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Upasana Pattanayak

Abstract Inspirational Children


4.8  

Upasana Pattanayak

Abstract Inspirational Children


The Rani Of Jhansi

The Rani Of Jhansi

5 mins 232 5 mins 232

The name of Lakshmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi, is enshrined in legends. Her deeds are sung by village minstrels throughout central and upper India. She was the queen of a small principality, but she yet reigns supreme in the hearts of millions of her countrymen. The women’s auxiliary corps attached to Subhas Bose’s Army of Liberation was named after her. She was passed into history; she has become a name.

Lakshmi Bai was born of humble parentage. Her father, a Mahratta Brahmin, lived at Benares in the retinue of a Mahratta nobleman. She was born, according to tradition, on the 19th November 1835. The parents named her Manikarnika, but after marriage, she received the mire auspicious name by which she is known today. She was married to the ruler of Jhansi after the death of his first wife. She was very beautiful, her eyes being particularly fine. In her childhood, she is said to have been a playmate of Tantiya Tope and Nana Sahib, but this is probably only a legend.

In November 1853, Gangadhar Rao, her husband, died without a child. The day before his death, he took an adopted son in the presence of the British Political Agent, with due formalities, and in a petition, he commended him to the protection of the British. Then began a shady chapter that was thoroughly dishonorable to the British rulers. Lord Dalhousie was carrying on his policy of annexation. He refused to accept the adopted son as heir to the throne of Jhansi. The Rani’s representations were rejected. In March 1854, Jhansi was annexed; the Rani was granted a liberal pension and was permitted to live in the city palace. The adopted son was recognized as Gangadhar’s heir to the family property and treasures only. The Rani protested; when Major Ellis told her of the Government’s decisions, she is said to have cried out in a ringing voice: “Mere Jhansi nehi deungi”-“I will not give my Jhansi”. But in the end, she reconciled herself to her lot and submitted to a power which she could not resist.


Then began her troubles. The British Government took over the villages which were assigned to the family deity, Mahalaxmi. Large deductions were made from her pension on the pretext of paying off her husband’s debts. She wanted a lac of rupees out of money held in trust by the British to pay for the ‘sacred thread’ ceremony of her adopted son; her prayer was refused. On top of this came the military order permitting cow-killing within the area of Jhansi. A seething discontent spread among the people. They were devoted to their queen for her many queenly virtues, and to their religion also, and the proud Mahrattas took these affronts as demanding punishment.

By the beginning of 1857, the story of the greased cartridges was common knowledge in the streets of Jhansi. In May, the Bengal Regiment at Delhi had mutinied, and as the Jhansi troops had not done so, a message was sent to them declaring them as outcasts. Trouble broke out in Jhansi on June 5. The Rani and her troops joined the mutineers perforce. The Fort of Jhansi with all its European population was laid under siege. When they surrendered they were all massacred. The mutineers then left Jhansi and marched towards Delhi-“Delhi Chalo” was the cry-on June 12. The Rani, however, had not yet broken with the English. She wrote to them of her difficulties and her helplessness. She is said to have lived in continual fear of her life if she befriended the English. The British in their answer promised to deal with her liberally and relied upon her to keep the people in peace.


Accordingly, the Rani assumed the administration of her husband’s state. But this compromise was short-lived. Stories of the June massacres reached Calcutta, and the Governor-General held the Rani responsibly. It was felt by the British authorities that “Jhansi called for vengeance and the victim had to be a person of sufficient importance”. Before the British could act, troops of some adjoining states invaded Jhansi. But they were utterly defeated. Fortified by this victory the Rani now negotiated with the British for a permanent settlement of her state under her regency to enable her to discharge her duties fully; obviously, her future course of action would depend upon this. But the British were indifferent; hence the Rani tried to take things in her own hand. She organized her armies, strengthened the defenses of the Jhansi Fort, and awaited the issue.


Suddenly the British began to act. On his way to deal with Tantiya Tope, Sir Hugh Rose turned his troops against Jhansi and laid siege to the fort. The Rani inspired her troops and they were only too eager to act under her orders. Tantiya Tope arrived with a large army to help Jhansi but was defeated by Rose. There was cowardly Indian chiefs round about Jhansi who helped Rose with supplies of men and food. The British stormed the walls and entered the city, but bitter fighting “raged from street to street, from house to house, and from room to room, and the defenders fought like tigers.” No quarter was asked for or given. Victory lay with the British.

But the Rani could not be captured. She made her escape with an escort of a faithful one. She covered twenty-one miles in one night. On the 17th of June, she was surprised by the British who gave in pursuit. She received a bullet wound but rode away only to fall dead in a garden. There her faithful band of followers, had her last rites performed for which they requisitioned Brahmin priests at great personal risk.

Thus the Rani of Jhansi died a soldier’s death. According to Major Malcolm, who had studied her from close quarters, she bore a very high character and was very much respected by everyone at Jhansi. She was a little over twenty years of age when she died, but friends and foes honored her for her intelligence, courage, and many human qualities. Be it recorded here that her revilers were largely her own countrymen; the finest testimonies to her noble character were borne by Englishmen. It is a tribute to her greatness and the magnanimity of her enemies.


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