Freedom Fighter Captain Lakshmi Sahgal

Captain Lakshmi or Lakshmi Sahgal, a revolutionary in the Indian independence movement, an officer in the Indian National Army and Minister for Women’s Affairs in the Azad Hind government, has dedicated his life to public service in various capacities.

Born as Lakshmi Swaminadhan on October 24, 1914, Cpt. Lakshmi was a medical doctor, Commander of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Rani of Jhansi Regiment and also a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Laxmi was a true revolutionary who broke social conventions from her early childhood and spoke out against caste practices in Kerala.

Sahgal witnessed the struggle for freedom with her mother, AV Ammukutty, a social activist and freedom fighter who later became a member of the Constituent Assembly. Sahgal completed his medical studies
from Madras Medical College in 1938.

With the outbreak of World War II, when most doctors were recruited to serve in the imperialist forces, Sahgal traveled to Singapore and started her medical practice taking into account the Indian diaspora with several Chinese and Malay patients who lived there. She joined the Indian
Independence League formed by veteran freedom fighter, Rashbehari Bose in 1941. In 1943 the leadership of the League was taken over by Subhash Chandra Bose along with that of INA, which was formed in February 1942 by Captain Mohan Singh and other Indian prisoners of war.

Sahgal was drawn to the freedom movement by Bose and his charismatic leadership. She played an active role in the formation of the INA All-Female Infantry Regiment named after Rani of Jhansi which fought against the British Raj in 1857.

She was the only female member of the cabinet of the provisional government of the Azad Hind Fauj led by Bose.

After her arrest in 1945, she was taken back to India. In 1947 she married Colonel Prem Kumar Sahgal, who served with her in the INA.
In the post-independence era, Sahgal resumed his medical practice in Kanpur. She worked with refugees from post-partition India. She joined CPI/CPM in 1971 and traveled to Kolkata and worked in the border areas of Bongaon for six weeks providing medical aid to displaced people and migrants.
Sahgal was the founding member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association which was established in 1981. The organization became a suitable platform for her to raise women’s issues consistently and engage in several campaigns for the same. In 1984, she also went to Bhopal
with a medical team to treat patients of the gas tragedy. She had also faced frenzied crowds during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots on the streets of Kanpur ensuring the safety of Sikhs around her clinic.

Sahgal dedicated her life to the country and its people for which she sought opportunities without thinking of the consequences. She continued to care for patients in Kanpur until she was 92 years old, as she charged very minimal fees or sometimes nothing at all.

She became the joint candidate of left-wing parties in the 2002 presidential election and ran against APJ Abdul Kalam, but lost the election. She died on July 19, 2012 due to cardiac arrest at the age of 97 in Kanpur. Her body was donated to Kanpur Medical College for medical research.
Lakshmi Sahgal also received the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honor bestowed by then Indian President KR Narayanan. Her legacy lives on for generations to inspire her.

Thelma J. Longworth