KUALA LUMPUR: New research indicates that more than 100,000 Tamils, forcibly recruited by the Japanese in Malaya, died building the Siam-Burma death railway.
Their records were never collated nor did their sacrifices find a place in Malaysian history, said P Chandrasekaran, chairman of the Death Railway Interest Group (DRIG) in a statement.
“The actual number of Asians who died on the railway project will never be known.”
He conceded that public awareness was sorely lacking.
“The governments of India, Malaya, Britain and Japan have all forsaken them.”
Chandrasekaran was setting the theme for DRIG’s one-day symposium on Sept 16, Malaysia Day, to enlighten the public on a piece of Malaysia’s forgotten history.
DRIG wants to document the remaining Malaysian survivors of the Death Railway, he disclosed.
“We want the voiceless to have a voice.
“We will promote their cause and create public awareness.”
The fate of the Asians who worked on the Death Railway were in contrast with the Westerners, who were also forced to help build the railway, according to DRIG.
The infamous Siam-Burma Railway also used prisoners of war (PoWs). The records show that 63,000 Western PoWs worked on the Death Railway. It took the lives of about 13,000 Allied PoWs.
After the war, their remains were salvaged from the 415km-long railway and meticulously laid to rest at three cemeteries dedicated to them, two in the Kanchanaburi district in Thailand, and one in Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar.
The survivors were repatriated, cared for and received some compensation for their ordeal, recalled Chandrasekaran.
“The same cannot be said of the Asian victims.”
The world has almost totally forgotten them. Hundreds of thousands of Asians from Burma, Thailand, Indochina, Malaya and Indonesia worked on the railway project.
“They far outnumbered the PoWs,” said Chandrasekaran. “Their sufferings were no less, if not worse.”
At least 270,000 Asians are thought to have been inducted to help complete the railway in record time of just over a year, working long hours in the inhospitable, disease-infested jungles of Burma and Siam.
The Thai–Burma railway was built in 1942–43 to supply the Japanese forces in Burma and to attack the British in India. This followed attacks at sea on Japanese ships.