Captain Lakshmi Sehgal had barely finished college when she was handpicked by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to join the freedom movement. She led Rani Jhansi Regiment, one of the first women contingents in the world. She also contested the 2002 Presidential elections against Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
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Born as Lakshmi Swaminathan on October 24, 1914, she pursued her MBBS degree from the Madras Medical College in 1938. Two years later, she went to Singapore for higher studies, and in 1943 she met Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who was on a visit to the country. Following a five-hour long discussion, she was asked to lead a women’s contingent that came to be known as Rani Jhansi Regiment.
In an interview to The Indian Express in 2009, she said,”I felt very happy when Netaji asked me to lead the Rani Jhansi contingent. It was a proud moment for me.”
The INA marched to Burma (now Myanmar) in December 1944 and just before its entry into Imphal (capital of Manipur), the leadership decided to retreat. Captain Lakshmi was arrested in 1945 and remained under house arrest until March 1946. She married Colonel Prem Kumar Sehgal, a prominent member of the INA, in 1947.
From INA to CPI(M)
Captain Lakshmi Sehgal joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1971 after working in the Bangladeshi refugee camps. “My way of thinking was already communist, and I never wanted to earn a lot of money or acquire a lot of property or wealth,” she told The Hindu in 2012. Later, she became one of the founding members of the All India Democratic Women’s Association in 1981. She was actively involved in the relief operations in Bhopal in the aftermath of 1984 gas tragedy. Later, she went out on streets in Kanpur and confronted the anti-Sikh mob during the riots that broke out following the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Captain Lakshmi Sehgal contested the 2002 Presidential polls against Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who would go on to become the president. She addressed several public meetings during the election campaign, speaking on the political system that according to her allowed the growth of poverty and injustice.
Throughout her life, she remained an active Communist leader and worked towards the upliftment of the society. In 1998, she was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan.
Captain Sehgal died on July 23, 2012 at the age of 97 following a brief illness. She is survived by her daughter Subhasini Ali, a prominent CPI(M) leader.