Indian Freedom Fighters - Rani Lakshmi Bai
September 12, 2020, 07:10 PM IST
Rani Lakshmibai was a gallant queen of the princely state of Jhansi (presently located in the Jhansi district in Uttar Pradesh). A legendary figure associated with early resistance against the British Raj, she played an important role during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Following the death of her husband, Maharaja of Jhansi Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, British governor-general of India Lord Dalhousie refused to recognise the Maharaja’s adopted son as his heir, and annexed Jhansi under their policy of the ‘doctrine of lapse.’ Lakshmibai gathered her forces and rose in revolt against the British, and joined the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Overpowered by the British troops, she escaped and later joined hands with Tantia Tope and occupied Gwalior and proclaimed Nana Sahib as peshwa (ruler). She continued her struggle, but died fighting a fierce battle with the British in Kotah ki Serai, near Gwalior.
In May 1852, Manikarnika was married to Gangadhar Rao Newalkar (Maharaja of Jhansi) and was later names as Lakshmibai as per the traditions. In 1851, Lakshmibai gave birth to her son Damodar Rao who died after 4 months. The couple later adopted Gangadhar Rao's cousin, who was renamed, Damodar Rao. The procedure of adaption was carried out in the presence of a British officer. A letter was handed to the officer from the Maharaja with the instructions that the adopted child should be given due respect and Jhansi should be given to Lakshmibai for her entire lifetime.
However, in November 1853, after the death of Maharaja, British East India Company, applied Doctrine of Lapse, under the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie. Under this policy, Damodar Rao's claim to the throne was rejected as he was adopted son of Maharaja and Rani. In March 1854, Lakshmibai was given Rs. 60,000 as annual pension and was asked to leave the palace.
The Revolt of 1857 & Rani Lakshmibai
Regarded as the first major resistance against the British rule, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 for the first time posed some kind of a threat to the British rule in India. It began in the form of a sepoy mutiny against the British East India Company in the garrison town of Meerut on May 10, 1857.
Till such time, Lakshmibai had not revolted against the British and had actually sought permission from the British political officer Captain Alexander Skene to build a group of armed men for her security, which she was allowed.
The fire of revolt was fast spreading in several towns of north India. Several discontent landlords and rulers of princely estates began to rise in rebellion against the British forces.
The rebels of the 12th Bengal Native Infantry captured the fort of Gwalior in June 1857, and massacred several European officers and their families. The involvement of Lakshmibai in such incident remains obscure and debatable till present. The sepoys left Jhansi acquiring hefty money from Lakshmibai and threatened to destroy the palace she resided in. Post the massacre, Lakshmibai took charge of administration of the city and wrote about the incident to the commissioner of the Saugor division, Major Erskine. The latter replied on July 2 that year requesting her to manage the District on behalf of the British Government till the time a British Superintendent arrived. Meanwhile, Lakshmibai had to defend Jhansi against a group of mutineers as well as from Company allies, Datia and Orchha.
Her appeal to the British for help later fell on deaf ears, the governor-general considered her responsible for the massacre. This, however, did not deter the courageous Lakshmibai to protect Jhansi at any cost. She got a foundry built to cast cannon to be used on the fort walls. She also mustered forces which included former Jhansi feudatories and also some mutineers and managed to defeat the invaders in August 1857. Lakshmibai then ruled Jhansi peacefully till January 1858.
The British had announced to send troops to Jhansi, but the troops did not arrive for long. Meanwhile, a section of Lakshmibai’s advisers, who wanted to free Jhansi from the British rule, bolstered their position and when the British troops finally reached Jhansi in March 1858, they were taken aback by the kind of defence set up by the city. The fort was equipped with heavy guns that could fire across the town. Sir Hugh Rose, who was in command of the Central Indian Field Force, declared that if the city does not surrender it will be destroyed. At this juncture Lakshmibai proclaimed that they would fight for independence till their last breath. She fought the British troops in defending Jhansi when it was besieged by Rose on March 23, 1858. She put up a tough resistance to the British forces and also sought and received help from Tantia Tope.
Although her troops were overpowered by the British, Lakshmibai did not surrender. The valiant Rani jumped from the fort on her horse, Badal, with Damodar Rao on her back and managed to escape in the night escorted with her guards. The other warriors who escaped with her included Dee Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Khuda Bakhsh Basharat Ali (commandant) among others.
Escaping the fort, she headed east and decamped to Kalpi where other rebels including Tantia Tope joined her. They managed to occupy Kalpi, but the British troops attacked the town on May 22, 1858. Lakshmibai led the Indian troops against the British but could not make headway. Lakshmibai along with Nawab of Banda, Rao Sahib, and Tantia Tope then fled to Gwalior and joined the other Indian forces. They were successful in occupying Gwalior sans any combat and led a successful assault on the city-fortress of Gwalior seizing its treasury and the arsenal. Thereafter, Nana Sahib was proclaimed as the Peshwa (ruler) and Rao Sahib as his governor (subedar). Lakshmibai, however, expected an attack by the British in Gwalior but failed to convince the other Indian leaders to prepare for a defence. Lakshmibai’s anticipation proved right when the British forces under Rose made a successful attack on Gwalior after capturing Morar on June 16 that year.
On June 17, in Kotah-ki-Serai near the Phool Bagh of Gwalior, the British forces charged the Indian forces commanded by Rani Lakshmibai. The British Army killed 5,000 Indian soldiers. Rani Lakshmibai was unhorsed and was wounded. There are two views on her death: Some people say that she was bleeding on the roadside and upon recognising the soldier fired at him. She was dispatched with his carbine. However, another view is that she was dressed as a cavalry leader and was badly wounded. Rani did not want the British forces to capture her body and told hermit to burn it. Rani Lakshmibai died on June 18, 1858.