One of India’s youngest and greatest freedom fighters was Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi. She was born on 19th November 1835. She married Gangadhar Rao, Maharaja of Jhansi, and came to be known as Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi.
In 1838 the British appointed Gangadhar Rao as the King. Since they had no children. They had adopted a boy and named him Damodar Rao. Soon afterwards, Gangadhar Rao died. The 18-year-old Lakshmi Bai became a widow. But the British did not recognise Damodar Rao as his heir. Lord Dalhousie declared, “The Company does not recognise the late Maharaja Gangadhar Rao’s adopted son as an heir. It has, therefore, been decided to include Jhansi in the British provinces.”
After the British took over the government from her, the Rani trained herself to become an accomplished warrior. “I will never give up my Jhansi”, she declared. Along with many leaders of the freedom struggle including Tantia Tope and Rao Saheb, she discussed rising discontent among the Indian soldiers in the British Army. They were treated badly and forced to work with guns having cartridges that were greased with cow and pig fat. This hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus and Muslims. It was decided that throughout the country people should rise in revolt. Because the soldiers played a leading part in this war, this uprising was called ‘The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857’. It was then that her troops and commanders begged the Rani to become the ruler of the state. The Rani consented.
The British declared war against Jhansi in 1858 and defeated the Rani’s army. The Rani escaped from Jhansi and went to Kalpi and joined Tantia Tope and Rao Saheb. Together they went to Gwalior to try and collect troops to fight again. The British soon encircled them. A British soldier threw a dagger at Rani and injured her badly. The Rani killed the solider. But there was no time to rest. The British army was pursuing her. When the Rani was about to cross the Swarnarekha* Canal, another British soldier shot her on her thigh. Flashing the sword with her left hand, the Rani put an end to him. She reached a safe spot where surrounded by her loyals she breathed her last.
The British General Sir Hugh Rose who fought against the Rani saluted her greatness and said : “Of the mutineers, the bravest and the greatest commander was the Rani.”