported on May 16, 1944. On another ship, a certain Captain Pillay, an Army doctor, was told by the Japanese that “water and air was not for the prisoners”. With “just two cups of water in 24 hours”, the men were forced to drink the saline seawater. Many didn’t survive the journey.

The Sikhs were particularly insulted for their long hair and beards. In February, 1944, eight rescued Sikh PoWs narrated their tales of suffering and about the indignities heaped on them. “We were locked in a room for a night and a day without water. Next day, when our mouths were very dry, they took us out and made a sport of plucking our beards. For food we were given dry bread, but before we could eat it our hands were tied behind our backs. We writhed in pain to get at the bread, which was placed in our laps. One Indian commissioned officer who asked for water was hit on the head and shot. Another was forced to drink large quantities, and when he had finished the Japanese jumped on his stomach until the water poured from his mouth, ears, nose, and eyes,” one of the men was quoted in the Canberra Times dated February 4, 1944.

But the most spine-chilling of all Japanese atrocities was their practice of cannibalism. One of the first to level charges of cannibalism against the Japanese was Jemadar Abdul Latif of 4/9 Jat Regiment of the Indian Army, a VCO who was rescued by the Australians at Sepik Bay in 1945. He alleged that not just Indian PoWs but even locals in New Guinea were killed and eaten by the Japanese. “At the village of Suaid, a Japanese medical officer periodically visited the Indian compound and selected each time the healthiest men. These men were taken away ostensibly for carrying out duties, but they never reappeared,” the Melbourne correspondent of The Times, London, cabled this version of Jemadar Latif on November 5, 1946.

Latif’s charges were buttressed by Captain R U Pirzai and Subedar Dr Gurcharan Singh. “Of 300 men who went to Wewak with me, only 50 got out. Nineteen were eaten. A Jap doctor —Lieutenant Tumisa, formed a party of three or four men and would send an Indian outside the camp for something. The Japs immediately would kill him and eat the flesh from his body. The liver, muscles from the buttocks, thighs, legs, and arms would be cut off and cooked,” Captain Pirzai told Australian daily The Courier-Mail in a report dated August 25, 1945.

Then there were more similar testimonies by PoWs interned in other camps, such as Havildar Changdi Ram and Lance Naik Hatam Ali, who also gave details of cannibalism practised in their camps. John Baptist Crasta of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, also a PoW at Rabaul, wrote in his memoir (Eaten by the Japanese: The Memoir of an Unknown Indian Prisoner of War) about Japanese eating Indian soldiers. He was made part of the Allied investigation into Japanese war crimes later.

All these soldiers gave sworn testimonies to the war crimes investigation commissions set up by the Allies, based on which several Japanese officers and men were tried. The senior-most Japanese officer found guilty of cannibalism and hanged was Lieutenant General Yoshio Tachibana.

The Japanese, though, were always dismissive of these charges. Then in 1992, a Japanese historian named Toshiyuki Tanaka found incontrovertible evidence of Japanese atrocities, including cannibalism, on Indians and other Allied prisoners. His initial findings were printed by The Japan Times. In 1997, Tanaka came out with his book, Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes In World War II. There, he refuted the Allies’ conclusion that the Japanese resorted to cannibalism when their supplies dwindled. Tanaka said this was done under the supervision of senior officers and was perceived as a power projection tool.