Subject: [cwj 125] Neglected in Life, Indian Wartime Labourer Honoured in Film
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Sat, 28 Oct 2000 17:12:41 -0700
Seq: 125

Neglected in Life, Indian Wartime Labourer Honoured in Film

By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Oct 21 (IPS) - It has the same title as a Hollywood movie starring
action star Clint Eastwood, but the new documentary by noted Japanese
director Hideki Nakamura is hardly about some gruesome murder like the one
investigated by Eastwood's character.

Still, in many ways, Nakamura's 'True Crime' can be said to be about the
slow death of a man who may have escaped being killed during World War II,
but found himself ''sentenced'' to a life of misery in a strange land.

As far as Nakamura can ascertain, Dia, the Indian hero of the documentary,
travelled from his homeland to Thailand through Burma during the war, as
part of a group of prisoners captured by the Japanese Imperial Army.

By the time Nakamura found him decades later, he was still in Thailand, living
in a rundown shack in a corner of a cotton field in the western province of

''He kept nodding when I asked him about his work for the Japanese
military,'' says the 50-year-old director, who also recorded on film a scene
with Dia tracing with a finger his route through Burma to Thailand.

''After talking with several other old people in the area,'' he
adds, ''I came to conclusion that he worked on the long railway that was
constructed between Thailand and Burma by the Japanese army.''

That ''death'' railway was made famous by another US film, 'Bridge
on the River Kwai'. Released in 1957, that movie featured the harrowing
experiences of prisoners from the Allied forces who were used as forced
labour to
build the 415-kilometer long bridge.

More than 60,000 Allied prisoners of war were reported to have
worked on the railway. Of these, some 15,000 died, many of them succumbing to
either malaria or harsh working conditions at the Japanese-run camps.

But Nakamura thinks that the number of men rounded up from South
and South-east Asia and forced to work on the railway was higher,
estimating it
to be around 100,000.

''Apart from Dia, I met with several old Thai men who said they
had to work for the Japanese Army,'' he says. ''The reason why I decided to
was to publicise their plight that is hardly known compared to their
Western counterparts.''

In fact, Nakamura's first documentary, 'Railway to Death: Those
Left Behind', features some of these Asian former prisoners of war. In that
film, which was shot in Thailand and the border with Burma, the men --
including Dia, an Indonesian and some Malaysians and Thais, testified how
they were
forced to work on the railway.

Dia, however, did not speak in 'Railway to Death'. He is also mute
in 'True Crime', although it is apparent that he is not deaf and can
understand what people are saying to him.

''I realised that Dia could not speak because of his great
loneliness and sorrow from being separated from home,'' says Nakamura. ''The
situation was very depressing.''

In one scene in 'True Crime', Nakamura takes Dia to the railway
site and watches intently as the 80-year-old suddenly starts to pick weeds
after he crouches on the side of the railway line.

Says Nakamura: ''Dia would go on doing this for hours. I realised
he was doing this out of habit, which indicated that this must have been his
work for several years till the end of World War II.''

After that, from what Nakamura was able to piece together, it
seems that the Indian, who must have been in his late 30s to early 40s at the
time, was left penniless and alone in Thailand at the end of the Pacific War.

He was able to find work as a hired labourer on various farms, but
there is no telling how well -- or how miserably -- he was treated. At the
farm where Nakamura met him, Dia was not paid any money for attending to the
fields. Instead, his labour was considered payment for his shack, some
food and a few clothes.

''His only belongings was a bundle, which contained a few remnants
of his past such as a military medal, a few Thai baht and some old clothes,''
recounts Nakamura. ''He was so poor he could not possibly run away.''

Nakamura, a former schoolteacher, says he heard about Dia from his
Thai friends and hastened to meet the tall, reed-thin old man. Nakamura
says he
felt a sense of responsibility as a Japanese to do something about the

It is evident in 'True Crime' that the two men formed a heart-
warming friendship. In some scenes, Nakamura buys his new friend clothes
and food during visits, and pays Dia's Thai neighbours to look after the
lonely old man.

The approximately 90-minute film also shows clearly how the silent
Dia comes alive when he is shown some kindness.

Nakamura says 'True Crime', which is to be released soon, is a
kind of epitaph for Dia and other deceased Asian wartime labourers. ''If
this film
is successful I would like to make a Hindi-language version,'' he says.

Nakamura's first documentary was well received in Japan and
attracted donations for the ex-prisoners of war from the Japanese audience.
Up to now,
there is still a steady stream of inquiries for private viewing of 'Railway
to Death' by people who believe it is a crucial documentation of Asian forced

At present, Japan is grappling with several lawsuits filed by former
wartime labourers. Just last July, a Japanese machine toolmaker reached a
settlement with three South Koreans who served as unpaid workers for the

A lawsuit has also been filed in Los Angeles by a former US soldier against
a Japanese company, claiming that he was a victim of forced labour.

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