'The people in charge of this country are an
self-serving bunch of tired old men'
"She (Lakshmi) had this gift, that people had faith in her.
In a doctor, especially in India, you have to have a certain faith.
I know that a lot of people will now say, 'Doctor Lakshmi
is here, we don't have to fear anything.' I think that touch
was there even then," eminent danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai
once said of her sister, Colonel Lakshmi Sahgal.
It could have been this trait that encouraged Subhas Chandra Bose to
focus on Dr Lakshmi Sahgal as the leader of his new all-woman
Indian National Army unit, the Rani of Jhansi regiment.
Today, more than half a century later, this quality still forms
a prominent part of Colonel Lakshmi's character. This heroine of India's
struggle for Independence will not
mince words when it comes
to accountability - she tells Savera Someshwar there are many people who
can be blamed for the degeneration of the Indian nation.
Do you agree with the way the freedom struggle was conducted?
Of course, not. Our freedom movement moved on the wrong track.
It was the British who decided what kind of freedom we should get.
Which is why we did not get the freedom we wanted, we got a divided
Nor did we direct our anger against the British. We were very happy
with them, they had left our country. Instead, all our anger was directed
against our own people. Such terrible riots took place. If all that bloodshed
and violence had taken place for the sake of freedom, it would have made
such a big difference. Instead, we let such terrible acts of violence take place
after we gained Independence.
As a result, we have deteriorated not just politically, not just
communally, but even in our behaviour. We have become barbarous,
specially in our conduct towards people weaker than us. The kind
of brutality that we show towards women, towards children and
the weaker sections of society is because the freedom movement
did not take the proper route, but went into compromise and division.
How would you account for this degeneration of the Indian character?
We have become self-centered and money-minded. We always talk
of being so religious and so god-fearing but that is a load of
rubbish. Today, the only god that exists is the god of money,
that is the only god we worship. Of course, this has become peculiar
to the whole world now. Money has become the new criterion.
Add to that, there is no proper leadership, there are no ideals
that people can adopt or follow. Even though we have such a valuable media,
what do people see? They see that people who have amassed millions
of rupees through unfair and illegal means are going scot-free.
So what is the fellow who wants something but cannot get it out
of his earnings supposed to do? He will not think twice about
killing someone to get it, of stealing what he wants or needs.
He can see that this is the prevalent trend these days. And these
people are not punished, he also hopes to go scot-free.
During the freedom struggle, did you ever dream what India would
Not really. But I did not, even in my wildest dreams, think that India
would be partitioned. I knew there would be a lot of difficulties,
but this was totally unexpected.
Also, I did not feel there would
be this great gulf between the rich and the poor, between the
haves and the have-nots. I felt that there would be some kind
of egalitarian society, that some kind of social justice would
prevail. Instead, this gulf in our society has been wider. All
this has come as a great shock and sorrow to me.
What are the main problems facing India today?
The main problem of India then, and now, is extreme poverty. Except
for the United States, I've been throughout the world. You don't
see this kind of poverty and squalor anywhere, not even in Africa.
I felt that there would be a terrific social revolution where
all these archaic customs would be cast off. That education would
be free and people would be encouraged to take advantage of it.
Besides, we have no civic sense at all. And we have an omnipotent
caste system. We have been taught, from childhood, that the dirt
we make will be cleaned up by somebody else. We have been told
that we are too superior to touch the dirt that we ourselves have
I see this happening every day outside my clinic in Kanpur. Though
I have people to do this kind of work, I personally clean the
place in front of my dispensary. Even that does not prevent my
neighbours from littering the place.
When the poor municipal worker comes there every morning, the
place is like a pig sty. Even before she moves on, the neighbours
will start throwing their rubbish out of the window. But none
of them will allow a sweeper to enter their houses. It is a very
When did we start going wrong?
From day one. We went wrong from the minute we accepted Partition.
Unfortunately, the people who are in charge of this country are
an ambitious, self-serving bunch of tired old men.
Colonel Lakshmi's photographs: Atul Chowdhury