सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,
बूढ़े भारत में  भी आयी फिर से नयी जवानी थी,
गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,
दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।

चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

  -सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान

By the middle of the 19th century, the British had firmly established their rule in India. However, there was wide-spread discontent among the local rulers, the common people, the intellectuals as well as among the soldiers.

This resulted in the War for Freedom in 1857. The British called it the the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi was one of the leading figures in this war against British Colonialism.

Rani Laxmibai was merely eighteen years old when her husband, Gangadhar Rao, the Raja of Jhansi, died. Before his death they had adopted a son, Damodar Rao, after their own son died.  However, after Gangadhar Rao’s death, Governor-General Lord Dalhousie rejected Damodar Rao’s claim to the throne. In March, 1854, he annexed Jhansi and gave Rani Laxmibai a pension of 60,ooo Rupees. She was ordered to vacate the palace at Jhansi fort.

Most of us have read about how Rani Laxmibai declared- “Meri Jhansi Nahi Doongi!”-“I shall not surrender my Jhansi!” We have read about her courage, her determination and her conviction. We have read about how she gave military training to women. It is said that she herself went out to battle with her son tied to her back, and carrying two swords, one in each hand, to cut down the enemy. 

Meanwhile the Soldiers’ Revolt against the British started in May, 1857. Unrest began to spread throughout the country. Revolt broke out against the British at various places and they were forced to concentrate on supressing it. Taking advantage of this situation Rani Laxmibai re-established herself as ruler of Jhansi. She enlisted and trained troops, and prepared for war.

British troops laid seige to Jhansi on March 23, 1858. Rani Laxmibai refused to surrender and the fighting continued for two long weeks. Finally, though, the British gained control of Jhansi. Rani Laxmibai, along with a few of her guards was able to get away. With her adopted son, she escaped to Kalpi, where she joined other Freedom fighters, notably Tatya Tope.

The combined forces advanced into Gwalior, but on 18 June 1858, during the Battle for Gwalior, the Rani was killed. At the young age of 22 years, she died, trying to defend her country from the British oppressors. In the midst of the dark night of slavery, she appeared like a flash of lightning, only to vanish almost immediately.

But her sacrifice was not in vain. Rani Laxmibai was to inspire later generations of freedom fighters. She became an icon of the Indian Independence Movement. The Women’s Regiment of the Indian National Army was named the Rani of Jhansi Regiment.

On this day, her 152nd Death Anniversary, let us remember Rani Laxmibai with admiration and gratitude. Let us remember the freedom fighters of the Great War for Freedom of 1857 and all those those who lived and died for this our country in the turbulent decades afterwards. It is because of the sacrifices they made, that we are able to live in an independent India today.

Let us vow not to squander this freedom, nor slip back into slavery. Let us work to remain independent- not just physically but mentally also. Independent in thought.  Let us look at our country, our history, our philosophy, our heritage- not through the eyes of others, but with our own. Let us stand tall- with pride in ourselves, not always seeking to imitate others. I think that will be a fitting tribute to the memory of freedom fighters like Rani Laxmibai.