Captain Lakshmi Sehgal dead

Kanpur: Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, who fought allied forces during World War II leading the women`s wing of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose`s Indian National Army, died here today following a brief illness.

97-year-old Sehgal, a doctor by profession, breathed her last at a private hospital at 11.20 AM, her daughter and CPI (M) leader Subhashini Ali said. Besides Ali, she has another daughter Anisa Puri. Sehgal, who was admitted to the hospital on July 19 after she suffered a heart attack at her residence in Civil Lines area here, was on life support system. "She was on ventilator.

Due to her advanced age, she died of multi-organ failure," a hospital doctor said. Vice President Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the death of Sehgal, saying that the nation has lost an icon of selfless service. CPI (M), which she had joined in 1971, described her as an "inspiring and courageous freedom fighter, a dedicated and compassionate doctor in the service of the poor, (and) a fighter for women`s rights…"

She was very active during the Independence movement and had commanded the `Rani Jhansi Regiment` of INA formed by Bose. Sehgal, who worked as a medical practitioner and a social worker, was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 1998. She had unsuccessfully contested the 2002 Presidential poll against A P J Abdul Kalam as a candidate for Left parties.

Born as Lakshmi Swaminathan to noted lawyer Dr S Swaminathan and social worker Ammu Swaminathan in Chennai on October 24, 1914, Sehgal obtained her MBBS degree from the Madras Medical College in 1938. She travelled to Singapore in 1940 for further studies and got actively involved in the work of the India Independence League which contributed to India`s freedom struggle.

She was introduced to Bose in 1943 and was invited by him to set up the Rani Jhansi women`s brigade under his overall command. Sehgal was captured by the British and brought in 1946 to India where she was given a tumultuous welcome. Made minister of women affairs in the Azad Hind government formed by Netaji in exile after declaring war against British, she played a heroic role and saved many lives by her courage as a leader in INA.

She married Colonel Prem Kumar Sehgal, who was also a leading light of the INA, in 1947 and had been residing in Kanpur since then. Sehgal spent several months treating refugees from then East Pakistan in 1971 as part of the People`s Relief Committee when CPI (M) leader Jyoti Basu appealed to doctors for help. She was also a founder member of the All India Democratic Wome`s Association, of which she was the Vice-President.

Subhashini said her mother`s first love was always her profession. "Just weeks before falling ill, she used to regularly sit in her clinic to see patients," she said, adding that she would would treat everyone who came to her, regardless of whether the patient had money or not. She was also very close to her filmmaker grandson Shad Ali, and would "never miss" any film directed by him, she said.

Sehgal`s body will be donated to the GSVM medical college here for medical purposes, Subhashini said. CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat remembered the revolutionary leader as a "highly politically motivated human being who fought injustice wherever she saw it…She served people with every ounce of strength."