Revisiting History With Captain Lakshmi Sehgal

(Captain Lakshmi Sehgal passed away of a heart attack on 23 July. She was 97. Liberation dips its flag in tribute to this brave fighter and legendary communist leader. Ironically, Captain Lakshmi, who was the Left’s nominee for President in 2002, passed away on the day Pranab Mukherjee was declared President-elect with support from the CPI(M).

In her memory, we carry excerpts from interview with Captain Lakshmi when she was 96, by Aditya Chatterjee and Nazeef Mollah for The Colloquium.)

On responding to the call given by Bhagat Singh

That was the time when the revolutionary movement had just picked up momentum in north India but in south India not too many were aware of it. So when Bhagat Singh gave the call (for the meeting at Kotla) we started collecting funds in Madras and started going around to people and at the end of it we managed to raise about Rs. 3000/-. But Gandhiji’s opposition to Bhagat Singh was quite a big obstacle in our way in those days.

On the INA

It was the people of India who rose up in revolt and forced the British to release the INA prisoners. In a way the British did us a favour by prosecuting P.K. Sehgal (a Hindu), Dhillon (a Sikh) and Shah Nawaz Khan (a Muslim). The three of them were charged for waging war against the King Emperor and the British were all set to sentence them to death. This created such a furore among the masses that it resulted in the entire country rising up and demanding the release of the three officers of the INA and the rage was such, that had they been executed not a single Englishman would have gone back alive. So the British were actually left with no choice but to release them.

It certainly was a near revolution. The INA might have failed militarily but it surely was a tremendous political success that inspired the people of India to rise up in revolt. So the role of the INA is not really limited to its military conquests.

It is disappointing but the truth is that no one knows about the INA. You read school history textbooks, there is hardly anything that talks about the INA. People do not even know that the women in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment fought with guns in the battle front. Till date, nowhere in the world has any organized army had its women recruits fight in the battlefield. INA was the first. Such was the heroism of the Rani of Jhansi regiment and none of it is spoken of in our history that we teach our children in schools.

What do you think is the obstacle against the Women’s Reservation Bill? Why has it taken so long?

The men.

Going back to your early political days: was it your involvement in the INA that influenced your political ideology?

No, my political maturity took place long before my initiation into the INA. There was a woman called Suhasini Nambiar, she was Sarojini Naidu’s younger sister. Their family had settled down in Madras and they were very friendly with my mother. She used to stay in our house for long periods. It was later that I got to know that she was staying with us because she was under house arrest. So it was she who was my first political mentor and was responsible for introducing the communist ideology in me.

What is your message to a nation that has today seen 60 years of independence?

Do not ever forget how freedom was won. It did not come on a platter. It is the blood of Indians that has won us what we have today. We should never forget that.

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