Women warriors of the 1857 revolt in India
In this International Women's History month, I have been deeply immersed in researching and learning more about the women warriors of the 1857 revolt in India, which was India's first war of independence. It is often referred to as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 but it is not an accurate description, becuase the revolt was much more widespread than the Indian soldiers serving in the British army in north India. It was spread across the sub-continent and involved civilians from all religions, castes and classes.
There were many women and civilians who were a significant part of the 1857 revolt, but history has erased the contributions of women from the history of the rebellion of 1857.
Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi
While Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi is the most well-known and the iconic woman warrior of 1857, how many of us remember or even know about these other brave and courageous warriors, listed below.
Mandar, a young Muslim woman, was Rani Laxmibai's personal bodyguard and laid down her life with the Rani on June 18, 1858 at Kotah-ki-Sarai battle in Gwalior.
Jhalkaribai was Rani Laxmibai's body double, and the head of Durga Dal – the women's brigade of Jhansi's army. Sundari Bai, Mundari Bai and Moti Bai were also part of the Durga Dal.
Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh
Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh gave the longest resistance to the British. In fact, the illegal annexation of Awadh by the British was one of the many causes of the 1857 revolt.
Uda Devi of Lucknow
Uda Devi of Lucknow was a crack shot and sniper who killed 32 British soldiers single-handedly. She was of the Pasi caste, considered untouchable.
Aziz-un-Nisa or Azizan Bai of Kanpur
Aziz-un-Nisa or Azizan Bai was a courtesan in Kanpur, and she made a gun battery her headquarters to collect and distribute arms and ammunition to the soldiers. She is also said to have ridden into battle in male attire.
Rani Avantibai Lodhi of Raigarh
Rani Avantibai Lodhi raised an army of 4,000 to fight the British when they illegally annexed Raigarh. She fought in the battlefield on horseback and when defeat was certain, killed herself with her own sword.
Rani Jindan Kaur of Punjab
Rani Jindan Kaur of Punjab was the youngest queen Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and after losing her son and her kingdom to the British after his death, was engaged in seditious intrigues against the British for many years, from Nepal.
In a small town, Thana Bhawan, situated in Muzaffar Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh, 13 brave women belonging to different religions and castes were hanged together or burnt alive for participating in the 1857 revolt against British rule - Asghari Begum, Asha Devi, Bhagwati Devi Tyagi, Habiba, Man Kaur, Umda, Raj Kaur, Inder Kaur, Bakhtawari, Jamila Khan, Rahimi, Bhagwani, Shobha Devi, and Beebee.
Asghari Begum, 45 years old, belonged to a well-to-do family and was burnt alive for organizing the armed rebellion in the area in 1858.
Asha Devi, 28 years old, belonged to a Hindu Gujjar family and was hanged in 1858.
Bhagwati Devi, 23 years old, born into a Tyagi family of farmers who fought in many battles against the British, was hanged in 1858.
Habiba, 24 years old, belonging to a Muslim Gujjar family, fearlessly fought in many battles to liberate neighbouring areas from the British. She was agreat organizer and mobilized her neighbourhood for the liberation struggle. She was captured while resisting a British attack and was executed in gallows in 1858.
Maan Kaur, 25 years old, was a brave Sikh woman from this area and belonged to a family of the shepherds and was hanged in 1858.
Umda, 26 years old, was another gallant woman from this area, born into a Jat Muslim family who sacrificed her life resisting the British invasion.
Raj Kaur, 24 years old, hailed from a Rajput family and made the supreme sacrifice fighting against the British in Thana Bhawan.
Inder Kaur Bakhtawari
Inder Kaur Bakhtawari, 38 years old, hailing also from a Jat family and laid down her life fighting against the British.
Jamila, born into a Pathan family of the area, took up arms against the foreign rulers and was martyred in 1858.
Rahimi, 28 years old, belonging to a Muslim Rajput family, hanged in 1858.
Bhagwani, 26 years old, hailing from a Brahmin family, hanged in 1858.
Shobha Devi, 24 years old, born in a Brahmin family, hanged in 1858.
Beebee, was a young Muslim woman, who was also hanged in 1858.
Mahabiri Devi of Mundbhar
Mahabiri Devi from the village of Mundbhar in the district of Muzaffarnagar was a Dalit heroine, who formed a group of 22 women, who together attacked and killed many British soldiers in 1857. The women were all caught and killed.
Rani Draupadibai of Dhar
Rani Draupadibai was the architect of the revolution of Dhar region. British troops besieged the fort of Dhar on 22 October 1857. The struggle continued from 24 to 30 October. British soldiers entered the fort due to a crack in the wall of the fort.
Rani Ishwar Kumari Devi of Tulsipur
Rani Ishwar Kumari Devi of Tulsipur was a leader of the 1857 revolt, and fought the Britishers valiantly while her husband, Raja Drig Narayan Singh was a prisoner of the Britishers. The Rani collected a large force to fight the British was considered a heroine during the freedom fight.