Note: The individuals in this portrait were not named in archival records.
The Indian POWs had seemingly few options open to them. Once captured, they could join the Indian National Army (“INA”). This army would fight in alliance with the Japanese to force the British to withdraw from India. The second alternative was to be slave labourers in Japanese camps. Neither option can be remotely described as attractive. The INA would fail in its goal and its men would later be rounded up by the British and put to trial in Delhi. Meanwhile the men that refused to join the ranks of the INA would fare no better, indeed the title “slave laborers” is proof enough of their ordeal.
Unbeknownst to many, there was a third option, joining the Japanese army. Indians who wanted to be rid of British rule now had two alternatives, either the INA or the Japanese army. But more puzzling perhaps was that some Indians who refused membership in the INA would also join the Japanese army. Why would men who refused to fight alongside the Japanese army go on to join the Japanese army? Some would surmise that they had no choice in the matter, and were made to pledge allegiance under duress. Others may argue, less convincingly, that they did so of their own volition to join the side that seemed to be wining.
Whatever the reason, these men that joined the Japanese Army after refusing the INA would fare no better either. The fate of five Indian men in the Romu Tai in Sarawak can attest to this. After being captured as POWs and refusing to join the INA, they had seemingly taken the oath and became part of the Japanese army. But this allegiance was short-lived. As the allied troops began arriving in Borneo with their warships docking on its bay, these five men decided that it was time to leave the Romu Tai army camp.
Unfortunately, they would not reach their destination. A Japanese Colonel caught them along a bridge in Sarawak and found in their possession, gas masks, army uniforms and secret Japanese maps. They would later be found guilty of treasonous activity, since in the eyes of the colonel and his superiors they were still members of the Japanese Army. And for their crimes they would be executed.
And yet, one might argue, that finding them guilty of treason seems premature. If they had been forced to join the Japanese Army, arguably their allegiance was not pledged to Japan but remained with the British Indian Army. Had they been loyalist to the INA agenda, then perhaps the judgement was treason would be more logical. Unfortunately, because no trial was given and no testimony taken from these five men, their true allegiance remains unknown.