“Captain Lakshmi had last visited the Vadakkath ‘tharavadu’ at Anakkara here, in February 2005. Since then, she was unable to travel owing to poor health, but she stayed in touch through frequent phone calls. Earlier, she used to come down here every year,” reminisces G Chandrasekharan, a distant relative of the legendary revolutionist. Chandrasekharan and his wife live in the ‘tharavadu’, along with Susheela Amma, who is an aunt of Captain Lakshmi. Her mother, the renowned social worker Ammu Swaminathan was a member of the prominent Vadakkath family, and her link to Palakkad.
Born in Madras on October 14, 1914, to well-known criminal lawyer Dr S Swaminathan and Ammu Swaminathan, Lakshmi Swaminathan studied medicine and completed her MBBS from Madras Medical College in 1938. With her parents being staunch Congress supporters, young Lakshmi was no stranger to the socio-political upheavals of the time. Ammu Swaminathan was elected twice to the Madras Assembly and once to the Lok Sabha. As a result, their house in Chennai was always the nerve centre of political confabulations which had an impact on Lakshmi, and she eventually became an active member of the Youth Congress. Subsequently, she was drawn to the revolutionary movement in the country, and in this respect, the sister of Sarojini Naidu, Suhasini and her husband Narayanan Nambiar, who hailed from Thalassery, influenced Lakshmi significantly. In 1939, Dr Lakshmi completed her diploma in gynaecology and obstetrics and soon after, left for Singapore to care for a pregnant relative. Singapore was a British colony at the time and Japan had attacked the island, leading to much tumult among the Indians settled there. She established a clinic for the poor migrant labourers in the colony and her work influenced Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who reached Singapore in May 1943. Dr Lakshmi eventually came to head the women’s regiment and attained the rank of Captain in Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA), which fought against the British. She last saw Netaji in May 1945, and after the defeat of the Axis powers, she too was imprisoned in Burma for some time.
She had married Prem Kumar Sehgal, a colleague in the INA, in March 1947. After returning to India, Captain Lakshmi settled in Kanpur, and continued to work towards ensuring affordable healthcare for the poor. In 1971, she joined the CPM and represented the party in the Rajya Sabha.
She was a member of the CPM state committee in Uttar Pradesh and a central committee member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
In 1998, she was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan by the then President K R Narayanan. In 2002, she was the Left parties’ nominee against A P J Abdul Kalam in the presidential poll. Captain Lakshmi is survived by two daughters, Subashini (former CPM MP from Kanpur) and Aneesha.