Last year in a historical judgment by the Supreme Court of India, women in the Indian Armed Forces have been granted the authority to hold command positions. This is deemed a triumph in the ongoing fight against stereotypes and patriarchy. As a consequence, we can now witness courageous women administering and defending our nation nicely and being a motivation to millions of small girls all around the globe. Nevertheless, it is substantial to note that women, in India, have been combating for decades. Women have been tough warriors since the age of kings and queens, and have served and protected their kingdoms with bravery, wit and courage. From Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi to Kittur Chennamma, these warrior women have displayed to us that bravery goes a long way, and that gender has never existed an impediment in women battling for what is right. Here in this article, we pay a tribute to such valiant women who were not less than ‘lioness’ in their own right.
We start with Rani Lakshmi Bai, whose name is hardly known by any Indian. Fondly referred to as ‘Manu,’ Manikarnika was the daughter of a Varanasi Brahmin priest. She was rechristened Lakshmibai in 1842 after she wedded Maharaja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi. Her spouse’s death in 1853 caused her realm, Jhansi, to be annexed by the British under Lord Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse. Furthermore, the British denied recognizing her adopted son Damodar Rao’s right to rule as the lawful successor. With a sword in hand and her kid tied to her back, she battled heroically in 1857, against raids by neighboring princes. In 1858, the British forces attacked Jhansi, but Laxmibai escaped with her son to Kalpi and allied with Tatya Tope. They seized Gwalior, but the Britishers retrieved control. She fought the battle of Kotah-ki-Serai in 1858, attired in a man’s uniform, but finally martyred on 18th June 1858.
Further down towards southern India, Chitradurga, a city located 200 kilometers northwest of Bengaluru, Karnataka, saw many rulers from the 16th to 19th centuries. Haider Ali, Sultan and de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore was attempting to subjugate Chitradurga but saw no victory even after multiple endeavors. One day, the Sultan saw a lady trying to enter the fortress via a gap. It was none other than a brave woman called Onake Obavva. Obavva was not a princess, but the wife of a guard at Chitradurga fort. Noticing this, he summoned his guys to utilize the exact method to enter and overthrow the fort. Obavva witnessed the movement and since her husband was out for lunch, she chose to take affairs into her own hands. She defended the gap, making sure that no one entered the stronghold. By the end of it all, Obavva had killed almost 100 men.
There is another woman called Rani Durgavati that deserves mention in this article. Rani Durgavati was the Queen of Gondwana. She was a lady of extraordinary courage, bravery, and power. After her husband’s death, the queen began governing the empire in her son’s name. She chose to be the wife of a brave, ‘low-born’ hero, rather than of a spineless ‘high-born’ fool. This was indeed fortunate for the people of Garha, for they gained a queen who could befuddle even the mightiest of Mughal armies. Her intelligence and courage were unmatched. When Mughal General Khwaja Abdul Majid Asaf Khan struck her empire, she did not run away. She got onto the battleground and battled the troops the Mughal general had got. She did not give up her enthusiasm for safeguarding her people and the empire till her last breath. Even today we commemorate her death anniversary as Balidan Divas.
Talking about brave women warriors of India, it would be unjust to forget the contributions of Rani Abbakka Chowta. Rani Abbakka Chowta, Queen of Ullal lauded as one of the foremost female freedom fighters of India and as existing “the lone woman in history to encounter, battle and constantly overthrow the Portuguese”. She protected the territory for 4 decades in the latter half of the 16th century. Under the tutelage of Vasco da Gama, in 1498 the Portuguese became the first Europeans to find a sea route to India. From 1525 to 1579, Abbakkar led her army in shutting down a total of 6 attacks by the aggressors. In the Portuguese’s last invasion, they eventually managed to detain Rani, only because they persuaded her estranged husband to betray her for money. Abbakka demonstrates a ‘fight to the end’, forming a mutiny in jail that led to her death while attempting to flee. Fortunately, she lives on in the folk culture of the Dakshin Kannada region, where they hold an annual festival in her remembrance (Veera Rani Abbakka Utsava).
Many women actively fought against the British. Kittur Chennamma was one such name. Kittur Chennamma was the ruler of Kittur in Karnataka and the queen who resisted British rule in India. After the demise of her husband and son, the British attempted to have her empire annexed by applying the Doctrine of Lapse. Regardless, she stayed inflexible in her denial of the annexation and battled the British army. Despite having a much smaller army, she still undertook raids on the British troops and triumphed over conflicts. She eventually lost and was detained, during which she died. The narratives of her heroism encouraged numerous female freedom fighters, and persisted to do so.
So these are a brief account of only a few valiant souls that neither allowed their gender nor patriarchal stereotypes to stand as an obstacle in their fight for the motherland. Yoof pays tribute to all such powerful women who will forever be immortal in our hearts.