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What We Know Of Jhalkari Bai, The Dalit Woman Commander Of Rani Laxmibai’s Army

We know of Rani Lakshmi Bai's bravery tales, but we are not aware of Jhalkari Bai, the Dalit woman who helped her throughout, and fought right next to her in the uprising of 1857.

We know of Rani Lakshmi Bai’s bravery tales, but we are not aware of Jhalkari Bai, the Dalit woman who helped her throughout, and fought right next to her in the uprising of 1857.

The stories of our female warriors are rarely told. Can we think of any other female warriors other than Rani Laxmibai and Sultana Razia? Through the ages, women have shown great abilities, playing a crucial role in history. But we rarely hear about them. Isn’t it time we changed that?

Here is a name that is quite disguised in the pages of history. Commander of Rani Laxmibai’s Army, Jhalkari Bai. The attention that is paid to Kings and Queens is appropriate, but even majesty can show courage only when they have good support systems. Jhalkari Bai was that support system to the Queen.

Few people know that she is the woman who overcame every obstacle to save Rani Laxmi Bai and her son. Her uncanny similarity to Rani Laxmibai made it very easy for her to disguise herself as the queen and misguide the British army during the revolt of 1857.

What do we know about Jhalkari Bai?

Jhalakari Bai was born in Bundelkhand on 22 November 1830 to a poor Kori family (an oppressed Dalit group) Her mother was Jamunaabai and her father was Sadoba (E.K. Mulchand Koli), and lost her mother early in childhood, and was raised by her father as an only child. Because of the social conditions of the time, she did not have formal education, but was trained in horseback riding and firearms use.

Since childhood, she was bold and determined. She worked to support her family,  supervised animals, as well as collected wood from forests. As Jhalakari once came into contact with a tiger in a jungle, she killed the animal with her ax. Her bravery and courage were outstanding.

Jhalkari Bai was married to a soldier in the Jhansi army, and that’s how she came to be, one day, among the women of the local village, who went to the fort of Jhansi to honor the Queen during Gauri Puja. Jhalkari Bai was an absolutely identical copy of the Rani, and this made the Rani notice her. When she came to know of the feats of Jhalkari Bai, the Rani was impressed and asked her to join the women’s Durga dal in the army. There, Jhalkaribai trained in guns, cannon firing, and other weapons, and later, became the commander of the Durga dal.

Night of the attack in the uprising of 1857

At the time of the rebellion of 1857, General Rose attacked Jhansi on 23 March 1858 with his huge army. Rani Laxmibai fought bravely with her 5000 soldiers. The Queen was waiting for help from Peshwa, but she was not able to make contact with them as Tatia Tope was already defeated.

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Legend has it that when the British army came to the fort to attack the Rani, it seemed it may be difficult to save her. Jhalkari Bai (who resembled Rani Laxmi bai) took the position of queen. As the British army mistook Jhalkari Bai for the queen, the Rani was able to escape with her son (successor of the Jhansi kingdom).

She is now honored on Shahid Diwas (Martyr’s Day) by various Koli organizations.

Why is Jhalkari Bai not better known?

There is silence on Jhalkari Bai’s bravery which is intentional because she was from the Dalit community. Rani Laxmi Bai was born into a Brahmin family in Varanasi and married a Peshwa (Brahmin) king named Raja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi. Tatya Tope, her ally, was also born in a Brahmin family, was similarly born to Ramachandra Pandurang Tope.

To keep the oppressed class as oppressed, history is told in a biased way, keeping them hidden from written records. This has motivated the Dalits in Bundelkhand and throughout UP, to retrieve and bring to light the heroism and sacrifices of Jhalkari Bai.

In India, the upper castes have ignored the many stories of Dalit resistance against colonial rulers and social injustices. Though these stories have survived mostly orally through generations of Dalits, history as we commonly know it has kept it hidden, due to history being written by dominant upper caste historians. There is also the additional layer of her being a woman.

Jhalkari Bai is played by television star Ankita Lokhande in her Bollywood debut in the Kangana Ranaut starrer biopic of Rani Laxmi Bai, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. She has been portrayed as brave and loyal, and the narrative speaks of how she sacrificed her life in the revolt.

Image source: a still from the film Manikarnika, and By India Post, Government of India – [1], GODL-India, Link

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