Lakshmi Sahgal (born 1914), better known as "captain" Lakshmi-she was, in fact, a colonel in Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army-offers a legendary personal history. As a medical practitioner, Lakshmi has always used her skills to serve the poorest of the poor. As an activist, she was involved in the creation of one of India's largest women's groups, the All Indian Democratic Women's Association. As a political activist, she stood up to the erstwhile right-wing government's presidential candidate even when all the odds were pitted against her.
Lakshmi Sahgal met Subhas Chandra Bose in Singapore, where he invited her to lead the women's regiment of the Indian National Army in 1942. A doughty fighter, Lakshmi was captured in 1946, by which time she had attained near-mythical status in the popular imagination. After her release, she married a colonel and Indian National Army colleague. Lakshmi worked alongside refugees for many years. She also established a wide network among the poorer settlements in Kanpur, where her service and compassion for the disempowered is the stuff of legends. In 1981, her commitment to social change and the women's movement was channeled through her involvement with the All Indian Democratic Women's Association. Her activism notwithstanding, Lakshmi has never neglected her medical practice. The people of Kanpur also remember her staunch defense of Sikh families during the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom that followed former prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination by her own Sikh bodyguards. Lakshmi was out on the streets, barricading her clinic against any violence. Lakshmi's efforts to fight caste-based discrimination and to counter communal and divisive agendas, especially in the wake of the state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat in 2002, were remarkable. It was in this context that she agreed to her nomination as a presidential candidate the same year. The left, in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, felt the need to register a strong protest against the ruling right-wing National Democratic Alliance and decided to oppose the government's presidential candidate, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, known as the "father of the Indian nuclear bomb". Lakshmi did not win; no one had expected her to. But the point was made, in neon-not everyone in India was willing to stand by and watch the communal forces work their will in the country.
All India Democratic Women's Association (Aidwa)