“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to women. If by strength is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self sacrificing has she not greater power of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man would not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is woman. I have nursed this thought now for years." - Gandhi
As early as in the 18th century, the battle for a free India raged. When the men folk went to prison, they did not break down; instead they left the shelter of their homes and they took up the cause and continued the battle. In an act of courage and determination, women came out to fight for independence.
Even the uneducated women sacrificed time, materials and they took part in volunteering, campaigning, protesting, fasting, and donating to the causes of freedom.
The battle for independence raged as early as in the 18th century. There were many women especially from the royal houses and aristocrats who led the way and were a source of inspiration.
Rani Velu Nachiyar was one such — the first queen of Tamil origin to fight against the British in India. She was the princess of Ramnad, and the daughter of Chellamuthu Sethupathy. She married the Raja of Siva Gangai and they had a daughter — Vellachi Nachiar.
When her husband was killed, she was drawn into battle. Her husband and his second wife were killed by a few Britih soldiers and the son of the Nawab of Arcot. She escaped with her daughter, lived under the protection of Hyder Ali at Virupachi near Dindigul for eight years. During this period she formed an army and sought an alliance with Gopala Nayaker and Hyder Ali with the aim of attacking the British. In 1780 Rani Velu Nachiyar fought the British with military assistance from Gopala Nayaker and Hyder Ali and won the battle.
Rani Velu Nachiyar formed a woman's army named “udaiyaar” in honour of her adopted daughter — Udaiyaar, who died detonating a British arsenal. Nachiar was one of the few rulers who regained her kingdom and ruled it for 10 more years.
An icon of bravery is Lakshmi Bai — the Rani of Jhansi. born in 1835 and known as Jhansi Ki Rani. She was one of the leading figures of the First Indian Struggle for Independence (also known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857). She studied self defence, horsemanship, archery, and even formed her own army. She defied the British as they did not accept her adopted son under the Doctrine of Lapse. Stories of her bravery are still sung to inspire the Indians of today.
Another unforgettable woman freedom fighter was the queen of Kittur in Karnataka, Kitturu Rani Chennamma. In 1824, she led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of Lapse.
“When there is oppression, the only self-respecting thing to do is rise and say this shall cease today, because my right is justice,” said Sarojini Naidu. Born in 1879 in Hyderabad she was a freedom fighter and poet. She was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. She was known as “The Nightingale of India”. When she met Gopal Krishna Gokhale, he told her to use her poetry to rejuvenate the spirit of Independence in the hearts of the villagers. This she did, by travelling throughout the country and inspiring people with her strong messages, for she was a great orator. She fought for the rights of women.
In 1916, she met Mahatma Gandhi and was active in the Indian Independence Movement. She joined in the Salt March to Dandi and led the Dharasana Satyagraha after the arrests of Gandhiji and others.
Born in Nangkao village of Manipur, Rani Gaidinliu joined the freedom struggle at the age of 13. She came in contact with the political and spiritual leader of the Nagas ,Haripau Jadonang, who started a movement to drive away the British from Manipur. When Jadonang was hanged by the British, Gaidinliu took over the leadership. When the British tried to suppress the movement, she went underground. She was captured in 1932, at the age of 16 and imprisoned for life. She was freed in 1947 after India became free. Jawaharlal Nehru called her “Rani of the Nagas” for her indomitable spirit and aggressive fight against the British. After her release she continued to work for the upliftment of her people.
The struggle for independence was of epic proportion and the people who struggled for it were heroes. Though only a few have been highlighted here, the thousands who fought are not forgotten or unsung. They are thought of with deep gratitude and continue to be a source of inspiration in our own turbulent times of terrorism and the bondage we face of caste, communal and religious context.
Let us draw inspiration and strength from their lives, struggle and victory to face the challenges that India faces today.
They also fought...
Aruna Asaf Ali
Lakshmi Sehgal (Captain
Begum Hazrat Mahal
Meera nd Sarla Ben