India’s Unsung Women Freedom Fighters – Rani Avantibai

M Venkaiah Naidu

Rani Avantibai

Rani Avantibai

Rani Avantibai of Ramgarh

“If you have any semblance of loyalty or honour towards your country, then pick up arms and fight – else wear these bangles and sit at home.”

These lines are from the letters sent along with bangles by the valiant queen of Ramgarh, Rani Avantibai to the rulers of neighbouring kingdoms, challenging them to show courage and fight the British, rather than blindly accept their unfair rule.

Rani’s passionate call not only drew admiration, but inspired the kings and zamindars of the region to fight for the freedom of the motherland in 1857.

As we move further with my Facebook series on the forgotten #womenfreedomfighters, let us remember the great warrior queen Rani Avantibai of #Ramgarh. She not only fought the British rule but also infused the spirit of patriotism in many rulers of the neighbouring kingdoms.

Born in 1831 into a family of landlords, Avantibai was trained in sword fighting, archery and horse riding, among others. She was exceptionally good at military strategies from a very young age and earned a name for herself in the area. Avantibai became the queen of Ramgarh after her marriage with the King Vikramaditya Singh #Lodhi.

But as fate would have it, after a few years, her husband King Vikramaditya Singh fell seriously ill and found it difficult to rule the kingdom. As both of their sons were too young to rule, Rani Avantibai rose to the occasion and took charge of the administration. She began to rule over her subjects with wisdom and compassion.
But those were the days when the British were usurping kingdom after kingdom on the pretext of the infamous and ambiguous Doctrine of Lapse. The kingdom of Ramgarh became their next target and the Britishers appointed their own administrator for Ramgarh.

This decision was unacceptable for Rani Avantibai. She felt humiliated by the move. However, she decided to come out with a strategy to get back at the British rather than make a hasty decision.

In the year 1857, misfortune again hit the brave Rani and her husband passed away. Now, she was alone. But that did not deter her. She became more resolute and determined to fight the British.

When India’s First War of Independence broke out in 1857, Rani’s clarion call to the neighbouring kingdoms for launching a united front against the British electrified the rulers and they joined hands with her.

In spite of constraint on her resources, Rani managed to raise an army of 4000 and personally led them into the war.

Her first battle with the British took place in the village Kheri near Mandla. The British had expected an easy victory but Rani Avantibai’s intelligent tactics and exemplary courage routed the British army. Shocked by the unexpected and humiliating defeat, the British decided to take revenge and planned a bigger attack against the queen.

Although outnumbered by the British troops, Rani’s small army was believed to have fought valiantly until it was overwhelmed by the Britishers, who had set fire to the Ramgarh.

#RaniAvantibai had to retreat and moved into the forests of Devarigarh. Unperturbed by the huge losses suffered at the numerically superior British troops, she planned to attack General Waddington’s camp using guerrilla warfare techniques. A final battle broke out in the forests. The brave queen and her army were again vastly outnumbered and surrounded from all corners by the British.

Even though she realized that she would be eventually captured, the courageous ruler refused to surrender. She is believed to have said:

“हमारी दुर्गावती ने जीते जी वैरी के हाथ से अंग न छुए जाने का प्रण लिया था. इसे न भूलना बडों”
(Our Durgavati vowed to never let the enemy get their hands on her while she lived. Don’t forget this).

It is said that following the example of Rani Durgavati, Rani #Avantibai too lifted her sword and sacrificed her own life. A great daughter of this great nation fell silent on 20th March, 1858.

Rani Avantibai was a visionary leader who understood early that rather than fighting lonely battles, staying united against the British forces was the only way to defeat them. That was why she had made efforts to unite several like-minded kingdoms.

Her glorious story is beautifully narrated in this beautiful translated version of #Gondi tribe’s #folksong.

The Rani who is our mother, strikes repeatedly at the British.
She is the chief of the jungles.
She sent letters and bangles to others and aligned them to the cause.
She vanquished and pushed the Britishers out,
In every street she made them panic,
so that they ran away wherever they could find their way. Whenever she entered the battleground on horseback,
She fought bravely and swords and spears ruled the day.
O, she was our Rani mother.

These inspirational life stories of exceptional freedom fighters must not remain confined to folklore or folksongs. They should become part of our history textbooks.

Jai Hind!