NEW DELHI — Top Indian female revolutionary Lakshmi Sehgal, who fought Allied forces during World War II, died on Monday following a heart attack, a doctor said. She was 97.
Sehgal, who fought against Britain and its allies in an all-female regiment organised by Indian radical Subhash Chandra Bose, was hospitalised last Thursday after suffering a heart attack in the northern city of Kanpur.
The mother of two daughters slipped into a coma following a brain haemorrhage and was in critical condition until she died, a hospital doctor said.
“She was put on ventilator support but due to her advanced age she succumbed to multiple organ failure,” Kanpur Medical Centre hospital chief V.K. Johri told AFP by telephone.
Born on October 24, 1914, to a lawyer in the southern Indian city Chennai, then known as Madras, Sehgal studied medicine and practised as a gynaecologist before travelling to Singapore in 1940.
After three years in Singapore she met fiery nationalist Bose, who famously broke ranks with Indian independence champion Mahatma Gandhi over his non-violent approach to combating British rule on the sub-continent.
Bose, revered as a hero by many, enlisted Sehgal into his Indian National Army where she fought in a female regiment named after 18th-century Hindu warrior queen Laxmibai.
Sehgal was arrested in 1945 at the end of World War II as she retreated from the jungles of Myanmar towards India’s northeastern city of Imphal.
The revolutionary, known as “Captain Sehgal” by her supporters, was held under house arrest for several months in Myanmar and was then brought to Kolkata and freed, according to one of her daughters, Subhashini Ali.
“In terms of progressive female revolutionaries, Sehgal was number one because she also had a vision for social change and wanted equity in the Indian society,” said historian R. Gopinath from New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University.
“Sehgal and Bose were also instrumental in waging an armed opposition to the British, which was the first systematic opposition to colonial rule after the (anti-British) revolt of 1857 in India,” Gopinath told AFP.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent his condolences, describing her as an “icon of liberal values and selfless service”.
After India’s independence from the British in 1947, Sehgal joined the country’s main Marxist party which nominated her to a seat in the federal parliament’s upper house in 1971.
In 1998, India gave Sehgal the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second highest civilian award and four years later she unsuccessfully contested India’s presidential elections.