Lakshmi Sahgal

On this date in 1914, revolutionary Lakshmi Sahgal, née Lakshmi Swaminathan, was born in Madras, India. She studied medicine at Madras Medical College and graduated in 1938. In 1940 she opened a medical clinic for poor Indian migrant laborers in Singapore. When Japan began occupying Singapore in 1942, Sahgal used her medical skills to helped wounded Indian prisoners of war. When the Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore to form the Indian National Army to fight for Indian independence from the British, Sahgal met with him to see how women could be included in the movement.

Sahgal created and trained the only all-female military unit in Singapore, called the Rani of Jhansi regiment. The regiment was never used in combat and the women in the unit mainly worked as nurses. The British military later arrested Sahgal, who was a captain in the Indian National Army. She was in prison for less than a year. The British chose to release her because of anti-British sentiment in India.

Sahgal continued to practice as a doctor, undercharging her mostly poor patients. In 1971 she joined India’s communist party and became an active voice in Indian politics. She was elected to India’s upper house of parliament in 1971 and unsuccessfully ran for president on a platform of equality in 2002. She was a supporter of women’s rights and education and advocated for ending the practice of dowries, child marriages and allowing widows to remarry.

Sahgal married a fellow army officer, Prem Kumar Sahgal, in 1947. They were married until his death in 1992 and had two children. Sahgal died in 2012 at age 97.

Freedom From Religion Foundation