Rani Lakshmi Bai, the queen of Jhansi, is one of the most respected freedom fighters in the history of Indian freedom struggle. At just 21 years of age, she was a prominent member of the Sepoy Mutiny, also called the Revolt of 1857. The mention of her name evokes the image of a young female warrior riding a horse, while carrying her baby on her back.
Jhansi Rani was born at Varanasi (Kashi) on November 19, 1835 to Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathibai Tambe. Her birth name was Manikarnika, or Manu. Her father worked at the court of Peshwa of Bithur. Because of her father's influence at the court, Manu was fortunate to have the independence that most women could not have at that time. She studied horsemanship, archery, self defense, and even formed her own army of female friends.
Lakshmi Bai was married to Gangadhar Rao, the Raja of Jhansi. They had a son in 1851, but, the child died at four months of age. So, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Damodar Rao (later renamed Anand Rao). Raja Gangadhar Rao died in 1853. Because Anand Rao was adopted, the British East India Company applied the Doctrine of Lapse whereby a non- biological child could not inherit the kingdom. As per this policy, Anand Rao's claim to the throne was rejected and Jhansi was annexed by the British. In March 1854, the Rani was given a pension of Rs. 60,000 and ordered to leave the palace at the Jhansi fort.
Shortly afterwards, on May 10, 1857 the Sepoy (soldier) Mutiny started in Meerut. It became the starting point of the Indian rebellion against the British. During this rebellion many British soldiers and officers of the East India Company were killed by the sepoys and the British wanted to end the rebellion quickly.
As the movement began to spread throughout India, the British were forced to focus their attention elsewhere, leaving Lakshmi Bai to rule Jhansi. She effectively led her troops against small battles breaking out in Jhansi. Through her leadership, Lakshmi Bai was able to keep Jhansi relatively calm and peaceful. Up to this point, she had been hesitant to rebel against the British, but her hesitation finally ended when British troops attacked Jhansi on 23 March 1858. Rani Lakshmibai along with her army fought nail and tooth against the British. An army of 20,000, headed by the rebel leader Tantya Tope, was sent to aid Jhansi and Lakshmi Bai. However, the British prevailed and Lakshmi Bai’s forces could not hold out any more. The British captured the city but Lakshmi Bai escaped along with the young Anand Rao.
She joined other rebel forces at Kalpi, including those of Tantya Tope. They marched to Gwalior and defeated the army of the Maharaja. Then they occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. But, on the second day of the fighting, on 18 June 1858, Jhansi Rani Lakshmi Bai lost her short but well-lived life.
Rani Lakshmibai epitomized courage, wisdom, and women’s empowerment in 19th century India. She will always be a shining beacon in the history of India’s freedom movement.