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


Ramakrishnan said...

Thanks Sandhya for such detailed information on Lakshmi Sehagal and her life and times. She has been one of the lesser known luminaries who participated in India's freedom struggle. May her soul RIP.

SG said...

Thanks for the nice post. Lakshmi Sehgal played an important role in India's independent movement. May she rest in peace.

ashok said...

A last salute to Cpt.lakshmi...

Kavita Saharia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kavita Saharia said...

Good morning. I have not read the post as yet ,will come back later to do so:)

Rahul Bhatia said...

An inspiring woman:)

Anonymous said...

Lovely read! My book Children who made it Big has a chapter on Mrinalini Sarabhai, in which her childhood dream of dancing comes true.

Destination Infinity said...

I didn't know about her till I read the article in the Hindu yesterday.

She went to Singapore to 'escape' marriage? That speaks volumes about so many things. There are a few people who get inspired and do nothing. But she seems to fall in the elite category of getting inspired and doing something about it. She also served the community. It's a common trait found among great people.

Destination Infinity

Sandhya said...

R.RAMAKRISHNAN: Yes and she is a woman!

SG: Thank you, SG!

ASHOK: She deserves more recognition.

KAVITA: Take your time, Kavita!

RAHUL BHATIA: Yes, Rahulji!

CYBERNAG.IN: Thank you! I will look for your book. Their family has got many VIPs!

DESTINATION INFINITY: She was a practicing doctor before joining the INA! Had guts! She served poor people till the end...didn't live a comfortable, easy life, till the end. That is more admirable. I just wanted her article in my blog. We can read again after sometime!

Roshmi Sinha said...

Thank you for this post. I wasn’t aware that Mrinalini Sarabhai was Capt. Lakshmi Sehgal’s sister, graceful ladies – both. Though I’m not too fond of Mallika Sarabhai, feel she is a compulsive attention seeker.

And Sehgal is actually Colonel Prem Kumar Sehgal, I think.

And don’t worry about her now; great souls will be reborn in due course of time - to carry on their great work.

Will read her autobiography too :)

Bikram said...

I was hoping someone will post this, I came home last night and had the indian news channel on, and heard about this lady. I did not know of her.

and you have given such a lovely detailed information. She was with Subash chander bose WOW.

But again If i did not know of her shame on me, I heard she lost the voting for being a president, I think SHE should have been the president without voting taking place , she would have been better than the presidents we have had for sure , although I like Kalam sahib too and he deserved it ..


Bikram said...

she was a Colonel but the word captain stuck with her...

I salute her and May she rest in peace and May she inspire a lot of people to do what she did


Sandhya said...

ROSHMI SINHA: Yes, his name is Colonel Prem Kumar Sehgal.

Being a woman, she was great to have done so much work in her life.

BIKRAM: You can read more about her from the Hindu and Express links. I didn't cover much of her work with Subhash Chandra Bose.

She would have been definitely better than Prtibha Patil. She used her position to roam the world with her whole family.

Yes, we need more people like her. We can also take a leaf out of her life!

Anonymous said...

Lovely informative post, Sandhya!

Captain Lakshmi was a remarkable lady! She will not be soon forgotten!

Kavita Saharia said...

A graceful life she lived.Her glowing face and eyes reflect a great soul within. A truly inspiring person. May her soul rest in peace. Sandhya , once again a wonderful post.

KParthasarathi said...

A good tribute to a great lady.I thought Ammu Swaminadhan was a Keralite.

Sandhya said...

MANJU JOGLEKAR: Yes, she should not be forgotten ever. Women like these, inspire the future generations.

KAVITA: I liked the baby face in the first picture. She looks so happy to be in the uniform. Great lady.

K.PARTHASARATHY: The article says that theirs is a mixed marriage. Maybe that is the reason their family has got so many intellectuals in art or something!

Swaram said...

Yes Sandhya, I do remember u like posting about such personalities, esp. women :) Post on Anjali Tendulkar is still one of the top posts here rt?:)

We do need more women like her, which only means all of us should take a leaf out of her book and try to follow it well! May she rest in peace.

P.N. Subramanian said...

I appreciate the way you describe such great personalities. In fact I never knew that Mrinalini Sarabhai is her sister. Very inspirational too.

dsdsds said...

I read another article about her in anada vikatan,this week.. I too did not know anything about her.. What a remarkable lady.. and coming from chennai, I am really proud.. May she rest in peace!

Usha Pisharody said...

Wonderful tribute! In fact, I too discovered much about her, only after articles on her appeared at her demise. Sad. Should have read up more before. Thank you for sharing that, Sandhya!

Sandhya said...

SWARAM: Yes, I always like women who has done something unique other than just getting married and running a family (like me!).

Yes, Anjali is still on top of the popularity list!

PN SUBRAMANIAM: Thank you, Subramaniam Sir!

HEMA: Ananda Vikatan has not covered much of her life. You can know more about her in the 'Hindu' link I have given here, Hema.

USHA PISHARODY: Thank you, Usha! I too didn't know much about her before. Please read the 'Hindu' links to know more about her.

Anonymous said...

thank you for en lighting info about great freedom(grandma) fighter.

Vetirmagal said...

Good people, forgotten by the Establishment.
These unsung heroines and heroes are the ones, who assisted in the cause for freedom, fought for it, and gave it to us.

And the nation has forgotten their ideals, and we are marching on towards what... I am not sure.

வை.கோபாலகிருஷ்ணன் said...

Interesting article.
Thanks for sharing.

Madam, a small request:

Kindly arrange to remove the "word verification" from all your three Blogs, which gives strain & pain while offering our comments.


Roshmi Sinha said...

No new posts yet?!

Sandhya said...

KRISHNA: Nobody knew much about her until her death. She seems to be a great lady.

PATTU RAJ: Welcome to my blog, Pattu Raj!

Everybody is busy making money for them and their family. No time for anything else!

VAI GOPALAKRISHNAN: Welcome to my blog, Sir!

Thank you. I will ask my song to look into the 'verification matter'.. I think it is activated to prevent spam messages.

Sandhya said...

RAJARAJESWARI: Welcome to my blog!

Thank you and will go and check now!

ROSHMI SINHA: Somehow I lost the urge to write 4-5 posts a month. Must start now!

Thanks for remembering me, Roshmi!

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