Captain Lakshmi Sahgal represents the pinnacle of sacrifice and struggle for the country, and for the rights of the downtrodden and women. Her contribution in public life in politics, the trade union movement and the women’s movement are remembered by one and all. Her compassion, concern and commitment towards humanity manifested in all her efforts and activities and have inspired many to emulate her. Her demise is a tremendous loss to the nation.
Capt Lakshmi Sahgal was inspiring and courageous freedom fighter, dedicated and compassionate doctor in the service of the poor, fighter for women’s rights. She passed away at the age of 98 in Kanpur. At the time of her death she was a patron of the All India Democratic Women’s Association which she had helped to found.
Capt Lakshmi who was born into an illustrious family from Kerala. She was brought up in Madras where she excelled in her studies as a brilliant student. Her parents were freedom fighters dedicated to the nation, her father a brilliant lawyer and her mother a social worker and campaigner for women’s rights. From her childhood, Capt Lakshmi was brought up with values which cherished India’s freedom. This dedication remained with her through her life. Her parents marriage was inter caste one and Lakshmi as a young student fought against caste prejudice often clashing with the ideas held by her contemporaries in school and college. She completed her MBBS degree in 1938 and then in 1940 decided to travel to Singapore. It was while she was working there as a doctor that she became actively involved in the work of the India Independence League which contributed greatly to India’s freedom struggle. She was introduced to Subhash Chandra Bose in 1943 and was invited by him to set up the Rani of Jhansi women’s brigade under his overall command. She became the leader of this legendary brigade and was inducted by him into the provisional cabinet of Azad Hind as the only woman member. She played a heroic role and saved many lives by her courage as leader of the INA. She was captured by the British and brought to India in 1946 where She was given a heroine’s welcome.
She married Prem Sehgal who was also a leader of the INA working with Subhash Chandra Bose.
After independence, Capt Lakshmi set up her practice in Kanpur. She became the beloved health saviour of lakhs of poor women of Kanpur whom she would provide medical services without any charge. She was devoted to her patients and there was hardly a day when she did not work in her modest clinic. Even on the day before her heart attack, regardless of her frail health she was at the clinic meeting patients, such was her dedication.
In 1971 when huge numbers of refugees came from what was then East Pakistan, the Peoples relief Committee in West Bengal gave a call for doctors to help. Jyoti Basu also issued a call. Capt Lakshmi answered his appeal and spent several months working with the refugees providing them medical relief.
It was after this experience that Capt Lakshmi decided to join the CPI(M). She became a member of the Kanpur and later the UP State Committee of the CPI(M). She was a champion for women’s rights and shouldered the responsibility along with other great communist women leaders of mobilizing women for their rights. She was a founder member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, travelling the length and breadth of the country as the organisation’s Vice-President.
She believed strongly in the need for a Socialist revolution and she lived her ideals. She was extremely modest about her many achievements, always encouraging young people into leadership roles. She was the beloved role model of young people throughout country. Her contribution to public service was recognized through the Padma Vibhushan award in 1998
Capt Lakshmi Sehgal was a courageous and dedicated communist leader and freedom fighter. Her life and work will continue to inspire generations of young people.