Badass South Asian Women Who Fought The British Raj

Britain colonised India, inflicting bloodshed, stripping pride and destroying revolutions.

Those who fought and stood up against the British Raj is also well documented (we even have films about Gandhi's activism, although ignoring his racism, it did help explain the terror of the British rule).

So here is a list of some of the badass women who fought them, because they aren't celebrated enough.

Kittur Chennamma

A painting on the building of Karnataka Government's Kannada School at Shambulinga Gudi

A painting on the building of Karnataka Government's Kannada School at Shambulinga Gudi

Kittur Chennamma, hailing from the South Indian state of Karnataka (a Belgaum district), was the first female Indian ruler to lead an army against the British East India Company (the company ruled the beginnings of the British rule in India). Chennamma, from a young age, learnt to ride horseback, sword fighting and archery. She soon rose to power as the Rani of Kittur and married Raja Mallasarja

They had a son, who sadly passed away, and they soon adopted a young boy named Shivalingappa: naming him the heir to the throne.

The British East India Company fought the idea and attempted to expel Shivalingappa. Chennamma defied them and went to war. Ultimately, the plan was to take all of Kittur's jewels and assets, but as they attacked, Chennamma was ready and the British lost many men. She took two British lieutenants hostage, who she later released, with an understanding that the war would be ended. The British ignored here and attacked with a larger force. She was imprisoned, where she died in 1829.

Today, she is honoured by the dedication of the festival of Kittur to her name. The festival happens annually in the month of Oct 22 - 24th.

Rani of Jhansi

Jhansi Ki Rani Lakshmi Bai, Painter Unknown

Jhansi Ki Rani Lakshmi Bai, Painter Unknown

One of the best known Indian female warriors is Lakshmibai, the Rhani of Jhansi. She was the Queen of the Maratha ruled Jhansi state, in North Central India. As a child, she was an independent home schooled girl, learning shooting, horsemanship and fencing. She married the Maharaja of Jhansi and named Lakshmibai, in honour of the Hindu deity Lakshmi. They gave birth to a son, who later died, so adopted a young boy - the Maharaja stated he be treated with respect and that Jhansi would be under Lakshmibai's rule after his death. He died a day later.

Can you guess what happened?

The British East India Company.

After the Maharajai's death, they tried to remove any control of Jhansi from Lakshmibai and her son, telling her to leave, after offering her money.

In 1858, the British came to take control of Jhansi, but found the fort heavily armed. After a lot of consideration, Lakshmibai declared:

We fight for independence. In the words of Lord Krishna, we will if we are victorious, enjoy the fruits of victory, if defeated and killed on the field of battle, we shall surely earn eternal glory and salvation.

She died eventually in battle, her tomb is in the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior. 

Rani Velu Nachiyar

Commemorative Indian stamps of Rani Velu Nachiyar.

Commemorative Indian stamps of Rani Velu Nachiyar.

Hailing from the South Indian state of Tamil Negu, Rani Velu Nachiyar was the first Indian Queen to fight against the British rule. She was an only child, the Princess of Ramanathapuram, and grew up learning war tactics, using weapons, horse riding, martial arts and had a proficiency in many languages. She married a King and lived peacefully for many years.

After hearing news that her husband was killed by the British East Trading Company, as they attempting to invade her territory, she went out to war. Using her know-how about war tactics and smart wit, she formed and army and readied to attack the British.

In 1780, with her army, she fought the British and won, ruling her kingdom for 10 years.

She formed a female army Udaiyaal, named after the adopted daughter who passed away in battle. She died a year later, the cause of which is still unknown.

Begum Hazrat Mahal

Begum Hazrat Mahal, painter unknown

Begum Hazrat Mahal, painter unknown

Also known as the Begum of Adwah, Mahal was the first wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Shah succeeded the throne to Adwah (a region in the centre of the Tharuhat State of Nepal and modern Indian state of Utter Pradesh, which before the independence, was known as United Provinces of Agra and Oudh), just at the point of the British East Trading Company's plan to take the throne of Adwah.

He was exiled to Calcutta and Begum took control of the realm, leading armies against the British. Her forces were so strong, she took back the largest city of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow.

She once famously said (when mocking the British):

To eat pigs and drink wine, to bite greased cartridges and to mix pig's fat with sweetmeats, to destroy Hindu and Mussalman temples on pretence of making roads, to build churches, to send clergymen into the street to preach the Christian religion, to institute English school, and pay people a monthly stipend for learning the English sciences, while the places of worship of Hindus and Mussalmans are to the day entirely neglected; with all this, how can people believe that religion will not be interfered with?

Madam Bhikaiji Cama

Madam Bhikaiji Cama, photographer unknown

Madam Bhikaiji Cama, photographer unknown

Born into a rich family, Madam Bhikaiji Cama was married into a pro-British household.

When Bombay was hit with the buponic plague, Bhikaiji joined the Grant Medical College to help those afflicted. It was here she contracted the plague herself, although she survived, she was sent to England for medical care in 1901. She met some influential activists in England and was consequently denied the return to India for participating in nationalist activities.

She moved to Paris and begun writing revolutionary literature, giving talks around Germany and the rest of Europe about the state of India's independence. Through her exile, she revealed the 'Flag of Indian Independence', which was later adopted by the Indian Independence Comittee

She maintained active contacts with Indian, Irish and Egyptian revolutionaries and liaised with French Socialists and Russian leadership. In 1935, at the age of 75, she was allowed to return to India, where she died the following year. 

Sarojini Naidu

Sarojini Naidu, photographer unknown

Sarojini Naidu, photographer unknown

Sarojini Naidu, also known as The Nightingale Of India was a political activist and poet, who was the first female governor of an Indian state (United Provinces of Agra and Oudh). She joined Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement in an attempt to grant India self-governance. 

Her years of activism found her travelling around India, Africa and North America, giving talks and leading groups of activists as the flag bearer of the Indian Nationalist struggle. Because of this, she found herself in prison cells a good few times in her life. 

In 1925, she was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress Party.

She was also an acclaimed poet, publishing many notable volumes of poetry such as The Golden Threshold, The Bird of Time, The Broken Wing. She was asked to use her poetry to rejuvenate the spirit of the independence in the hearts of villagers. Sarojini Naidu died aged of a heart attack while working in her office in 1949.  

Kamala Nehru

Kamala Nehru, photographer unknown

Kamala Nehru, photographer unknown

Kamala Nehru was a freedom fighter, wife to the first Prime Minister of India and mother of Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi). She joined the Non-Cooperation Movement, convincing a large number of women in Allahabad to join hands and picket shops in the city selling foreign cloth and liquor. 

After her husband was put behind bars for not cooperating with the British rule, she took the stand and read his speech for him from beginning to finish. Her popularity, especially with women, caused the British to see her as a threat and she was arrested on two occasions.

Kamala died in 1936, but her influence lived through her children.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, photographed by Rex Coleman for Baron Studios

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, photographed by Rex Coleman for Baron Studios

Sister-In-Law to Kamala Nehru, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was a diplomat and politician, who was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post.

She resigned from her post in 1939 to protest against the British government's declaration that India was a participant in WW2. Along with other Congress leaders, she was imprisoned after Congress' 'Quit India' Resolution of August 1942.

Although close to her brother, she became a critic of his daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when her rule became increasingly authoritarian in the 1970s.

After Independence, she continued her work, giving talks around the world to make people aware of the state of India due to the British rule.

She died in 1990

Sucheta Kripalani

Sucheta Kripalani, source - The Times Of India Group

Sucheta Kripalani, source - The Times Of India Group

Sucheta Kripalani was an important freedom fighter, politician and India's first female Chief Minister. Joining the Quit India Movement, working close with Mahatma Gandhi during the time of the partition riots.

She was amongst a handful of women who got elected to the Constituent Assembly and quickly became part of the committee handed the task of laying down the charter for the constitution of India. On Independence Day, she sang the national song Vande Mataram in the Independence Session of the Constitute Assembly. She was also the founder of the All India Mahilla Congress, established in 1940. 

Post independence, she continued to work in the government, from 1960 to 1963, she served as Minister of Labour, Community Development and Industry in the UP government. In October 1963, she became the Chief minister of Utter Pradesh.

She retired in 1971, went into seclusion and died in 1974.

Aruna Asaf Ali

Aruna Asif Ali, source - The Times Of India Group

Aruna Asif Ali, source - The Times Of India Group

Aruna Asif Ali was an Indian independence fighter, remembered for hoisting the Indian National Congress flag at a Gowalia Tank maidan - a park where Mahatma Gandhi issued the Quit India Movement speech in 1942. Aruna met Asif Ali, a leader of the Congress Party in Allahabad and they married in 1928, despite cried of outrage of the difference in age and religion.

She was an active member of the Congress Party, and took part in the Salt March, where she was arrested. On account of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in 1931, political prisoners were to be released from prison cells, but Aruna was arrested as a 'vagrant'. Until Mahatma Gandhi interfered and due to public agitation, she was finally released. 

In 1932 she was arrested again for participating in the freedom movement, but instead of mourning over her prison sentence, she organised other political prisoners to protest the ill treatment of them and launched a hunger strike. The strike improved the conditions of the prison, but she was moved to an all-male prison and was put in solitary confinement.

She become a full time activist in the Quit India movement and went underground to evade arrest, Her property was seized and sold, announcing a reward for her capture. She fell ill and eventually surrendered but only after the warrants against her were cancelled.

She died in 1996, aged 87.