In The News



by HUMRA QURAISHI January 30 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 54 secs

Humra Quraishi revisits an interview with Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, who questioned the mindless development that takes place in India. The questions she raised then remain unanswered.

I’m taking you back to the summer of 2002 when she was named by the Left wing party in India as its candidate to contest for the post of the President of India. She was then eighty eight, young and fit. One of the reasons is that she was always working. She was the vice-president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. As a trained medical doctor/gynaecologist, she treated patients in the mornings and her evenings she spent doing charitable work in Kanpur’s industrial areas.  

Why she had decided to settle down permanently in Kanpur was what she told me as well as the several turns her life had taken. The daughter of well-known activist Ammu Swaminathan and criminal lawyer S. Swaminathan, she completed medical education in Madras before she left for Singapore. That’s where she met Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943. And, it changed the entire course of her life. She quit her job, joined the Indian National Army (INA), and was captured and imprisoned in Burma.

After she was release she got married to Prem Sahgal who was at the time working in the New Victoria Mills (Kanpur). And with that came a complete change in her life - settling in Kanpur, running a charitable clinic, looking after the industrial workers, mazdoors and their families. In fact, till the very end she reached out regularly to all those who needed medical assistance and support.

During  the course of the interview, I asked her to comment on the prevailing situation in the country and how would Netaji have reacted if  he was among  us. And she told me that he couldn’t have visualized this condition that we are in today. She added, “He was totally against the Partition, dead  against  it. He was sure it would mean doom and would lead to further partitions. He had made his views very clear to Pandit Nehru and also to Mahatma Gandhi. But none of us would have ever imagined that we would be reduced to this mess - the poor have become poorer, and communalism and corruption have become rampant. Looking at the terrible conditions prevailing in the country today, I can only say it is unfortunate.”

She had also talked on the plight of the mill workers and the condition of women: “The new economic policy has been a  tremendous setback for the women of this country. With the closure of mills they are moving towards the unorganized sector, where they are the  last to be hired and the first to be fired. One can see the steady decay all around. Obviously, all this will affect women. I really hope the middle-class stops sitting mute and starts reacting to the happenings around. Netaji believed that women must be given full empowerment and that would be the only solution.”

And, this sets the stage for me to talk about the dismal situation in Haldwani today. At what cost is this so-called development going on is what I ask! I recall visiting Haldwani often. That was years ago in the company of my parents and grandparents, my siblings - we would travel to Nainital and Ranikhet around summer and then again during the autumn almost every other year. And Haldwani was our mid-way stop. We’d buy fruit from the roadside carts and then settle down for lunch and snacks, before taking the last leg of our journey. It was blissful and beautiful. And, the political climate, too, was healthy and vibrant. Not like the one that rattles today.

I’m thinking of Haldwani because of the uncertainty and anxiety gripping thousands of its residents about their homes. The orders passed earlier by the courts, for the demolition of 4300 homes in the Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani because they were permitted to be built on the land belonging to the Indian Railways, raise questions. Why were they allowed to be built on that particular stretch of  land? Who was it that gave those initial clearances? Why has this sudden decision been taken to demolish those homes now? How will hundreds of families survive without a roof over their heads? Isn’t  the demolition of people’s homes inhuman?

Worry spread further, to other places in Uttarakhand. To the great historic township, Joshimath, where walls of homes are developing cracks. Many of the residents are being forced to shift from their ancestral properties to elsewhere. Many of the helpless residents will be re-located. And, amid this great tragedy taking place, there is not just bewilderment but sorrow and  pain.

As we grapple with the problems faced by the people of Joshimath, news reports of homes in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh developing wide cracks in their walls have started to emerge. The affected residents of the Kanwariganj locality of Aligarh where fissures appeared in buildings and home structures have alleged that cracks appeared after the establishment laid a pipeline under the Smart City Scheme. The news reports quoted residents who said that it’s the pipeline, which started leaking, that has resulting in the cracks and fissures!

So, at the end I will leave you with this verse of Indra Somaiah, ‘He Too Was Like Me’, from the book Amity Peace Poems (Hawakal  publishers): I went to his house and saw/He too had a mother/She too was weeping/Do not ask about the state of his wife/And the daughter, so little/His life was taken by my hand/And mine by his/I went to his house and saw/He too was like me.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.