Indian freedom movement has given countless heroes who gave the prime of their lives to see India chart her own destiny by throwing out the Britishers. While there were leaders and fighters like Mahatma Gandhi or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, whom everyone knows, there were many other bravehearts who gave up their lives and used every ounce of their strength to free India from the clutches of British Rule. Doctor Lakshmi Sahgal was one of them.
Lakshmi Swaminathan was born in Madras (now Chennai), which was under the Madras Presidency, British India, on October 24, 1914. Born to influential parents, Lakshmi was enthused with her mother’s contribution in the field of social work and inherited her father’s intelligence, who was a lawyer, and went on to become a doctor.
She received her MBBS degree from Madras Medical college in the year 1938 and a diploma in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the following year and was a working doctor in the Kasturba Gandhi Hospital, Chennai. Moreover, she established a clinic in Singapore, a year after getting her diploma, for the under-privileged and Indian migrant labourers.
In Singapore she joined hands with the Indian Independence League, a political body headquartered in Singapore, which prepared Indians living outside of India, to seek independence from the harsh British rule.
Indian National Army days
When the Japanese forces lost the 1942 Battle of Singapore to the British Army, DR. Sahgal played a prominent role in tending to the injured war prisoners. Several of these prisoners had not lost hope yet and wanted to begin an Indian Liberation Army. Their wish was granted when Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited Singapore in July, 1943. After listening to Bose’s speeches on wanting to establish an army composed of women to fight against the British forces, Lakshmi quickly set up a meeting with Bose and expressed her desire to be a part of the women regiment. She soon launched the Rani of Jhansi regiment, which was a wonderful opportunity for numerous women to do something for their nation.
Lakshmi Swaminathan turned into Captain Lakshmi, which marked the beginning of her inspiring journey in the freedom struggle. Nearly 50,000 women trained and fought under her command. She also carried the title of Colonel in the women’s army unit, the first one ever to be carried by a female in the entire continent of Asia during that time. Her regiment battled against the British forces along with the Axis Powers.
Unfortunately, she was arrested in 1945 in Burma (now Myanmar) and remained there for a year until she was sent back to India.
Lakshmi married Colonel Prem Kumar Sahgal in March, 1947 in Lahore, British India. Lakshmi Sahgal moved to Kanpur with her husband and carried on with her medical practice, attending to the needs of evacuees after the Partition of India.
After Independence, Lakshmi entered into the world of policy making and represented her party, The Communist Party of India (Marxist), in Rajya Sabha. During the Bangladesh crisis, she was the one who called for medical aid for thousands of refugees from Bangladesh who came into Calcutta. Moreover, she led a medical team to tend to the victims of the catastrophic Bhopal Gas Tragedy and worked towards refurbishing peace during the anti-Sikh riots, both which took place in the year 1984.
In 2002, she was the only opponent of A.P.J Abdul Kalam when she got elected as a candidate in the Presidential elections, of four leftist parties namely the Revolutionary Socialist Party, All India Forward Bloc, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
DR. Lakshmi Sahgal was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award, in 1998 for her great achievements, by R.K. Narayan. An airport in Dehat district of Kanpur, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal International Airport, is named in her honour.
She passed away on July, 23, 2012 after suffering from a cardiac arrest, at a good age of 97. Her noble deeds did not stop even after her death as she donated her body to Kanpur Medical College for medical research.
She was a true leader who broke the glass ceiling and barged into the male dominated world of revolutionary army which played a great role in throwing out the Britishers from India. After India’s independence she excelled in another male dominated domain, politics. Hers is an inspiring story that women can be equally brave and fierce as men and can achieve anything by showing perseverance.