The Rani of Jhansi

Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi was one of the leaders in India who fought against the East India Company when they had invaded the land, who is still commemorated to this day- be it in a comic book or a New York Times article, in over four films or even in an epical poem that schoolchildren are made to learn in Hindi class to this day (it is important to note that ‘Rani’ means Queen in English, but since she is known in national history as the Rani of Jhansi, I will be referring to her as such). Born in Varanasi, Rani Lakshmibai was the daughter of an advisor in the Peshwa (ruler of the Maratha Empire) Bajirao II’s court and was originally given the name Manikarnika. Manikarnika learnt many skills only available to males at the time in her childhood due to this affiliation with the Peshwa, such as sword-fighting, horse-riding, martial arts, shooting, reading, and writing. She married the Maharaja (king) of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao, at age eleven in May 1842, and was named Lakshmibai in honour of the goddess of wealth and prosperity. When the Maharaja was dying heirless in 1853, he attempted to adopt a child before death, but when the Rani sent the adoption papers to the British for (along with the recognition papers instating herself as the regent until the child grew old enough to rule) they were denied due to the Maharaja having passed away the day after the adoption, and Lord Dalhousie annexed Jhansi. Lakshmibai adamantly sent several petitions to get her terrain back which were all refused and began handling state affairs in the absence of the king. She was a truly just ruler who helped people regardless of their class or caste. A few years later, the Revolt of 1857 broke out in Meerut and Jhansi troops rebelled and massacred the residing British troops; Lakshmibai was blamed by many despite her proclamation that she was not and the lack of proof she was involved, although there is reason to believe that the British had asked her for help and she refused. She was further suspected when she became the regent of Jhansi in the absence of the British, and began strengthening the army, effectively joining the rebellion. She made allies with other rebel leaders such as guerrilla fighter Tantia Tope and recruited women into the army alongside men; as nurses, troopers, gunners and watchkeepers. The Rani led her own troops into battle Although beaten severely in a battle by Major General Sir Hugh Rose’s army when the troops laid siege on her fort in Bundelkhand, she was able to escape eastwards to Kalpi (where reinforcements laid) with her adopted son, Tantia Tope, and some guards. Undeterred by the defeat and massacre of Jhansi, she refused to abandon the rebellion and helped the rebel troops invade Gwalior. There, dressed in male attire, she charged into battle on horseback against General Rose’s troops once more, leading her remaining troops from Jhansi in the Battle of Gwalior. Unfortunately, she was shot and killed on the battlefield. Although the British newspapers had dubbed her the “Jezebel of India”, her rival General Rose himself compared her to Joan of Arc when reporting her death. He said, “The Indian Mutiny had produced but one man, and that man was a woman.”

To end, I would like to quote the poem I had mentioned in the introduction.

“खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।”. “Such was the gallantry with which the queen of Jhansi fought .”

The Rani of Jhansi displayed immense courage and inspired several future generations, regardless of gender, to fight for justice and freedom.