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Women Revolutionaries in Indian Independence Struggle against British rule, a forgotten chapter

Valorous tales of nearly 50 Women Revolutionaries like Bhima Bai Holkar, Rajkumari Gupta, Azizun Bai, Ida Devi, and several other

With the aim of eliminating British Rule from India, women revolutionaries have equal halve of contribution as men in the Indian Independence Struggle. The radiance of the idea of women empowerment further brightened as the country witnessed the refulgent struggle for Independence of the motherland by women. The Colonial and Imperial rule was degrading India at that time but, resistance from sons and daughters of the Bharat Mata ended British rule in India in 1947.  

Since the inception of British rule in India, several women revolutionaries continued the struggle against bigots for around 250 years. The gigantic achievements from all this struggle are delivered when the frightened British left India and India received Independence. The forgotten tales of heroism of Bhima Bai Holkar, Uda Devi, Pritilatta Waddedar, Kittur Chennamma, Madam Cama, Kalpana Dutta, Durga Bhabhi, Rani Avantibai, Anni Besant and several others are enlisted below. 

Early struggle by Women revolutionaries: 

The Valorous tale of Velu Nachiyar and Kuyili was the first war against British rule in India in the 1780s. After the demise of Nachiyar’s husband Sivagangai King MVP Thevar, she along with Kuyili and Marudhu Brothers launched an open attack against the British and regained her Kingdom back. Kuyili’s suicide attack upon the ammunition depot of the British ensured victory for Nachiyar’s side. She ruled for the next ten years and was succeeded by her daughter Vellacci.  

Rani Kittur Chennamma, revered for her heroism in the war against the British upon her defiance of the Doctrine of Lapse and to retake her throne back. After her husband’s demise in 1824, Chennamma and her army fought dauntlessly against the British and made them retreat from the battlefield. Due to the betrayal of Chaplin, the British launched a surprise attack with heavy forces and captured Chennamma as a prisoner of war and she died in prison. But quarrel with Rani Kittur cost Britisher’s a lot, they lost Thomas Munro, and St. John Thackeray and also bore the loss of a heavy military. 

Bhima Bai Holkar another brave queen of India, fought against British forces under Colonel Malcolm and defeated him decisively. Rani undertook several attacks on the British to free her land and used Guerilla warfare tactics for the same.   

After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s demise, Maharani Jind Kaur (Wife of Ranjit Singh) took control into her hands to protect Punjab from Colonial Rule. She waged two wars against the British and negotiated with lots of provinces of Punjab to mobilize them against the British. With the elapsing time, she became the biggest threat to the survival of the British Empire in Punjab, thus Britishers wrongfully portrayed her as “Messalina of the Punjab” and imprisoned her after she lost support. During the trial in Lahore Court, she was dragged by her hair pulled and thrown in Chunar and Sheikhupura fort; she tactically escaped to Nepal and died in 1863 of Natural death. 

Women Revolutionaries in Revolt of 1857:

The revolt of 1857 was triggered from Meerut and spread all across the country where many patriots jumped into the war to free their country from British bigotry. It is also said that if Rani of Jhansi (Manikranika) would have made the leader of the movement then the result might come in favour of the Indians. Manikarnika led several campaigns against the British and fought valiantly that even Britishers couldn’t prevent themselves from applauding Rani’s valour. During the Siege of Jhansi, the treachery by Dulha Ju (in charge of the main gate of the fort) made the British army enter the fort premise, Rani massacred several British soldiers carrying the swords in both hands but, when defeat was nearly confirmed, her administrators advised her to escape she jumped from 285 meters high wall of the fort along with her horse Badal and carrying her son tied to her back. 

During the First War of Independence, 1857, she fought the British even after half of her forehead was crushed. British officer Hugh Rose called Rani the most dangerous Indian leader among all in the rebellion. After fighting valiantly she lost her life. According to the book, “History of the Indian Mutiny” Colonel Malleson writes that;

Whatever her faults in British eyes may have been, her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country, We cannot forget her contribution for India

Colonel Malleson

Also Read: Manikarnika: Freedom Apotheosis in the Indians

Jhalkari Bai was commander in Jhansi women army under the rule of Manikarnika (Jhansi Ki Rani). She was nearly identical to Manikarnika, thus disguised the British during the Battle of Jhansi by calling herself Queen of Jhansi to ensure safe escape for Manikarnika and fought valiantly against Colonial powers. She was very robust she even crushed the tiger and carried out several campaigns to neutralize dacoits in Jhansi province.  

Uda Devi was the only sniper from the Indian side in the revolt of 1857. She fought valorously along with her Dalit Veeranganas and killed nearly 30-32 British soldiers and officers in the Battle. She led the women’s battalion of Dalits and was helped by Begum Hazrat Mahal. Hazrat Mahal also countered the British in the Siege of Lucknow and several other campaigns under Raja Jalal Singh. She further rebelled against the British for the demolition of Hindu temples and Mosques, she even raised the concern about greased cartridges made from beef and pig’s fat.  

Farmers in Muzaffarnagar refused to pay heavy taxes to the British and thus, were massacred. Several women farmers rebelled against the British to avenge the death of their husbands, sons and family members. They fought valiantly in the battle. Some of them were imprisoned on the gallows and around 12 of them were hanged. A few of them were Asha Devi, Indu Kaur, Shobha Devi, Mam Kaur, Raj Kaur and several others. 

Mahabiri Devi belonged to the Dalit community, she gathered 22 women in the rebellion of 1857 and killed several British soldiers till their last breath and attained martyrdom. Azizun Bai was a courtesan by profession who helped Indian revolutionaries in providing crucial information leaking from British officers. Several rebels even used Azizun Bai place to hide and hosted important meets. Azizun Bai trained several women in combat, supplied arms and ammunition to the revolutionaries and further rode into the battlefield during the Siege of Cawnpore. After the siege, she was taken as a prisoner by the British army. 

Rani Avanti Bai was the queen of Ramgarh who launched several attacks against the British to free her motherland from Invaders. Avanti Bai along with her army of 4000 personnel defeated the British in Kheri village. But, the British in vengeance again attacked Ramgarh and carried out plundering, looting and massacred common people. While residing in the forest, Rani carried out several Guerilla warfare attacks on the British but, was eventually surrounded by all sides. Upon the defeat being confirmed she snatched two swords from her guards and committed suicide by piercing them into herself.  

The Rani who is our mother, strikes repeatedly at the British. She is the chief of the jungles. She sent letters and bangles to other (rulers, chieftains) and aligned them to the cause. She vanquished and pushed the Britishers out, in every street she made them panic, so that they ran away wherever they could find their way. Whenever she entered the battleground on horseback,she fought bravely and swords and spears ruled the day. O, she was our Rani mother

folklore song of Gond people

Women revolutionaries associated with HSRA or HRA:-

Durgawati Devi popularly revered as Durga Bhabhi was an active member of HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) and Naujawan Bharat Sabha. She was the biggest conspirator behind Bhagat Singh’s escape from Lahore to Calcutta after assassinating JP Saunder. In order to protest against the bigotry of the British on granting the death sentence to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, she attempted to kill Lord Hailey but he escaped and she got arrested and thus, awarded three years of rigorous imprisonment.

Moolmati was the mother of Ram Prasad Bismil who was martyred by hanging for the country’s independence. Days after Bismil’s demise, she addressed a public gathering in which she lauded her son’s bravery and promptly raised the hand of her other son and decided to submit him also to the freedom struggle. It’s an irrefutable truth that without mothers like Moolmati freedom might remain just a dream and also no one could imagine revolutionary heroes like Bismil, Azad, Udham, Bhagat and several others. 

Rajkumari Gupta was another name associated with the HSRA group who played a crucial role in the Kakori conspiracy and helped in supplying arms and ammunition to her mate revolutionaries. After her arrest her family disowned her and she led indigent life but, even after facing tough conditions, she didn’t even regret joining the Independence movement. During her interaction with author Sagari Chhabra, she said, 

“Humko jo Kerna tha vo hamne kiya, hum upar se Gandhiwadi or andar se krantiwadi.”  

Rajkumari Gupta

Chittagong Armory Raid or Uprising : 

The legacy of Pritilata Waddedar epitomizes her as another biggest pinnacle of Women Empowerment. At a very small age, she joined Surya Sen’s group and decided to dedicate her life to her motherland following the steps of Rani Laxmi Bai. During the Battle of Jalalabad, she played a significant role by supplying arms, ammunition and explosives to the revolutionaries. She was further honoured to lead the Pahartali European Club raid whose signboard reads “Dogs and Indians are not allowed.”  While performing her raid upon the club, a gunbattle was triggered between revolutionaries and police in which Pritilata was trapped by the police. Upon being trapped, she committed suicide by swallowing Cyanide to avoid interrogation (which might lead to exposing the group’s agenda) and torturous death. 

Kalpana Datta joined the Chattagram branch of the Indian Republican Army under Surya Sen and carried out several revolutionary activities. Kalpana Datta was good at making bombs and also acted as a courier agent for the revolutionaries. In 1931, Surya Sen initiated a step to empower women thus, he decided that only women will lead the European Club raid and selected Kalpana as leader but due to her arrest the raid was led by Pritilata Waddedar. In 1933, Datta was sentences to life imprisonment and upon her release; she worked on Bengal famine and Partition of Bengal.  

Revolutionary women in Indian National Army (INA):

Captain Lakshmi Sahgal and Janaki Athi Nahappan were the foremost women of the Indian National Army (INA) under Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Captain Lakshmi was behind propagators of the Women’s wing that is Rani of Jhansi regiment and later became first in command of the regiment, she also served as Minister of Women’s affairs in Azad Hind Government. Janaki Athi Nahappan was second in command of the women’s wing of INA and also a founding member of the Malaysian Indian Congress.  

Foreign women in Indian Independence Struggle:  

Mirra Alfassa came from France and adopted Indian Hindu culture under the guidance of Sri Aurobindo. Alfassa was the name behind inspiring Annie Besant and Nellie Sen Gupta (born as Christian in Cambridge) to promulgate the idea of self-rule in India. Nellie Sen Gupta along with her husband came onto the streets and started selling Khadi products. After Independence, she even worked for Hindu Minority rights in East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh)

Anni Besant was an Indian Freedom fighter and Hindu ideologist; she started the Home rule movement in India for the Independence of Indians. Besant’s theosophy of the Hindu religious movement on Hindu ideas of Karma and her authored books on Hinduism also influenced the masses. At the World Parliament on Religions in Chicago, she represented theosophical society.

After a study of some forty years and more of the great religions of the world. I find none so perfect, none so scientific, none so philosophical, and none so spiritual as the great religion known by the name of Hinduism. The more you know it, the more you will love it; the more you try to understand it, the more deeply you value it.

Annie Besant

Sister Nivedita (Miss Margaret Noble) was an Indian freedom fighter who was influenced by the thoughts of Swami Vivekananda. During the Independence struggle, she exhorted many with her public address and writings to fight for self-rule. She further emphasized preserving the cultural values and heritage of India. Sister Nivedita introduced Vande Matram as a daily prayer in her school to invoke the feeling of nationalism. 

Other Women revolutionaries of the Indian Independence struggle:-

Madam Bhikaji Cama, recognized as one of the prominent freedom fighters who accompanied VD Savarkar, Shyamji Krishna Verma’s India Home Rule Society (IHRS) in the independence struggle. Madam was the one who unfurled and designed India’s first national flag by naming it “Flag for Indian Independence.” She also contributed by writing for which she wrote Bande Matram (in response to the ban on Vande Matram) and Manda’s Talvar (in response to the execution of Madan Lal Dhingra) these weeklies and books flooded into the Indian market and were smuggled into Indian Territory by French colony Pondicherry (Now Puducherry). 

Madam Cama further advocate for the prevailing of gender equality and propagated the view of equal rights for women as for men whether it be the right to vote or any other right. While speaking in Cario, Egypt in 1910, she said, 

“I am only capable to see only half of the representatives where are the other half? Only Sons of Egypt are visible where daughters, mothers and sisters of Egypt are?”

Madam Bhikaji Cama

The rebel of Rani Giandinlui initiated the spirit of Nationalism in the Northeastern states. Gulab Kaur member ofthe Ghadar Party or Movement also employed herself in the country’s service for which, she made weapons and even supplied them. Several freedom fighters associated with independence organizations also made a praiseworthy contribution to the country’s independence including Bina Das, Kamala Das Gupta, Basanti Devi, and Suhasini Ganguly.   

Several other freedom revolutionaries who made their valuable contribution to the freedom struggle via Quit India Movement, Non-Corporation Movement and Civil Disobedience movement includes; Matangini Hazra, Kanaklata Barua, Tara Rani Shrivastav, Umabai Kundapur, AV Kuttimalu Amma, Bogheswari Phokanon, Accamma Cherian, Rukmini Laxshmi Pathi, Aruna Asaf Ali, and Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay.

Conclusion: 

While analyzing and writing about these heroic tales it stuck to mind that the Indian Independence struggle is not just a mere thing, the freedom we enjoy today is only possible due to the hardship faced by our ancestors who sacrificed their lives so that their next generations breath in freedom. We all should owe respect to these virtuous souls for making our country independent. Taking forward the legacy of our ancestors, we should start working to make our country Vishwa Guru again. 

This research piece further illustrates the prominence of women in building India as equivalent to men. For ages, women have employed themselves in serving the nation and its people and so as in the Indian Independence struggle. 

Bharat Mata Ki Jay, Vande Matram, Jai Hind Jai Bharat, Jai Shree Ram. 

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