Women heroes of India’s freedom struggle

Women heroes of India’s freedom struggle


  • In his ninth Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed “nari shakti”, and urged people to pledge to not do anything that lowers the dignity of women. He also paid tribute to women freedom fighters for showing the world the true meaning of India’s “nari shakti”. A look at the women he named in his speech:

Women heroes of India’s freedom struggle
Source: PIB

Rani Laxmibai

  • The queen of the princely state of Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai is known for her role in the First War of India’s Independence in 1857. Born Manikarnika Tambe in 1835, she married the king of Jhansi. The couple adopted a son before the king’s death, which the British East India Company refused to accept as the legal heir and decided to annex Jhansi.
  • Refusing to cede her territory, the queen decided to rule on behalf of the heir, and later joined the uprising against the British in 1857. Cornered by the British, she escaped from Jhansi fort. She was wounded in combat near Gwalior’s Phool Bagh, where she later died. Sir Hugh Rose, who was commanding the British army, is known to have described her as “personable, clever…and one of the most dangerous Indian leaders”.

Jhalkari Bai

  • A soldier in Rani Laxmibai’s women’s army, Durga Dal, she rose to become one of the queen’s most trusted advisers. She is known for putting her own life at risk to keep the queen out of harm’s way. Till date, the story of her valour is recalled by the people of Bundelkhand, and she is often presented as a representative of Bundeli identity.
  • According to Ministry of Culture’s Amrit Mahotsav website, “Many Dalit communities of the region look up to her as an incarnation of God and also celebrate Jhalkaribai Jayanti every year in her honour.”

Durga Bhabhi

  • Durgawati Devi, who was popularly known as Durga Bhabhi, was a revolutionary who joined the armed struggle against colonial rule. A member of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, she helped Bhagat Singh escape in disguise from Lahore after the 1928 killing of British police officer John P Saunders.
  • During the train journey that followed, Durgawati and Bhagat Singh posed as a couple, and Rajguru as their servant. Later, as revenge for the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev, she made an unsuccessful attempt to kill the former Punjab Governor, Lord Hailey.
  • Born in Allahabad in 1907 and married to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) member Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Durgawati, along with other revolutionaries, also ran a bomb factory in Delhi.

Rani Gaidinliu

  • Born in 1915 in present-day Manipur, Rani Gaidinliu was a Naga spiritual and political leader who fought the British.
  • She joined the Heraka religious movement which later became a movement to drive out the British. She rebelled against the Empire, and refused to pay taxes, asking people to do the same. The British launched a manhunt, but she evaded arrest, moving from village to village.
  • Gaidinliu was finally arrested in 1932 when she was just 16, and later sentenced for life. She was released in 1947. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, according to the Amrit Mahotsav website, described Gaidinliu as the “daughter of the hills”, and gave her the title of ‘Rani’ for her courage.

Rani Chennamma

  • The queen of Kittur, Rani Chennamma, was among the first rulers to lead an armed rebellion against British rule. Kittur was a princely state in present-day Karnataka.
  • She fought back against the attempt to control her dominion in 1824 after the death of her young son. She had lost her husband, Raja Mallasarja, in 1816. She is seen among the few rulers of the time who understood the colonial designs of the British.
  • Rani Chennamma defeated the British in her first revolt, but was captured and imprisoned during the second assault by the East India Company.

Begum Hazrat Mahal

  • After her husband, Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah, was exiled after the 1857 revolt, Begum Hazrat Mahal, along with her supporters, took on the British and wrested control of Lucknow. She was forced into a retreat after the colonial rulers recaptured the area.

Velu Nachiyar

  • Many years before the revolt of 1857, Velu Nachiyar waged a war against the British and emerged victorious. Born in Ramanathapuram in 1780, she was married to the king of Sivagangai. After her husband was killed in battle with the East India Company, she entered the conflict, and won with support of neighbouring kings.
  • “She went on to produce the first human bomb as well as establish the first army of trained women soldiers in the late 1700s,” says the Amrit Mahotsav website. Her army commander Kuyili is believed to have set herself ablaze and walked into a British ammunition dump. She was succeeded by her daughter in 1790, and died a few years later in 1796.

Reference: IE

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