Knowledge Session: Who is Rani Lakshmibai?

People gen­er­ally like to refer to the war­ri­or-queen Rani Lak­sh­mibai as Indi­a’s ver­sion of Joan of Arc. And yes, sure there are plenty of obvi­ous sim­il­ar­it­ies between this young war­ri­or-maid­en who came out of nowhere to lead her people in their efforts to skew­er Eng­lish­men through the torso with a bunch of keenly-sharpened metal­lic objects, and the fact that she’s con­sidered a mar­tyr for the cause and revered by her coun­try­men even to this day bears quite a resemb­lance to the nut-squash­ing antics of the Limey-cleav­ing Maid of Pucelle. Per­son­ally, how­ever, I think I would argue that she’s more akin to being the Wil­li­am Wal­lace of India rather than any­thing else – not only because this insane nev­er-say-die blood fact­ory was tall, cha­ris­mat­ic, and more then cap­able of per­son­ally saw­ing your brain in half with a giant two-handed sword, but because she was also incred­ibly suc­cess­ful in lead­ing her overly-oppressed com­rades in a vali­ant, bru­tal rebel­lion against Brit­ish occu­pa­tion of their home­land.Great-Sketch-of-Rani-Laxmi-Bai

Born in 1835 in the Princely state of Jhansi in North­ern India, Rani Lak­sh­mibai’s moth­er died when she was just a young child, leav­ing most of the child-rear­ing duties to her incred­ibly-busy fath­er, the King of Jhansi. As a mem­ber of Indi­a’s élite war­ri­or caste, Dad knew the value of being able to lop peoples’ hel­mets off with one swing of a blade, so he decided to forgo the bull­shit cur­riculum usu­ally fois­ted upon Indi­an women at this time and instead opted to teach her how to do badass shit like ride ele­phants, jump over fire-pits on horse­back, sword­fight, shoot a cross­bow, load a mus­ket, read, and write. Train­ing in the arts of war every wak­ing moment, Lak­sh­mibai quickly became an unstop­pable snowplow of sare-wear­ing destruc­tion, and even passed on the secret art of scrotal-anni­hil­a­tion to any oth­er women of the court who thought it would be totally flip­pin’ sweet to kick peoples’ asses. Before long, Raini man­aged to assemble an ultra-loy­al per­son­al body­guard of mecha-tough women courtiers who doubled as organ­ic wood chip­pers cap­able of sli­cing and dicing people apart like a paper shred­der tear­ing through a neck­tie.

As soon as she was old enough, Lak­sh­mibai was mar­ried off to some older guy, as was the cus­tom in the day. But the quiet, demure life was­n’t in the cards for this hard­core chick. A few years into the mar­riage, she had a son, who died at four months old, and then almost imme­di­ately lost her hus­band just a year and a half later. In the wake of these these ter­rible tra­gedies, the new Queen of Jhansi adop­ted a son to serve as heir to the King­dom as soon he was old enough to rule. In the mean­time, she’d serve as his regent and bifurc­ate the cra­ni­ums of any­one who wanted to fuck with him by suplex­ing a whirl­ing cir­cu­lar saw on their heads.

The main big dogs in India dur­ing the mid-19th cen­tury was a power-hungry ultra-cap­it­al­ist mega-cor­por­a­tion known as the Brit­ish East India Com­pany. If it helps, you can think of these guys as being like some­thing out of Shad­owrun, Blade Run­ner, or any of the oth­er hun­dred-bil­lion cyber­punk dysto­pi­an sci-fi futures where super-power­ful evil com­pan­ies spend all their spare time plot­ting world dom­in­a­tion and devel­op­ing diabol­ic­al schemes, only these guys were real, super power­ful, and their private armies were equipped with tech that far out­stripped any­thing that was pos­sessed by the indi­gen­ous peoples they were cur­rently dom­in­at­ing. Basic­ally if you ruled a province in India in the 1850s, you had two options: do what these guys say, or be for­cibly replaced by someone who will. And when the East India Com­pany heard that the King of Jhansi was an adop­ted young boy with no roy­al blood, the high-rank­ing com­pany offi­cials declared the throne to be “lapsed”, and the region to be “offi­cially in the get­ting-fucked-by-us busi­ness.” Rani was deposed, giv­en a small pen­sion, and told to keep her mouth shut and deal with it if she knew what was good for her.

But Rani Lak­sh­mibai was­n’t the sort of war­ri­or-chick who was­n’t going to sit around take a heap­ing hand­ful of dis­respect without reply­ing with a bindi-ed head­butt of ven­geance. First, she tried the go the leg­al-yet-less-viol­ent bur­eau­crat­ic route, fil­ing a form­al appeal in the Brit­ish courts, and going to tri­al to assert the legit­im­ate right of her and her adop­ted son to rule. This failed, of course, because the courts were being run by the people try­ing to screw her over. The Brit­ish con­tin­ued to diss her, over­tax the popu­lace, and – even worse – they began to sys­tem­at­ic­ally slaughter sac­red cows and chop them up for food. It was more than obvi­ous that nego­ti­ations wer­en’t work­ing, and the justice sys­tem was just as bull­shit then as it is today.

Some­what for­tu­it­ously, in June 1857 the entire Indi­an army mutinied against the forces of Colo­ni­al Bri­tain, because hon­estly nobody in the coun­try could really stand those guys. See­ing an oppor­tun­ity arise at the per­fect moment, the 22 year-old Queen Lak­sh­mibai form­ally declared open revolt five days later, attacked the Brit­ish fort at Jhansi, recap­tured her home­land, and mas­sacred every Brit­ish man, woman, and child she could get her hand son (which was pretty much all of them.)

(I should men­tion that the sources aren’t par­tic­u­larly clear about her involve­ment in the mas­sacre – some people claim not only that she was­n’t there, but that she was offi­cially rein­stated as Queen of Jhansi by the Brit­ish after she came out and pub­licly decried the viol­ent murder-fest as being bad and wrong and wrong and bad. I had a hard time fig­ur­ing out where the truth was in this story, so feel free to go ahead and believe whichever ver­sion makes you feel bet­ter about your­self.)

Whatever the case may be, Rani Lak­sh­mibai quickly solid­i­fied her­self as ruler of Jhansi, built up her defenses, and a lot of Brit­ish people were cleaved apart in the pro­cess. Dur­ing the events of the Great Indi­an Rebel­lion of 1857, Lak­sh­mibai con­sol­id­ated her small king­dom, trained the men and women in her ser­vice in the arts of com­bat, and on two sep­ar­ate occa­sions per­son­ally repelled two large-scale inva­sions from jack­ass rival region­al lords. Some reports indic­ate that she per­son­ally charged into battle on horse­back on count­less occa­sions with her child strapped onto her back, a sword in each hand, and the horse’s reins in her teeth. That’s fuck­ing hard­core. I pic­ture it being like a 19th-cen­tury cav­alry ver­sion of Ripley incin­er­at­ing the Ali­en Queen’s egg bas­kets with a blow­torch duct-taped to a machine gun while car­ry­ing Newt around in her oth­er arm.

See­ing that the loy­al­ist forces were unsuc­cess­ful in tak­ing down this hard­core chick and her heav­ily-entrenched, highly-dis­cip­lined army, the Brit­ish gen­er­al Sir Hugh Rose launched a full-scale inva­sion of his own, bring­ing a couple thou­sand men and can­nons to blow Jhansi to shit until the people there had the good sense to sur­render. Des­pite facing a crip­pling force that would have explo­di­ated the fuck out of most oth­er city-states in about ten seconds, Rani held out for two full weeks against the onslaught, cling­ing to sur­viv­al just long enough for a 20,000-man strong relief column to arrive from a nearby rebel province and attack the flank of the Brit­ish Army. She had suc­ceeded in hold­ing out to defend her city.

Uh, unfor­tu­nately for Rani, the rebels had­n’t really had much exper­i­ence with heavy artil­lery, and the first couple can­non shots blew the shit out of their ranks and they ran away.

Hav­ing put all her eggs in the “massive horde com­ing to my aid” bas­ket, and now see­ing that the situ­ation was now utterly hope­less, Rani evac­u­ated as many people as she could in the middle of the night, abandon­ing the vil­lage and retreat­ing to link up with anoth­er rebel group nearby. Com­bin­ing her forces with that of the remain­ing mutin­eers, she con­tin­ued to fight her way through what was increas­ingly becom­ing a hope­less effort to over­throw colo­ni­al rule in India. She led her war­ri­ors to defeat the Maha­raja of Gwali­or after he defec­ted from the rebel cause, but was killed in battle dur­ing a counter-attack by the Brit­ish 8th Hus­sars Regi­ment while try­ing to rally her troops. Ful­filling her dying wish not to let her body fall into Brit­ish hands, her fol­low­ers built a funer­al pyre in the middle of the bat­tle­field and burned her on the spot. The rebel­lion would end up being quashed by the Brit­ish, and India would remain a colony until 1948. Her son sur­vived the war, but spent his years liv­ing out on a Brit­ish pen­sion and renoun­cing his claim to the throne. As a res­ult of her per­son­al lead­er­ship, fero­city in com­bat, and hard­core tenacity, Sir Rose would later be quoted as say­ing that she was the bravest, most fear­less, and most dan­ger­ous rebel com­mand­er of the entire Indi­an upris­ing.

Over the years, the Queen of Jhansi has become a near-myth­ic­al hero among the people of India for her role kick­ing ass dur­ing the 1857 Rebel­lion. She fought bravely, refused to sur­render, and died the death of a mar­tyr for free­dom. She now has a couple statues in her hon­or, is included in all Indi­an his­tory text­books, met Flash­man a couple times, and is so syn­onym­ous with being an asskick­ing chick that when the Indi­an Nation­al Army put togeth­er an all-female infantry unit dur­ing World War II they had the good sense to name it after her.

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

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