The Forgotten Bahujan Warriors of India's First War of Independence: Rescuing the Braveheart Stories of the Indian Mutiny

The Forgotten Bahujan Warriors of India's First War of Independence: Rescuing the Braveheart Stories of the Indian Mutiny

The Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as India's First War of Independence or the Indian Mutiny, began on May 10, 1857, with a revolt by sepoys from the East India Company's army in Meerut. The rebellion quickly spread, resulting in civil rebellion across Northern and Central India.

On the occasion of the 166th Anniversary of the Great Indian Revolt of 1857, The Mooknayak sheds light on some of the fearless warriors belonging to marginalized groups who rebelled against the expansionist designs of the British Government and sacrificed their lives. The Mooknayak had previously done stories on Uda Devi Pasi and Jhalkari Bai. 

The Forgotten Bahujan Warriors of India's First War of Independence: Rescuing the Braveheart Stories of the Indian Mutiny
Jhalkari Bai: A Tigress in Incognito

Here are some of the heroes and heroines of the revolt who have been pushed under the carpet.

Avanti Bai Lodhi- Avanti Bai was the Queen of Ramgarh. She is remembered for her valiant fight against the Britishers and for sacrificing her life in defense of her kingdom. Avanti Bai married Raja Vikramjit Singh in 1849, and they had two children named Sher Singh and Aman Singh. However, her husband's spiritual inclination made him mentally unstable, and she was burdened with the responsibility of ruling the kingdom.

When the Britishers in power learned of this situation, they invalidated the claims of her two sons and annexed the kingdom. They put it under the court of wards on September 13th, 1857. Lord Dalhousie was bringing as many kingdoms as possible under the ambit of the Doctrine of Lapse, which led to resentment among the kingdoms. They jointly opposed this move with perseverance.

Avanti Bai
Avanti Bai

Rani Avanti Bai decided to unite neighboring rulers and zamindars to fight against British rule. She chose the day of Vijay Dashmi for the revolt. To mobilize the masses against the British rule, she sent a handwritten note that read "Desh aur aan ke liye mar mito ya fir chudiyan pehnon aur ghar mein chupein rahon” (Die for the country and pride or wear bangles). She sent a box of bangles along with this letter. This initiative of Rani Avanti Bai received praise from the patriotic community.

However, when some of her close confidants were hanged, Avanti Bai became even more infuriated, and she pushed the officers of the court of ward outside her territory. Her defiance spurred the neighboring kingdoms, and it managed to galvanize people.

Until 1857, the flame of revolt covered a significant portion of the country. Rani Avanti Bai organized a force of 4000 soldiers and led them into battle.

Finally, the first battle started near a village in Mandala. The Britishers grossly underestimated the might of Avanti’s force, but their valour forced the Britishers to retreat. 

The Forgotten Bahujan Warriors of India's First War of Independence: Rescuing the Braveheart Stories of the Indian Mutiny
UDA DEVI PASI: The Warrior Pushed to Oblivion

The Britishers were seething in anger and decided to attack Ramgarh to avenge their humiliation. They were joined by the Army of Rewa's King, who had sided with the Britishers.

However, due to the valour and ingenuity exhibited by Avanti Bai, the forces of her kingdom managed to fend off the Britishers for a long period. Determined to conquer Ramgarh, the Britishers doubled down on their strength and attacked the fort.

Rani Avanti Bai escaped to the hills of Devigarh, where she continued to devise strategies to counter the British. She attacked the Radisson camp.

This enraged the Britishers, and they surrounded her in the jungle on March 20th, 1858. Avanti Bai refused to surrender to the British forces and killed herself with her sword. 

To honor Avanti Bai's memory:

- The Lodhi Sagar Dam, which is a part of the Bargi Dam built on the Narmada River in the Jabalpur District of Madhya Pradesh, was named after her.
- The government of India issued postal stamps in her honor in 1988 and again in 2001.
- Her statues have been erected at Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh, and Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
- While no real photograph or painting of Rani Avanti Bai exists, a painting that is circulating on social media is purely an imagination of the painter.

Other freedom fighters who participated in the 1857 struggle were: 

Banke Chamar : Banke was a rebel who had a price of Rs 50,000 on his head, the same amount that Gabbar Singh boasts about in the movie Sholay. However, 118 years before the film was released, Banke Chamar had already gained the same amount of terror and price on his head.
After the 1857 revolt failed, 18 people, including Banke Chamar, were declared rebels and wanted by the Britishers. Banke managed to evade the Britishers every time they came for him. In an attempt to capture him, the Britishers offered the substantial prize of Rs 50,000 for anyone who could catch him dead or alive. This amount was an enormous sum of money at the time, making the degree of terror he wielded with the Britishers evident. This sum of money was impossible to resist, and therefore, he was betrayed by some of his close confidants, captured, tried, and hanged.

Mahabiri Devi: Mahabiri Devi was born in a poor Dalit family and, as a result, was unable to receive formal education. Despite this, she remained socially active and aware of the struggles of her community. She founded an organization consisting of Dalit women and urged them not to take up cleaning jobs, which were considered demeaning and lower in the caste system.

When the Britishers attempted to control Muzaffarnagar, Mahabiri Devi and her organization stood up to fight. Even though they faced an enemy armed with the latest weapons, Mahabiri Devi did not back down and fought with cleavers and swords to combat the Britishers with great courage. She resisted the British forces for a long time and managed to kill dozens of soldiers. Her bravery awed even the Britishers.

Eventually, her struggle came to an end, and she, along with 22 members of her women force, attained martyrdom. Mahabiri Devi's incredible courage and resistance endured despite all odds and serve as an inspiration to many to this day.

Veera Pasi : Veera Pasi was born in Raebareli and was known for his formidable physique. He impressed Rana Beni Madhav of Shankarpur, who appointed him as his bodyguard and admitted him to his army. Committed to combating the Britishers and fighting under the leadership of Rana Beni Madhav, Veera Pasi managed to instill fear in the Britishers.

Unfortunately, Rana Madhav was eventually arrested and held captive in Quila Bazar. Security was tightened around the fort to prevent any attempts at a rescue. However, Veera Pasi and his supporters successfully infiltrated the fort and rescued Rana Madhav.

Veera Pasi had many encounters with the British but managed to remain elusive. It is said that his actual name was Hira and that he was given the name "Vira" due to his undaunted bravery. Despite the incredible courage and contribution to the 1857 mutiny, Veera Pasi has been confined to oblivion. Even the residents of his home district are largely unaware of his name and contributions.

These are only some of the names that have been forgotten due to the deliberate negligence of historians and writers working with a casteist mindset. There are likely many nameless Bahujan warriors who remain buried in the mound of anonymity.

The Forgotten Bahujan Warriors of India's First War of Independence: Rescuing the Braveheart Stories of the Indian Mutiny
Fatima Sheikh: Coming out of the shadows of Savitri Bai Phule

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