Welcome back to Badass Ladies in History, Germ readers! I’m wishing you all a happy summer, and I hope that you are all staying cool during these hot days and warm summer nights!
This month’s badass lady comes to us all the way from India, where she is known even today as a courageous warrior queen who became a symbol of resistance during the height of British Imperialistic rule in India. Born in the holy town of Varanasi, the Rani of Jhansi (“Rani”=Queen) was known to her family as Manikarnika before she became queen. Manu — as she was affectionately called by her parents — lost her mother at the age of four. This left her father to raise her even though he was incredibly busy while working for a court Peshwa. Manu’s father was invested, though, in educating his young child at home; and, amongst her studies, Manu was also trained in horseback riding, target shooting, self defense, and archery.
The next phase in Manu’s life was her marriage to the Maharaja of Jhansi, Raja Gangadhar Rao, in 1842. After marrying him, the Rani’s name was changed to Lakshmibai in honor of the goddess Lakshmi. In 1851, the Rani gave birth to a baby boy, Damodar Rao, who sadly died at four months old. Without an heir, the Raja adopted a boy and renamed him Damodar Rao — the name of their deceased child — just days before the Raja died. The adoption was done in the presence of a British officer, and after it was finished, the Raja gave a letter to the officer detailing that Damodar should be seen as his true son and that Lakshmibai should be given the government of Jhansi for the rest of her life.
In order to understand this political move by the Raja better, it should be understood that India was essentially under the dominion of Company rule by the British East India Company during this time. Beginning as a company solely designed to create a monopoly on trade, the British East India Company quickly increased their powers more toward garnering governmental powers in India. Through various forms of greed, the Company rarely turned a profit; but, because the British government never checked them, the Company was essentially allowed to do whatever they wanted during the years of their trade monopoly in India — including annexing an Indian state if its leader were to die without a “legitimate” heir.
With that said, the Raja’s letter was sent to the governor general, Lord Dalhousie, who — in a stunning douchebag move — applied the Doctrine of Lapse. This stated that the adoption was not legitimate and that the British would proceed with annexing Jhansi to the British territory. The Rani was outraged by Dalhousie’s decision to disrespect her late husband’s wishes, and she first tried to take a legal and bureaucratic route in stopping the annexation of Jhansi. She consulted a British lawyer and appealed for the hearing of her case in London. Sadly, her case was turned down, and in 1854, the British seized the jewels of Jhansi and gave the Rani a pension of Rs. 60,000. The Rani was expelled from her palace, and in the eyes of the Company, she was no longer the Rani of Jhansi.
The Rani held immense love for Jhansi, though, and would not give up her state that easily. In an attempt to stop the annexation of Jhansi, the Rani attempted to secure her position of power by forming an army of both men and women who were given military training to fight in battle. It wasn’t until the May of 1857 that the Rani found her chance to go after the British who were coming to seize Jhansi. Indian soldiers became incredibly angry when they discovered that the cartridges supplied to them by the British East India Company were greased with pork and beef fat to keep the cartridges dry. Since the soldiers had to bite the cartridge in order to load their guns, they were unknowingly breaking an important religious edict — seeing as how cows, even to this day, are sacred animals in India.
When the Rani caught word that the soldiers were ready to spearhead a rebellion against the British — which would soon became the catalyst of the Indian Rebellion that would spread all across the country — the Rani asked a British political officer, Alexander Skene, if she could round up a group of men for her protection. Skene gave her the green light, and up until January 1858, Jhansi was relatively calm and at peace.
When the British finally arrived in Jhansi, they found, to their surprise, that the Rani had the city incredibly well-guarded. The commanding officer of the British army, Sir Hugh Rose, threatened to destroy the city if the Rani didn’t surrender, but the Rani stood her ground and vowed that she would remain steadfast and defend Jhansi. When the British finally attacked Jhansi, the Rani’s army put up a good fight that would last two weeks. After two weeks of fighting, though, the Rani could tell that Jhansi was going to fall, so she fled the city with her infant son and continued to fight against the British who were attempting to invade other towns.
In her final battle in 1858, the British troops fought an Indian army commanded by the Rani as they were trying to leave Gwalior (The Rani had placed her army at the Gwalior Fort because of its strategic location). Dressed as a male soldier, the Rani rode to battle on horseback with her infant child strapped to her back, and she began to valiantly fight the British troops. As brave as the Rani’s efforts were, she was grievously wounded in battle and died during the fight. Before her death, she had told a hermit that she did not want her body to be captured by the British, and she asked that he reclaim her body and have it cremated if she were to fall in battle. She died on June 18, 1858, and was cremated. Three days after her death, the British successfully captured the Gwalior Fort.
To this day, Rani Lakshmibai inspires her country with her fearless leadership and her cunning determination to defend the land that she loved. According to British officer Hugh Rose, Lakshmibai was the “most dangerous of all Indian leaders.” Her name and legacy lives on as one of the bravest stories of Indian heroism, and her life has become a symbolic story of resistance, dedication, and fearless duty to defending her homeland. Her death in battle has garnered immense respect by her people, and her unwillingness to give up in times of deep struggle is what has carried her legacy from her historic past to the present as one of the bravest martyr stories to be told in India.
So, three cheers to the Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmibai! Her legacy and story is truly one for the ages, and no one can deny her absolute badassery in the face of imperialistic rule.