|Lakshmi Sehgal – popularly called as Captain Lakshmi – was a part of Indian National Army (INA) established by Indian freedom fighter Netaji Subash Chandra Bose.She was a revolutionist during Indian independence movement, Captain of Jhansi Rani regiment of INA, Minister of Provisional Government of Azad Hindh established by Netaji, founder of AIDWA, a women activist, Member of Parliament representing Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a life time social reformer.She was the receiver of Padma Vibhushan award in 1998 for her social work done for the nation.PERSONAL LIFE
Captain Lakshmi was born as Lakshmi Swaminathan in a well-educated, illustrious Tamil Brahmin family in Madras Province (Chennai) on October 24, 1914 to S. Swaminathan and Ammukutty Swaminathan. Her father was a lawyer in Madras High Court and her mother was an independent activist and a social worker from the prominent Vadakkath family of Anakkara in Palghat, Kerala. Her sister is Mrinalini Sarabhai, a great Bharatha Natyam dancer and wife of Vikram Sarabhai, the great space scientist.
She was a rebellion against caste right from her childhood. In Kerala, she used to hear calls and hollers of the people of a particular community from her grandmother’s house, whom were called as “untouchables” or “polluted people” by her grandmother. Once, Lakshmi willingly walked towards a tribal girl of this community, touched her hand and led her for playing.
Captain Lakshmi’s mother was a fervent freedom fighter. One day, when Lakshmi was a kid, she entered into Lakshmi’s room, took all her foreign clothes and burnt them. Thereafter, Lakshmi and her sister were instructed to wear only cotton dresses woven by Indian people. Lakshmi was also moved out of English school and joined in an ordinary Government School.
After her school studies, she joined Madras Medical College, from where she received her MBBS degree in 1938. After a year, she received her certificate for diploma in gynecology and obstetrics. In the intermediate years, she saw her family moving into freedom struggle. She also noticed how South India engaged itself into political freedom struggle along with social reform. The activists were also fighting against social evils like caste, community, restriction of entry to Dalits into temple, child marriage, and restriction against widow remarriage and dowry. She got introduced to Communism through Suhasini Nambiar, sister of Sarojini Naidu, who is the first female Governor of independent India.
She was working as a doctor in Government Kasthuriba Gandhi Hospital at Triplicane, Chennai. After her failure of marriage with P. K. N. Rao, she moved to Singapore in 1940 and started a clinic. She was serving the migrant laborers of India as well as poor. It was the time when she met some of the members of INA and actively involved in Indian Independence League.
PATH TO SUCCESS
In 1942, Singapore was surrendered to Japan by British. Lakshmi was aiding the wounded prisoners of this war, many of them who were interested in joining INA. Singapore was the resident of many of the Indian socialist workers like K. P. Kesava Menon, S. C. Guha and N. Raghavan who formed a Council of Action.
It was in this backdrop Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose came to Singapore in July 1943, established Azad Hindh Fauj (INA) and Provisional Government of Azad Hind on October 21, 1943. Lakshmi heard that Netaji was keen in drafting women for INA after which she got an appointment to speak with Netaji. On talks over five hours, Lakshmi joined in INA and as a part of INA, Netaji established a regiment in the name of 1857 Indian Independence fighter, Jhansi Rani. Lakshmi became the colonel of Rani of Jhansi regiment and was called familiarly as Captain Lakshmi, known with the same name till her death. Many more women enthusiastically joined Jhansi Rani Regiment under the leadership of Captain Lakshmi.
INA marched with the aid of Japanese army for capturing Delhi through Imphal in 1944, but faced a setback. They also marched with Japanese army during Second World War for fighting against British power heading to capture Burma, but were finally defeated. Captain Lakshmi was arrested in May 1945 in Burma and she was released in March 1946. She was then sent to India when the vigorous INA trials were taking place in Delhi against the three colonels of INA, Colonel Shah Nawaz Khan, Colonel Gurubhaksh Singh Dillon, and Colonel Prem Shegal.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is said to have died in a flight accident on August 19, 1945. After his demise, the INA members were sent to Delhi and sentenced to various punishments by the British government. INA trial or Red Fort Trial intensified the hatred of Indian people against British Government, eventually led Britishers to leave India, even though they were one of the Super Powers.
Finally, Indians won and India got independence on August 15, 1947.
SERVICES OF CAPTAIN LAKSHMI
Captain Lakshmi got married to Colonel Prem Shegal in March 1947 and the couple moved to Kanpur from Lahore. She plunged into her medical field again and started serving the people. She was actively involved in aiding refugees who were affected during Partition of India.
By early 1970, Captain Lakshmi’s daughter, Subashini Ali joined Communist Party of India (Marxist). She brought to her mother’s attention about an appeal of Jyothi Basu (Chief Minister of West Bengal) for medical and doctors supply to help Bangladesh refugees. She served there for nearly five weeks and then joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1971. The 57-year-old said that she felt as if she is in her home. Later, she was elected as a Member of Parliament and represented her party in Rajya Sabha.
She was one of the founders of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) in 1981, fighting for the rights of women. She also involved herself in various campaigns and activities.
After the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, she led a team to Bhopal for treating the victims. During the non-sikh riots that took place after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she fought for the safety of Sikh people located around her hospital. She even conveyed her hatred against the Hindu people who were celebrating the Ayodya mosque demolition.
She was arrested in 1996 for her protest against the conduction of Miss World Competition in Bengaluru in 1996.
Captain Lakshmi was the sole Presidential candidate (Left Front candidate) in 2002 against A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who defeated her with major vote difference. But, Captain Lakshmi took this as an experience in finding out the current state of her country people.
According to her daughter Subhashini Ali, her mother was an atheist and she reiterates the fact that her work is her first husband.
She was very close to Shahad Ali, the film maker and her grandson; she never missed to watch his movie and comment on them.
FINAL DAYS AND DEATH
Every morning, after she opens up her door, she sweeps the place in front of her home that a sweeper can do. But she thought that it was the least service she could do for her Mother India. In her hospital, she was not charged with more responsibilities. Even though, many patients wait for getting treated by her.
On July 19, 2012 Captain Lakshmi suffered a heart attack at her residence located in Civil Lines area in Kanpur. She was admitted in hospital and kept in life support system. While she was under treatment, she also suffered brain stroke and entered into coma; gradually her organs stopped working. Captain Lakshmi, an icon of Indian freedom and the last INA solider died on July 23, 2012.
Her daughter and former MP Subhashini Ali and grandson Shahad Ali were by her side when she died. She was paid tribute by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat, Megastar Amitabh Bachchan, Vayalar Ravi, Seetharam Yechuri and many more.
After her death, as per her will, her eyes and the body were donated to Kanpur Medical College. The eyes gave vision to visually challenged and her body was used for medical studies.