Mahabiri Devi: The fearless veerangana of our First War of Independence
As a country we must periodically revisit the history of our freedom struggle, explore the unexplored aspects. As we strive to build a new India, we must continuously draw inspiration from those unknown warriors and veeranganas who made supreme sacrifices and paved the way for the country’s independence.
There is a school of thought that treats our first war of independence of 1857 as a mere sepoy mutiny. Nothing could be farther from truth.
As the country approaches 75 years of its independence, I have tried to revisit the history of our freedom struggle and write about the unsung heroes and veeranganas. In today’s Facebook post, I am narrating about the heroic valour of people, who have virtually disappeared from the pages of our own history. But their legacy remains alive in the local traditions of village communities, where they are still treated as role models for their rashtrabhakti by successive generations.
In this series, today we will be paying our homage to the fearless veerangana Mahabiri Devi of Mundbhar village of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh and her group of women who not only fought against the Britishers but also against the social evil of manual scavenging.
We all know that on 10th May 1857, Indian sepoys posted at Meerut cantonment revolted against their British seniors. That resentment against the Britishers was not confined to cantonments alone but spread across the entire region including Muzaffarnagar, which adjoins Meerut.
Mahabiri Devi who belonged to the Valmiki community had formed a group of 22 local women to raise awareness against the inhuman practice of manual scavenging. They asked women and children to give up this practice.
They were common people engaged in household chores with no training in arms. As the resentment against Britishers remained strong, Mahabiri Devi inspired her group to take up arms against them. It is said that on 8th May 1857, these brave women attacked British soldiers with their primitive weapons like knives, swords, spears and even with sticks, killing and injuring many British soldiers.
These 22 veeranganas fought till their last breath to break free from foreign rule and the life of indignity. Eventually, they made the supreme sacrifice by laying down their lives for the motherland. Some historical accounts mention the names of some of these veeranganas as Indra Kaur, Man Kaur, Rahimi, Devi Tyagi, Bakhtavari, Habiba, Umda, Asha Devi, Shobha Devi and Bhagwati Devi.
With hardly any training in the use of arms, they had displayed extraordinary courage and inspired generations of people.
The impact of any movement is measured by the spread and support it evokes in different sections of the society. Common people belonging to local communities were always conscious of their freedom and never accepted Britishrule. At every available opportunity, they launched protests against Britishers.
Without chronicling these episodes of extraordinary valour of ordinary people, our history will remain incomplete.
As a civilized society, we must get rid of the abominable practice of manual scavenging. It will be our true tribute to the memory of MahabiriDevi and her group of true revolutionarywomen.