India’s Lesser Known Heroes – Uda Devi

M Venkaiah Naidu

Uda Devi

Uda Devi

Uda Devi – A sniper who surprised the British

As the nation approaches the 75th year of its independence, it is also the time to gratefully remember the struggle and patriotic fervour of hundreds of unknown Indians who had made invaluable sacrifices during the freedom movement.

They belonged to obscure communities of remote villages but still had a common dream of unshackling India from the colonial rule. They had played a critical role in the fight against atrocities and injustices of the British. Their sense of India is a resounding response to those who consider that we owe the very idea of India to the Britishers.

Who were these common men and women with uncommon grit and rare determination to save the honour of their motherland? Regrettably, their stories of valor and courage do not find a mention in our history books.

In my Facebook series on unsung heroes of our freedom struggle, today we will recollect the audacious feat of Uda Devi, who acted as a sniper. She had led the women’s battalion of Oudh’s army in the fierce battle of Sikandarbagh in Lucknow during India’s first war of independence in 1857.

She was born in a weaker sections’ family in a village in Oudh region. She grew up being resentful of the oppressive Britishers and earned the sobriquet “Dalit Veerangana”.

That was the time when the last Nawab of Oudh, Wazid Ali Shah had been exiled to Calcutta by Britishers and his wife Begum Hazrat Mahal had taken over the reins of Oudh.

Uda Devi was said to have approached Begum with a request to enlist her in the battle against Britishers. Begum arranged for her training and asked her to raise a unit of trained women soldiers. Later, Uda Devi was married to Makki Passi, a soldier in Oudh army.

Sikander Bagh was the fortified Mahal of Nawab. Reportedly, a small garrison of 2200 soldiers protected the Mahal. On 16th November 1857, a large regiment of British troops under Colin Campbell attacked Sikander Bagh. In the meanwhile, Makka Passi attained martyrdom in one of the conflicts with the Britishers.

Enraged at the martyrdom of Makka Passi, Uda Devi reportedly vowed to avenge his death.

She asked her troops to attack the advancing British army from different directions. It is said that she herself climbed upon a tree with pistols in both her hands and enough ammunition. Dressed as a male soldier, she camouflaged herself behind the thick leaves and is believed to have shot at British soldiers passing under the tree. There are varying reports on how many Britishers she had killed with some estimates suggesting that she killed more than 30 British soldiers and wounded many until British commanders, surprised at sudden change of tide, found her out on the tree and shot her dead.

When her body was recovered, Britishers were surprised that it was a woman dressed as a man with pistols in both the hands. Even today, the Passi community in Pilibhit region commemorates her Martyrdom Day on 16th November every year with folk songs describing her valour and supreme sacrifice.

We need to explore and re-discover the heroic feats of local heroes and veeranganas and include them in our history books.