India’s Lesser Known Heroes – Rani Chennamma

M Venkaiah Naidu

File photo: Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu

File photo: Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu

“If we live, we will live like free people”

This was Kittoor Chennamma’s message to the British agent in South India.

The year was 1824.

As expected, the agent John Thackeray was not pleased… He marched to Kittoor with his army…. surrounded the fort… and asked Rani Chennamma to surrender.

It is said that Rani Chennamma donned her warrior attire came out with her army. A fierce battle ensued and the British army was reportedly defeated… John Thackeray was killed.

This was a big blow to the Britishers.

In continuation of my Facebook series on the forgotten women freedom fighters, today I want to bring to you the story of Kittoor Rani Chennamma.

Much before the revolt of 1857, there were several lone battles fought in the country and many brave women warriors led these battles… and even defeated the British armies. One such valiant freedom fighter was Rani Chennamma of Kittoor- a kingdom near present day Belgaum in Karnataka.

Kittoor Chennamma

Kittoor Chennamma

All was well in the thriving business destination of Kittoor. But misfortune fell upon the queen… She lost her husband, king Mallasuraj… and after some time, her only son also died.
The British sensed an opportunity to capture her kingdom.
It is said that Rani adopted another boy Shivalingappa and announced him as the next heir to the throne.

But the Britishers were not pleased. They refused to accept Shivallingappa and this led to a confrontation between Rani Chennamma.

After the decimation of John Thackeray’s army … the Britishers came back to Kittoor… this time with a larger army and with better preparations.

The warrior queen picked up her sword and reached among the people riding her horse.

“Able sons of Mother Kannada! We will defend our motherland with all our might, even if we have to sacrifice our lives”… with these motivating words, she galvanized the people of Kittoor to face the mighty British.

The bravehearts of Kittoor fought with all their might indeed … but the British army was now much bigger and more equipped. A fierce battle ensued.

It is said that two of her soldiers betrayed Rani Chennamma by mixing cow dung and mud with gunpowder.

This time she lost the battle.

Rani was offered subordination to the British but the self-respecting queen did not accept. The Britishers imprisoned her for life at Bailhongal fort.

The brave queen died in captivity in 1829.

But her courage and determination to defeat the British, inspired several other kingdoms to rise against British atrocities and put up a fight rather becoming their slaves. The Queen will always be remembered for igniting the spark of freedom in the hearts of many men and women.

Sisters and brothers,

As the nation moves closer to the historic landmark of 75 years of Independence, we need to be ever grateful to the sacrifices, struggles and the indomitable spirit of our freedom fighters and draw inspiration from their life stories. There are many great men and women who remained unsung and their tales of valour and sacrifice did not get due recognition.

In a series of posts beginning on September 6th, I started writing about the lesser known women freedom fighters and their invaluable contribution in freeing India from foreign yoke. I feel that every Indian, particularly the younger generation, should read their life stories.

Schools should organise visits to their memorials and wherever possible light and sound shows should be held to highlight the sacrifices of the lesser-known yet significant historical figures. Their inspiring tales should become part of our history textbooks.