Trigger warning: Violence against women
Through India’s struggle for freedom, there emerge a number of names to whom we owe our independence.
And one such significant name is that of Neera Arya, who is more popularly known as the first women spy in the Indian National Army.
Over seven decades later, the world will now know of the bravery of the woman who chose to lead a life less ordinary and give her all to the nation, thanks to a biopic by Kannada film director Roopa Iyer.
Here’s the heroic life of Neera Arya and how she found a place in history.
On 5 March 1902 in Khekra Nagar in Baghpat district, Neera Arya was born into an influential family. Her father Seth Chhajjumal, a famous businessman, saw to it that his children Neera and Basant got an education in Kolkata.
From a young age, Neera was extremely interested in the nation’s welfare and, following school, joined the Rani Jhansi Regiment in the Azad Hind Fauj as a soldier.
Neera’s father soon found a suitable match for his daughter in British Army Officer Srikant Jai Ranjan Das who, at the time, was posted as CID Inspector in India.
This soon became a point of conflict between the couple as they shared different ideologies and allegiance to different parties. When Shrikant got to know about Neera’s involvement in Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Army, he began questioning her about it in an attempt to get to know the whereabouts of the leader.
Neera did not give in, but Shrikant persisted.
One fateful day, when Neera had met Bose to discuss important matters, Shrikant followed Neera and opened fire, in the process firing at Bose’s driver.
Neera, who immediately knew what was going to happen next, killed Shrikant by stabbing him, thus saving Bose. For this, she was sentenced to imprisonment in the cellular jail of Andaman and Nicobar by the British Government.
But her patriotism for the nation did not end there.
Refusal to betray
During the time she spent in jail, Neera was bribed that if she divulged information about the leaders of the INC, especially Subhash Chandra Bose, she would be given bail.
However, she refused this and even spat at a prison guard once.
Reports from history go on to state that in jail, Neera had her breasts cut off when she wouldn’t give details about the freedom struggle and the leaders.
Despite the torture, Neera remained loyal to the nation and went on to become the first woman spy of the Azad Hind Fauj, a title and responsibility that were conferred on her by Bose himself.
Excerpts from her writings state, “I had a girl Saraswati Rajamani with me. She was younger than me and was from Burma. She and I were given the responsibility of spying on the British officers. We adopted boys’ costumes. We spied on the homes of British officers and military camps. We used to share the information we got from here with Netaji.”
Thus, Neera helped the INA significantly through her efforts. It is said that in the last few years of her life, she made a living by selling flowers.
After spending this time in a hut in the Falaknuma area of Hyderabad, she breathed her last on 26 July 1998 at Osmania Hospital near Charminar.
Neera Arya: the biopic
Roopa Iyer will make her Bollywood debut as an actor and director through this biopic.
She was quoted saying in an interview, “These stories present different kinds of challenges. The movie will be portrayed from a journalist’s point of view. I have referred to many books to get authentic details about her and major events that unfolded during the 1940s. I have met many people in Khekada, her birthplace. The main reason for picking the subject is to pass it on to future generations who do not know about many great freedom fighters who dedicated their life for the country, apart from well-known ones like Mahatma Gandhi or Subhas Chandra Bose.”
Roopa is known for her storytelling style and has given the film world some much-acclaimed flicks such as Mukhaputa (2010), Chandra (2013), and more such releases.
The film has been scripted by National Award-winning writer Varun Gautham and more about the movie will be known soon.
Edited by Divya Sethu
Roopa Iyer’s Bollywood debut is on India’s first woman spy before Independence by Vinay Lokesh, Published on 22 October 2022.
Subhash Chandra Bose: आजाद हिंद फौज की पहली महिला जासूस नीरा आर्या…बचाई नेताजी की जान, पति को किया कुर्बान by Sudhakar Singh, Published on 21 January 2021.
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