because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rani Lakshmibai

While Great Britain didn't formally take over India until the mid-1800's, the British East India Company was pretty much in charge for nearly two hundred fifty years before that time, highly frustrating the Indian population by what amounted to a British occupation of the country. One such Indian -- an in-your-face woman -- was Rani Lakshmibai, one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

The death of her mother when Lakshmibai was only four left her free to study swordfighting, horsemanship and archery, rather than the usual skills women in her very traditional society were expected to focus on. And it's unlikely anyone took much notice of the "army" she organized among her female friends as a child.  They probably should have.

Married into royalty in the Indian state of Jhansi at age seven (as was common at the time) and subsequently widowed at eighteen, Lakshmibai was pushed aside, given a pension by the British Governor (chosen and supported by the British East India Company), and told to move out of the palace.  Three years later, however, Lakshmibai had had a chance to think things over and amalgamate her power. So she led her people in an uprising against the British, during which every British man, woman and child found in Jhansi was massacred.  Some versions of the story suggest that she didn't participate in the massacre; others say she did. But what we know for sure was that when the blood soaked into the dust, Rani Lakshmibai was sitting in the palace surrounded by a group of highly-trained and absolutely loyal women warriors.

After re-establishing her power, whenever the armies of other Indian lords attacked Jhansi, Lakshmibai was reportedly seen riding horseback into battle at the head of her troops with her adopted son strapped to her back, a sword in each hand and the horse's reins in her teeth! Unfortunately, all this aggression convinced the British that the only way to rule Jhansi was to get rid of Lakshmibai, so in June of 1858, Sir Hugh Rose led British forces (considered the most powerful in the world at the time) against the Warrior Queen, who Rose later called "the bravest, most fearless and most dangerous rebel commander of the entire Indian uprising."

Holding out for two weeks, Lakshmibai ensured her place in Indian history as a hero and martyr when she ultimately died in battle and was cremated on the spot so her body would not be taken by the enemy. Despite dying in the mid-1800's, however, leaving her country to struggle under British rule for nearly a century more, Rani Lakshmibai was honored by naming an all woman infantry unit that served in the Indian Army in World War II after her, proving yet again that in-your-face women inspire the troops long after they're gone.


  1. hi.. im kavitha from india... We had a another queen like lakshmi bai.. Her name is VeluNachiyar. she was queen of sivaganga, tamilnadu, India.

  2. Velu Nachiyar is the first queen who fought for the freedom against British in India.

  3. I will certainly add Velu Nachiyar to my list for Volume 2 of In-Your-Face Women, Kavitha. Thanks for the suggestion.