If you want to understand how to become better allies to people with disabilities, then join us at Embracing All Abilities: Including People with Disabilities at Work.

7 Early Female Freedom Fighters of India: Women Who Led From The Front

This Independence Day, let us read about 7 early female freedom fighters of India, who wielded their swords and led from the front.

Do you remember anything of your childhood? Silly question, of course you do! Your grandparents must have told you about your parents’ childhoods, do you remember anything of that?

Do you know anything from your grandparents’ childhood or even their life? Or anything before that? Because all the while we live and enjoy and have fun on this land, there were people who actually fought for it.

You have heard the lecture again and again, about fight for freedom, and can feel the yawn starting in your mouth. But, what you think of as a sleep-inducing tale of the past, is actually a violence filled saga where millions lost their lived trying to protect their land from foreign invaders.

A lot of them were nobles, belonged to royalty. They were stripped of their titles and made to bow down to a foreign ruler who neither understood them nor tried to.

And, while you have heard of Tantya Tope or Bajirao, you are yet to hear of the female warriors of the Indian subcontinent. Most of them are forgotten, or terribly misconstrued.

The textbooks hardly mention them apart from a paragraph or two. But, they are alive in folklores as goddesses, popular for their valour and their shining swords.

Here are a few names among many:

Abbakka Chowta of Ullal (1525-1570s)

In 1526, the Portuguese captured the Mangalore Port, Ulal was their next aim, and it was the capital of Chowta King Thirumala Raya III. Abbakka was the niece and heir to the king, hence she had been trained in, sword fighting, horseriding, trade, warfare and politics. She defended her state of Ullal several times from Portuguese troops for whom the state was a strategic point.

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

By political marriage alliance, the king of Mangalore,  Lakshmappa Bangaraja became her consort, with whom she had three children. But the marriage fell apart when Bangaraja compromised with Portugese.

Rani Abbakka Chowta via Tumblr by Avani008

Photograph Source: Tumblr, uploaded by user avani008

Abbakka Chowta had become a queen with knowledge of Portuguese threat all her life, under her rule the trade of Ulal flourished. The Protuguese wanted to exact taxes and contributions from Ulal, but she refused. They attacked her ships and  tried to disrupt her trading routes.

As a secular queen, her army reflected her values. The army and navy was open to men of all caste and religion, this strengthen her position as people’s ruler. The first battle happened in 1556, which ended in a truce. However peace didn’t last, Portugusese aggression grew stronger by the day.

Once she lost her castle, but returned the very night to raid the enemy with her 200 followers. She also was a diplomat which got her aid from Arab rulers. Her popularity grew with time so did her threat level to Portugugese.

They warned her estranged husband from helping her, and bribed their way in. When the Portugese Armada launched a surprised attacked, she rode to the frontlines.

Despite causing a significant damage to the Armada, in the end, she was captured as a result of her husband’s betrayal, who revealed a lot of her war strategies to the Portuguese. She died the death of a hero while organizing a revolt in the jail.

Karnataka’s folklores sing of her as a goddess.

Her daughters continued her rebellion and passed on her will of resistence. In 2003 Indian Postal Service issued a special stamp in her honour and in 2015 the Indian Navy named a patrol vessel in her honour as a naval tactian.

Kittur Rani Chennamma (1778-1829)

Rani Chennamma opposed the annexation of her state, Kittur, upon the death of her husband, when they did not accept her adopted son as the legal heir.

This was the British strategy to gain territory in many states. In the subsequent war, the British lost heavily. Showing a gesture of good faith, the Rani freed the hostages.

Kittur Chenamma

Photograph Source: Wikipedia

However, these hostage generals, armed with more cavalry, declared another war. She tried to avoid the war as long as she could, in the favour of her people. But, the Rani lost the war and was taken as a prisoner.

Rani Chennamma was taught warfare, swordsmanship and horse riding, which was common in the noble women of that age. Her acts of bravery were popular throughout the state. Folklores sing of her dedication towards her people.

Begum Hazrat Mahal (1820-1879)

When the revolt began in 1857, her husband, the Nawab of Awadh, had been exiled to Calcutta and the state of Lucknow was annexed by British. A divorced mother at that time, Begum skilfully organized the chaos, the state was in and motivated the masses to participate in revolt.

Begum Hazrat Mahal

Photograph Source: Kamat’s Potpourri: 1857 War Of Independence

With the support of other freedom fighters, Begum successfully captured the state of Lucknow and crowned her son as the king. A military strategist and a brave warrior, she emerged as a leader people could look up to.

Later, the British managed to capture the state and Begum had to flee from the country, but she tried to organize troops in other locations.

She spent her entire wealth trying to sustain all the refugees who had fled from the state with her. She was buried in a nameless grave in Nepal.

Rani Avantibai (1831-1858)

Born in a Lodhi Rajput family, Avantibai Lodhi was also raised to be a adminsitrator, she was married to Vikramaditya Singh Lodi, after his demise she took the throne and encouraged farmers not follow the orders of British.

But, like many other states, she was made to surrender her state, as Britishers took the opportunity of the death of her husband and absence of a legal heir. The Rani, made to live on a pension, secretly started to raise troops and popularized the British atrocities.

Rani Avantibai

Stamp Of India, 2001, Rani Avantibai. Image Souece: Wikipedia

When the revolt of 1857 stirred the unrest among Indian princes, she raised an army of 4000 decided to lead attacks on the British troops and successfully captured several territories.

Her troops could not hold the superior British army for a very long time, and she lost her power 4 months later. She tried to reorganize her army, but in the face of impending defeat, she stabbed herself with her own sword to avoid capture.

Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi (1835-1858)

We all know her as the symbol of India’s first freedom struggle, courtesy of NCERT. A mention of her name, one can easily picture a horse raised on it hind legs, a woman riding it, brandishing a sword in the right hand, a child tied to the back.

She actively participated in horse-riding, sword fighting and archery, which were a part of her unconventional upbringing. Married at 14 and widowed by 25, Lakshmibai refused to surrender her state to British armies in the absence of an heir.

Rani Lakshmi Bai

Photograph Source: Wikipedia by British Library’s Images Online Collection

She motivated and prepared her troops for the impending battle, which came to be known as the Revolt of 1857. There are a number of stories of her death, but they all concur that she died fighting in the battle for her independence, a tale that was immortalized by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan in her epic poem, ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’.

A lot of these freedom fighters are now being ‘recognized’ as great rebel warriors by the government. As stamps are being issued, statues erected, roads renamed, the present generation is now being taught about the various queens, fighting with swords and riding on horses.

But, while kids are still mugging all the different names they need to get the passing marks, it is more important to make them realize the sacrifice these women, and many others, have made.

A lot of these women found the courage and skill to fight the battle against oppression, in their education and treatment. They were educated as a future ruler, not just as a wife to the king. This is a lesson that history has taught us. After all, lessons get over, but education goes a long way.

Sati Joymoti (1650s-1680)

Born as Joymoti Konwari, was born in the middle of 17th Century, in a noble family where she had 24 siblings. She is known all over Assam for her resilience and political foresight. Her sacrifice eraned her the name of Sati after the mythical queens Sita and Draupadi.

Joymoti’s decisions to stand up against a corrupt and oppressive administration, proved to be a key turning point in the history of Ahom Kingdom

Joymoti, is one of the first woman leaders of pre-independence Assam who sacrificed herself for the stability of the Ahom Kingdom that was riddled with malpractices. By Chaklong tradition, Joyomoti was married to a prince and court advisor Gadadhar Singh, also known as Godapani.

Her husband had grown influential politically and had become a threat to the king and his administration. On Joymoti’s advice, he went into hiding into then  called Naga Hills, now Nagaland.

Sati Joymoti from Book Cover of Asomor Buranjeer Mahiyash Joymoti Kunwari by Jonmoni Das

From Bookcover Of Asomor Buranjeer Mahiyash Joymoti Kunwari by Jonmoni Das

Unable to find him, the boy prince summoned Joymoti and imprisoned her. At hands of royalist, she was subjugated in unimaginable modes of tortures and horrors; being tied by thorny plants has become a symbol of Jyomoti’s sacrifice. She refused to reveal the location of her husband. After fourteen days of torture, she succumbed to death.

Her refusal to speak, helped the rebels, led by her husband, to gather and form an army. Eventually Godapani, revolted and won the war which brought in years of peaceful future. Because of her actions, people hail Sati Joymoti as freedom fighter.

Every March 27 is celebrated in her honour as Joymoti Divas in Assam.

Velu Nachiyar (1730-17906)

Born a princess from Ramanathapuram, she is also known as Veeramangai in Tamil Nadu. Trained in archery, horse riding, martial arts, and languages like French, Urdu and English. She was married to the king of Sivagangi, Muthuvaduganathaperiya Udaiyathevar, with whom she had a daughter.

After the British invaded their kingdom in 1722, her husband was killed by a by the son of the Nawab Arcot and a British solider.  Queen Velu had to flee with her daughter. She took refuge and remained under the protection Palayakaarar Kopaala Naayakkar at Virupachi for eight years.

Velu Nachiyar 2008 Stamp Of Inddia

Stamp of India, 2008, Velu Nachiyar. Image Source: Wikipedia

Frustrated with her situation, she joined hands with various forces, including the Marudu Brothers — Vellai Marudu and Chinna Marudu to fight against the Nawab of Arcot and Britishers.

A tactian, she was able to find the storehouse of British Army’s ammunation, which was detonated by her follower Kuyili and her adopted daughter Udaiyaal was martyered as well.

Finding no means to subdue them, the Nawab was forced into a corner. He ordered Velu Nachiyar and Mardudu Brothers to return to their province, if they agreed to a sum total of payment.

After an agreement, Velu Nachiyar returned to her kingdom with her daughter and ruled Sivagangi as it’s queen, while she let the Marudu brothers lead her army and administration.

Velu Nachiyar is the first queen of the Indian Subcontinent to fight against the Britishers.

These are just a handful of names from the pages of history, there are many unsung figures who led the spirit of rebellion throughout Indian history. Their identity as women didn’t stop them from fighting for freedom. Many of them have merged with folklores and others vaniquished and their names remained undocumented.

Image Source: All images sources have been credited and cited in the cpations, and edited on Canva Pro

Liked this post?

Register at Women's Web to get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads - you can also start sharing your own ideas and experiences with thousands of other women here!

Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views. Individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times. If you have a complementary or differing point of view, sign up and start sharing your views too!

Comments

About the Author

Ruchika Thukral

Crazy thinker, impulsive writer, schizophrenic psychopath.....what!! Ruchi, why would you write that now, huh? read more...

14 Posts | 89,890 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

Women Leaders in Communications Discuss The Responsible 5G Revolution We Need

All Categories