In a nation obsessed with Sunny Leone, it did not surprised me when someone asked on Twitter, “Who was this Lakshmi Sahgal who died?”. I would have been surprised if her death would have gone noticed by the mainstream media which devotes half page articles to Beti B when she gets her pierced. Since we are a nation of third grade ‘journalists’, I think it is my moral responsibility to tell the people who was Lakshmi Sahgal.
Lakshmi Sahgal was a woman ahead of her times. In an era when women used to stay within the confines of their kitchen, she was a practicing doctor, serving the poor in Singapore. However, what makes her exceptional is the fact that she commandeered the first all women’s regiment, Rani Jhansi Regiment, of the Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauz) during the freedom struggle.
Following the British surrender of Singapore to Imperial Japan in 1942, Lakshmi stayed in Singapore to take care of the Prisoners of war. When Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose came to Singapore, she joined the Indian National Army on his call. Subsequently when the Rani Jhansi Regiment was raise, she was chosen as its commander and saw action in Burma. Lakshmi was also the Minister of the Women’s affair in the Azad Hind Provincial Government. After the INA was defeated and its top brass imprisoned, Lakshmi was brought to India. However, the British government released the INA officers due to the fears of backlash from the public.
After independence, Lakshmi married Colonel Prem Sahgal of Indian National Army and settled in Kanpur. She opened a clinic in Kanpur and continued to serve the poor for many decades to come. She was a Padma awardee and worked for women’s issues. In l984, when anti-Sikh riots broke out in the city in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, she came out on the streets in defence of Sikhs and protected them as well as she could. Even in her death, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal continued to serve others. As per her wishes, her body was donated to a local hospital instead of being burnt away.
A nation which forgets the heroes of its past, ceases to produce any in the future. It is time that we duly recognize those who fought for our independence and made extraordinary sacrifices. This post is a tribute to Captain Lakshmi Sahgal and her comrades. Salute !