Lakshmi Sahgal was one of the strongest women during the Indian Independence Movement. She was an officer in the Indian National Army, and the Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Azad Hind Government. Lakshmi Sahgal is commonly called as Captain Lakshmi.
Lakshmi Swaminathan was born on 24 October 1914 in Madras to S. Swaminathan, a criminal lawyer and A V Ammu Swaminathan, a women social worker and an activist. During the Indian Independence movement women was not given much importance for education and was forced to marry in a very small age. But Lakshmi Swaminathan was a strong women who decided to complete her higher studies and then get married. She studied medicine and received MBBS degree from Madras Medical College in 1938. In 1939 she received her diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics. She worked as a doctor in Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital in Chennai. Captain Lakshmi married Prem Kumar Sahgal in March in Lahore. They had two daughters. Lakshmi Sahgal continued her profession even after her marriage. Lakshmi was a helping hand for the refugees who was arriving in large numbers because of the Partition of India. Her daughter Subhashini was a Communist politician and activist.
Indian National Army/ Azad Hind Fauj
During the surrender of Singapore by the British, Lakshmi Sahgal aided wounded prisoners of war in Singapore. Singapore at that time had several nationalist Indians working there such as K P Kesava Menon, S C Guha and N Raghavan. Subhash Chandra Bose had arrived in Singapore on July 1943. Subhash Chandra Bose had arrived in Singapore to draft women into the organisation. Dr. Lakshmi had a meeting with Bose and set up a women’s regiment, to be called the Rani of Jhansi regiment. Most of the women were interested to join the all-women regiment and Dr. Lakshmi became the Captain of this regiment. This was a turning point in Lakshmi Swaminathan’s life and later she was called as Captain Lakshmi.
Indian National Army also known as Azad Hind Fauj did not receive any approval from occupying Japanese forces regarding their participation in the war. In 1944 the Indian National Army along with the Japanese army marched to Burma for a war against them. But many were arrested by the British army and was sent to India. Captain Lakshmi was a part of the Azad Hind Fauj was also arrested and sent to India and was sent to jail.
After the Indian Independence, in 1971 captain Lakshmi joined the Communist Party of India and was also representated the party in the Rajya Sabha. Captain Lakshmi during the Bangladesh crisis, she organised relief camps and medical aid for refugees who streamed into India from Bangladesh. Captain Lakshmi was one of the member of All India Democratic Women’s Association. Captain Lakshmi along with others members of All India Democratic Women’s Association led many activities and campaigns. She led many medical camps and also organised many medical teams in many places. One of the notable medical camp conducted by Captain Lakshmi was in Bhopal after the gas tragedy in December 1984, worked towards restoring peace in Kanpur following the anti-sikh riots and Captain Lakshmi was arrested for her participation in the campaign against the Miss World competition in Bangalore. She was seeing her patients regularly at the age of 92. In 2002 the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India ( Marxist), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc nominated Lakshmi as a candidate in the presidential elections. She was the sole opponent of A P J Abdul Kalam, who won the election and became the President.
In 1998 Captain Lakshmi was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by Indian President K R Narayan. In 2010, she was bestowed with Honorary doctorate by University of Calicut.
On 19 July 2012, Captain Lakshmi suffered a cardiac arrest and died on July 23 2012 at the age of 97 at Kanpur. Her body was donated to Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Memorial Medical College for medical research.