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Remembering the legendary Captain Lakshmi Sahgal

Born as Lakshmi Swaminathan to parents Dr S Swaminadhan, a lawyer and AV Ammukutty, social worker.

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Remembering the legendary Captain Lakshmi Sahgal

October 24 marks the birth anniversary of legendary Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, the leader of the all women- “Rani Jhansi Regiment” of the Indian National Army or Azad Hind Fauj, the organised force which during freedom struggle had set one of the biggest challenges for the British Raj.

Born as Lakshmi Swaminathan to parents Dr S Swaminadhan, a lawyer and AV Ammukutty, social worker.

She imbibed a strong feeling against the British colonialism as she grew up in an atmosphere which was loaded just with rebellious efforts to free our nation from colonial clutches of imperialism. Her home was frequently visited by Sarojini Naidu but it was Suhasini Nambiar’s constant visit (Sister of Sarojini Naidu) that gave an ever lasting impact and influence on young mind of Lakshmi Swaminadhan.

The evolutionary enhancement in her life from a young medical student drawn to the freedom struggle to head the Rani Jhansi regiment under leadership of Subhash Chandra Bose and ending up as nation’s first women running for presidential election is extraordinarily inspirational. In 1940, she became a qualified gynecologist and went to Singapore.

The movement of the Indian nationalist leaders kept her interest alive to attain independence for her nation. In 1943, it was her first meeting with Subhash Chandra Bose which gave her a direction to move ahead against the British Raj. Further, when she came across Bose’s decision to draft women into the INA, her long discussion resulted in the formation of the “Rani Jhansi Regiment”, this was the moment when Dr. Lakshmi Swamindhan became Captain Lakshmi, a name which still resonates in our minds with all respect.

Lkashmi Sahgal (third from right), who led the Rani of Jhansi Regiment in the Indian National Army, seen in battle fatigues with Subhas Chandra Bose (third from left) and other INA colleagues.

In March 1947, she tied the knot with Col. Prem Kumar Sahgal, one of the leading officers of the INA and became Captain Lakshmi Sahgal.

There are set of bitter truth which we have been unknowingly accompanying since independence on which Captain Lakshmi Sahgal also expressed her agreement and that is- INA’s role to make India a free nation is not acknowledged. There’s hardly any description of its women and Rani Jhansi regiment with guns in the battle front. We need accept the fact with pride that INA was the first organized force in the world to have recruited women as fighters in the battlefield.  Captain Lakshmi Sehgal’s understanding of freedom had three forms- The first was political emancipation from the conqueror, the second was economic [emancipation] and the third was social where India has only achieved the first.

According to her, India’s core strength either during colonial era or in independent times, remains the “Unity in Diversity”. Citing examples of prosecution of P.K. Sehgal (a Hindu), Dhillon (a Sikh) and Shah Nawaz Khan (a Muslim), all three of them were charged for waging war against the King Emperor and the British. Prof. Hiren Mukherjee, a veteran Communist parliamentarian, had termed the triumph of the Indian National Army as a “Near Revolution” to which an agreement establishes as INA might have failed militarily but it surely led to tremendous political and social success. Restricting Captain Lakshmi and INA’s role just to its military conquest will be an incomplete assessment of one of the most competitive anti-imperial force.

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Post-independence, her commitment to nation’s left politics was well known. In 1971, she joined the mainstream left politics. She became one of the founding members of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the women wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), she represented the party in the Rajya Sabha. Her die-hard socially conscious efforts in serving the masses, is worth recall. During the 1971 war with Pakistan, she came forward extending help to wounded and starving refugees in refugee camps near the border. 1984, being a year of double tragedy with the Bhopal Gas tragedy on one hand and the anti-Sikh riot on the other, in both the tragedies, her medical expertise for deadly gas victims followed by maintaining peace in riot-affected areas of Kanpur depict the unconditional service towards the suffering people.

The Complete life journey of Captain Lakshmi Sehgal is a blue-print for each of us teaching us a lesson on how to serve the society and stand up national integrity strengthening the bonds of commonality and diversity.

Saurav Kumar is an education activist, he tweets at @SauravK1890

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