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SUSHILA NAYYAR (1914-2001)

Sushila Nayyar was a doctor and freedom fighter. She was the younger sister of Pyarelal Nayyar, Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary. She was also the Gandhis’ personal physician and close associate. She was active in the Gandhian cause even while studying medicine at Lady Harding College. Soon after her graduation she came to stay at Sevagram with her brother, and in 1939 she began to attend Gandhi who had high blood pressure and other ailments. In that year cholera broke out in the area, and with Gandhi’s advice she tackled the outbreak almost single handedly. Her courage and fortitude impressed Gandhi and brought her into the inner circle of his associates. Their correspondence is one of the main sources for our knowledge of Gandhi’s personal life.

In 1942 she got her MD and returned to Sevagram, where she was swept up in the Civil Disobedience Movement and imprisoned with the Mahatma and his group in the Aga Khan’s palace. She witnessed several attempts on his life in the 1940s, and deposed before the Kapoor Commission after the attempt on Gandhi’s life by Nathuram Godse in Panchgani in 1944. Her small improvised clinic in Sevagram had grown to the point where it disturbed the other inmates of the ashram, and she shifted it in 1945 to a nearby guesthouse donated by the Birla’s. This became the Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Hospital. After Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, she spent some time at the Johns Hopkins University, getting degrees in public health, then she returned in 1950 and set up a tuberculosis centre in Faridabad, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay’s (q.v) model town near Delhi. She also became head of the Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation.

After Independence she was elected to the Delhi State Assembly and was appointed Union Minister for Public Health from 1952-1955. The following year she was Speaker in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha. She served in the Lok Sabha as member from 1957 to 1971 and Health Minister from 1962-1967. She served another term from 1977 to 1979 during the Emergency. After 1979 she retired from politics and devoted herself to the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences which she had set up in 1969. She received Dr.B.C.Roy Award, Deshikouttama Award From Vishwa Bharti University 1995, Amal Prabha Das Award 1996 by Assam Govt. She is the author of Kasturba, Wife of Gandhi (1948), Kasturba Gandhi: A Personal Reminiscence (1960), Family Planning (1963) and The Role of Women in Prohibition (1977).
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