A frail Capt Lakshmi Sehgal, who had led the women’s wing of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, met patients at her Kanpur clinic a day before she suffered a heart attack last Thursday.
“Even on the day before her heart attack, regardless of her frail health she was at the clinic meeting patients, such was her dedication,” the CPI(M) said in a condolence resolution on her death today.
Paying glowing tributes, the party described her as an “inspiring and courageous freedom fighter, dedicated and compassionate doctor in the service of the poor, fighter for women’s rights and a senior and greatly respected member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).”
Sehgal, who passed away at the age of 98, was a patron of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
Born into an illustrious family from Kerala, Lakshmi Swaminathan was brought up in Madras where she excelled in her studies as a brilliant student who, at that time, “fought against caste prejudice often clashing with the ideas held by her contemporaries in school and college.”
After completing MBBS, she travelled to Singapore in 1940 and got 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 Jhansi women’s brigade under his overall command. She played a heroic role and saved many lives by her courage as leader of the INA.
Sehgal was captured by the British and brought to India in 1946 where she was given a heroine’s welcome. She was also inducted by Bose into the provisional cabinet of Azad Hind as the only woman member, the CPI(M) said.
She married Prem Sehgal who was also a leading light of the INA working with Subhash Chandra Bose. After Independence, Capt Lakshmi set up her practice in Kanpur where she became the beloved health saviour of lakhs of poor women whom she would provide medical services without any charge.
She spent several months treating refugees from then East Pakistan in 1971 as part of the People’s Relief Committee when West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu appealed to doctors for help.
After this experience, she joined the CPI(M) and later became a member of the Uttar Pradesh state committee.
She was also a founder member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, of which she was the Vice-President.
Capt Lakshmi “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,” the CPI(M) said in the resolution.
Paying tributes to her, the party said “her life and work will continue to inspire generations of young people.”