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Lakshmi Sahgal

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Lakshmi Sahgal
Sahgal at the 18th congress of Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Delhi, 2005
Lakshmi Swaminathan

(1914-10-24)24 October 1914
Died23 July 2012(2012-07-23) (aged 97)
Alma mater
Known for
  • P. K. N. Rao
    (before 1940)
  • (m. 1947; died 1992)
Children2 (incl. Subhashini Ali)

Lakshmi Sahgal (pronunciation) (born Lakshmi Swaminathan; 24 October 1914 – 23 July 2012) was a revolutionary of the Indian independence movement, an officer of the Indian National Army, and the Minister of Women's Affairs in the Azad Hind government. Lakshmi is commonly referred to in India as Captain Lakshmi, a reference to her rank when taken prisoner in Burma during the Second World War.

Early life[edit]

"Capt. Lakshmi" from a 1945 newspaper photograph

Captain Lakshmi was born on 24 October 1914 to S. Swaminathan, a lawyer who practiced criminal law at Madras High Court, and A.V. Ammukutty, better known as Ammu Swaminathan, a social worker and independence activist from an aristocratic Nair family known as "Vadakkath" family of Anakkara, Ponnani taluk, Malabar District, British India.[1] She is the elder sister of Mrinalini Sarabhai.[2][3]

Lakshmi studied in Queen Mary's College[1][4] and later chose to study medicine and received an MBBS degree from Madras Medical College in 1938. A year later, she received her diploma in gynaecology and obstetrics.[5] She worked as a doctor in the Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital located at Triplicane Chennai.[1]

In 1940, she left for Singapore after the failure of her marriage to pilot P.K.N. Rao.[1] During her stay at Singapore, she met some members of Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army.[1]

The Azad Hind Fauj[edit]

Captain Lakshmi (third from front-right) with Subhash Chandra Bose

In 1942, during the surrender of Singapore by the British to the Japanese, Lakshmi aided wounded prisoners of war, many of whom were interested in forming an Indian independence army. Singapore at this time had several nationalist Indians working there including K. P. Kesava Menon, S. C. Guha and N. Raghavan, who formed a Council of Action. Their Indian National Army, or Azad Hind Fauj, however, received no firm commitments or approval from the occupying Japanese forces regarding their participation in the war.[6]

It was against this backdrop that Subhash Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore on 2 July 1943. Lakshmi had heard that Bose was keen to draft women into the organisation and requested a meeting with him from which she emerged with a mandate to set up a women's regiment, to be called the Rani of Jhansi regiment. Women responded enthusiastically to join the all-women brigade and Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan became Captain Lakshmi, a name and identity that would stay with her for life.[6]

Captain Lakshmi was the Minister in Charge of Women's Organization in the Provisional Government of Free India led by Subash Chandra Bose in Singapore.

The INA marched to Burma with the Japanese army in December 1944, but by March 1945, with the tide of war turning against them, the INA leadership decided to beat a retreat before they could enter Imphal. Captain Lakshmi was arrested by the British in May 1945, remaining in Burma until March 1946, when she was sent to India – at a time when the INA trials in Delhi heightened popular discontent with and hastened the end of colonial rule.[6]

Later years[edit]

In 1971, Lakshmi joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and represented the party in the Rajya Sabha. During the Bangladesh crisis, she organised relief camps and medical aid in Calcutta for refugees who streamed into India from Bangladesh. She was one of the founding members of All India Democratic Women's Association in 1981 and led many of its activities and campaigns.[7] She led a medical team to Bhopal after the gas tragedy in December 1984, worked towards restoring peace in Kanpur following the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and was arrested for her participation in a campaign against the Miss World competition in Bangalore in 1996.[6] She was still seeing patients regularly at her clinic in Kanpur in 2006, at the age of 92.[6]

In 2002 Indian presidential election, four leftist parties – the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc – nominated Sahgal as a candidate in the presidential elections. She was the sole opponent of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who emerged victorious.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Lakshmi married Prem Kumar Sahgal in March 1947 in Lahore. After their marriage, they settled in Kanpur, where she continued with her medical practice and aided the refugees who were arriving in large numbers following the Partition of India. They had two daughters: Subhashini Ali and Anisa Puri.

Subhashini is a prominent communist politician and labour activist. According to Ali, Lakshmi was an atheist. The filmmaker Shaad Ali is her grandson.[9]


On 19 July 2012, Sahgal had a cardiac arrest and died on 23 July 2012 at 11:20 A.M. at the age of 97 at Kanpur.[10][11] Her body was donated to Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Memorial Medical College for medical research.[12]


In 1998, Sahgal was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by Indian president K. R. Narayanan.[13] In 2010, she was bestowed with honorary doctorate by University of Calicut.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

Rajeshwari Sachdev played the role of Captain Sahgal in 2004 film Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero.[15] Shruthi Seth played the role of Sahgal in 2020 Amazon Prime Video series The Forgotten Army - Azaadi Ke Liye.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kolappan, B. (24 July 2012). "A fulfilling journey that began in Madras". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  2. ^ "The legacy of Mrinalini Sarabhai's family". The Indian Express. 11 May 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  3. ^ Menon, Parvathi (23 July 2012). "Captain Lakshmi Sahgal (1914 - 2012) - A life of struggle". The Hindu. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  4. ^ Asha Krishnakumar (2003). "The end of a women's college?". Frontline. 20 (8).
  5. ^ "Capt Lakshmi Sehgal, chief of INA women's regiment, passes away at 97". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. 23 July 2012. Archived from the original on 26 July 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e Menon, Parvathi (23 July 2012). "Captain Lakshmi Sahgal (1914 - 2012) - A life of struggle". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  7. ^ "Lakshmi Sehgal". Tamilnadu.com. 24 January 2013. Archived from the original on 11 April 2013.
  8. ^ "Freedom fighter Captain Lakshmi Sehgal dead". Deccan Chronicle. 23 July 2012. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  9. ^ "Freedom fighter Captain Lakshmi Sehgal passes away". The Times Of India.
  10. ^ "Captain Lakshmi Sahgal passes away". The Times Of India. 23 July 2012.
  11. ^ PTI (23 July 2012). "Exemplary life: Capt Lakshmi Sehgal met patients till the end". The Hindu. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  12. ^ TAPAS CHAKRABORTY (24 July 2012). "Lakshmi Sehgal no more". Telegraphindia.com. Archived from the original on 28 July 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  13. ^ "Lakshmi Sahgal (1914-2012)". The Hindu. 23 July 2012.
  14. ^ "Mammootty Conferred D.Litt by Calicut University". Outlook India. 2 December 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  15. ^ https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/bravely-told-heroic-tale/cid/968821
  16. ^ Datar, Saraswati (24 January 2020). "The Forgotten Army- Azaadi Ke Liye' review: Earnest but forgettable". The News Minute. Lakshmi Sahgal (played by Shruti Seth), one of the most iconic figures of the INA is included in the story, but never introduced using subtitles or any other device. I had to wait for the end credits to confirm that Shruti was playing Ms Sahgal and not another female officer.

External links[edit]