Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Fulfilling Journey That Began In Madras - Captain Lakshmi Sehagal


Captain Lakshmi Sehagal


Capt. Lakshmi Sehagal has written about her life in Chennai in her Autobiography (left).  With Netaji and other members of the Indian National Army (right).

I became familiar with Capt. Lakshmi Sehagal, when she stood against Dr.Abdul Kalam for the 2002 Presidential contest.  I remember that everybody said that she won't stand a chance.  I knew that she was in the INA, with Subhash Chandra Bose.  Only now, I read many articles about her and was surprised to know that she was a Tamil Brahmin and studied here, in Madras (Chennai), first in Queen Mary's College and then in Madras Medical College. She then got her diploma in obstetrics and gynaecology and worked in the Govt. hospital, Triplicane, Madras.

The Hindu says: She was the daughter of eminent Madras advocate, S.Swaminathan and social acitivist Ammu Swaminathan, who was later elected to the parliament from Dindigul Lok Sabha constituency.  Captain Lakshmi's parents belonged to Kerala (Tamil brahmins settled in Kerala) and theirs was an inter-caste marriage.

Her brother Govind Swaminathan was an eminent lawyer and one of the  leading members of the Chennai Bar and her sister Mrinalini Sarabhai, wife of nuclear scientist Vikram Sarabhai, is a famous dancer.

When she was in Chennai, she used to address meetings in Tamil.  Capt. Lakshmi was a polyglot  (linguist in layman's language!).  Though brought up in an Anglophile family (royal family?!), Capt. Lakshmi and her kin were to turn their backs on their colonial leanings after her father defended a young man, Kadambut, accused of murdering a British officer, De la Haye, the principal of Newington House in Madras and got him acquitted.  "It created a storm in Madras.  We had to face its consequences.  English friends of my mother kept a distance from us after that.  In school, English teachers cursed me for being the daughter of an advocate who saved a native who murdered an honourable English Officer",
Capt. Lakshmi wrote in her autobiography, A Revolutionary Life: Memoirs of a Political Activist.

After this, Capt. Lakshmi and her siblings were pulled out of the English school and admitted to a govt. school.  "We soon started conversing in Tamil and Malayalam instead of English and wore Indian costumes.  Most of the servants at our home were Dalits and we shared food with them, much to the surprise of others," she wrote.

Her interest in politics was kindled by Subashini, the younger sister of Sarojini Naidu and one of the accused in the Meerut conspiracy case.  She was hiding in Capt. Lakshmi's house at that time and they spent many nights discussing communism.  Later she joined the Communist party of India.

Her marriage to Pilot P.K.N. Rao was a failure and she left for Singapore in 1940 'to escape the marriage'.  It was there that she came in contact with the members of Netaji's INA and later formed the Rani of Jhansi Regiment (an all-woman unit).

She later married Sehagal, her colleague in INA.  Her daughter Subhasini Ali, who was elected to Parliament from Kanpur to the Lok Sabha, is also a graduate from the Madras University. She has one more daughter, Anisa Puri.  She lived in Kanpur with her daughter.

She was practicing medicine until the day before she died, treating the poor in Kanpur at the age of 98.

I always love to write about people who achieved something extraordinary in life, who are different from normal people, esp. women.  Though it is long time since I wrote a post, I could not resist writing this.

Indian express article on Capt. Lakshmi is here .

Another article in The Hindu says: 


Captain Lakshmi was one of the founding members of AIDWA, formed in 1981. She subsequently led many of its activities and campaigns. After the Bhopal gas tragedy in December 1984, she led a medical team to the city; years later she wrote a report on the long-term effects of the gas on pregnant women. During the anti-Sikh riots that followed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, she was out on the streets in Kanpur, confronting anti-Sikh mobs and ensuring that no Sikh or Sikh establishment in the crowded area near her clinic was attacked. She was arrested for her participation in a campaign by AIDWA against the Miss World competition held in Bangalore in 1996.


When we open the newspaper in the morning, we read mostly about scams, or abuse of women, murders etc.  I was happy to read about Capt. Sehagal.  She is an astonishing person.  Being a woman, that too, from a conservative background from Chennai, she had taken an entirely different route in life and achieved so much.  Very rarely we come across people like her.

She will be a happy person wherever she is, now. She will be remembered always.



Happy Grandma!


Photo courtesy: The Hindu
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