Tuesday, July 24, 2012

விடுதலை வீராங்கனை லக்‌ஷ்மி சாஹ்ல் மரணம்!

நன்றி times of india 24-07-2012

Freedom fighter Lakshmi Sahgal passes away
Captain Lakshmi Sehgal died at the age of 97 in a Kanpur hospital on Monday.

The year Lakshmi Sahgal was born, the First World War had just begun and India was years away from independence. When she died on Monday in a Kanpur hospital aged 97, the world had seen yet another World War and India had been a free nation for over 64 years.

Sahgal played her part in the process that would eventually win India freedom. But unlike many nationalist heroes she hitched her wagon to the maverick Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. After qualifying as a medical doctor from Madras in 1938, Sahgal, born Lakshmi Swaminathan to a lawyer father and a social worker mother, took the unusual step of travelling to Singapore to practice.

With war spreading to south-east Asia in end-1941, Sahgal began treating wounded prisoners of war many of whom were of Indian origin. She also became actively involved in the India Independence League, which organized Indians in south-east Asia against the British. Her life changed irrevocably with the arrival of Bose in Singapore in 1943. Electrified by Netaji's message she took up the responsibility for setting up the Rani Jhansi regiment, the women's brigade of the Indian National Army. She was also inducted into the provisional cabinet of Azad Hind, the only woman in that position. In the end-game before Indian independence she was captured by the British in 1946 and brought back to India. Her private and public life intertwined when she married Colonel Prem Sahgal, also of the INA, in 1947.From then she was to be known as Captain Lakshmi Sahgal.

After independence Sahgal settled in Kanpur where she quietly kept serving people by treating thousands of poor patients for free. In the aftermath of the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, when refugees began pouring into India, she spent several months in West Bengal working with uprooted people. It was this experience that made her join the CPI(M). She was also a founder member of the All India Democratic Women's Association. In 2002, she ran unsuccessfully against APJ Abdul Kalam as the Left parties' candidate for India's presidency.

Sahgal often took up lost causes such as campaigning against beauty contests, but win or lose she never lost her zest for life. Even after she had a heart attack in July of this year she continued to meet patients. It was this quality that endeared her to millions. 

KOLKATA: On Monday, there would be at least 34 Myanmarese families mourning the death of Lakshmi Sahgal. It was largely due to her efforts that 34 Myanmarese freedom fighters were released from the Presidency Correctional Home in Kolkata in 2011 after 13 years in custody. Sahgal, after coming to know of the plight of the Myanmarese, formed the Solidarity Committee for Burma's Freedom Fighters on 2007. It was this committee which took up the matter with the government, expedited the trials and finally got the 24 Arakan and 10 Karen freedom fighters released.

"She played a very active role in the release of the Myanmarese detainees. She wrote letters to the government and finally succeeded in convincing people that these people were not terrorists but freedom fighters opposing the military junta in Myanmar," said Sujato Bhadra of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) in Kolkata. While Sahgal was chairperson, Bhadra was part of the five-member committee which included Ashok Mitra, civil rights lawyer Nandita Haksar, Surrendra Mohan and journalist Sumit Chakraborty.

Sahgal was well over 90-years-old when she participated in a dharna for the Myanmarese along with Bhadra, Mahasweta Devi and others. It was Sahgal's initiative that prompted the likes of filmmaker Mrinal Sen and Malini Bhattacharya to write to the West Bengal government with an appeal to teach the Myanmarese with dignity. It was due to this pressure that the government withdrew its order to conduct trials of the 34 detainees inside the jail premises. Trial in an open court finally started in March, 2007.

"Even a few paragraphs on the lives of these men give us a glimpse of the extent of human rights violations and repression by the military junta. It also gives us a picture of the bravery and courage of these young people who joined the resistance at a great risk of their lives," Sahgal had stated in the foreword of her book: Why are Burma's freedom fighters imprisoned in India?

Most importantly, the trial and subsequent release of the Myanmarese nationals confirmed that they were actually victims of an operation launched by Indian intelligence agencies that went horribly wrong. Ever since their arrest in 1998, the Myanmarese had claimed that they were part of something known as "Operation Leech".

Sources later revealed that Indian agencies had planned to use the Myanmarese to get information on the movement of the Chinese in their country's territorial waters. This information was to be obtained from fishermen who operated in the region and were allegedly used by the Chinese to spy on Indian military and naval positions. The Myanmarese freedon fighters were also asked to keep an eye on suspected Chinese military build-up on the Coco Island.

In lieu of this information, the members of the National United Party of Arakan (NUPA), with which Indian intelligence agencies had a very good relationship, and the Karen National Union (KNU) were to be allowed to operate from Landfall Island, on the northern tip of the Andaman Islands. In February, 1998, when the NUPA and KNU members were moving towards Landfall Island, they were arrested by Indian authorities with a large cache of arms and ammunition. The Indian authorities claimed that the 34 belonged to a gang of international gun-runners who were planning to supply arms to insurgent outfits in the North East.

They were initially taken to Campbell Bay where they were deprived of even basic amenities like toilets and water. Their plight continued after being shifted to Port Blair. Even in Kolkata, they were denied basic human rights. While 31 of them were finally released from prison in May, 2011, the remaining three got free in November. Had it not been for Sahgal and the Solidarity Committee, the Myanmarese may still have been languishing behind the bars. 


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