Avantibai: Ramgarh Rani who Won 1st Battle against British and Martyred in 2nd at 27 Years
She was the queen of Ramgarh. She raised an army of 4000 soldiers, trained them, and herself led them in battlefield against the British forces. She won. She is one of the few Indian rulers who won a battle against British in 1857. Did the British stop after their defeat? No! They attacked her kingdom with additional forces and destroyed many a standing structure besides killing many. The Rani remained in hiding and started reciprocating following guerilla warfare techniques in several successful attempts until she was surrounded by the enemy forces. Sensing defeat and her capture certain, she struck herself with her sword and attained martyrdom. Until death she did not let the enemy capture her or touch her! She was Avantibai.
But how many of us have read about Avantibai in our history textbooks? I never read nor heard about her in school or college. According to a dailymail.co.uk report, “following an uproar engineered by MPs of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in the Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session” in 2011, the HRD ministry had advised NCERT to consider the inclusion of Avantibai in textbooks. “The protest had led to two adjournments in Parliament.” This political pressure led NCERT mention the brave 19th century freedom fighter’s name in “NCERT’s Social Science textbook for Class VIII – on pages 58 and 59 under chapter five called ‘When People Rebel’ – from the new academic session.” Though the inclusion does not contain a detailed historical account of the valorous warrior, it was indeed a welcome step by NCERT. The valorous saga of hundreds of our unsung warriors should be included in the school curriculum too.
Avantibai was born on the 16th of August 1831. Not enough sources are available about her childhood. She belonged to the Lodhi community of agriculturists from Madhya Pradesh. She was married to Vikramjeet Singh, also known as Vikramaditya Singh, the ruler of Ramgarh state in present day Sikar, Rajasthan. The couple was blessed with two sons – Aman Singh and Sher Singh (though few historical records say that they were adopted). Ramgarh was founded by Maharaja Ramchandra Singh in 1830 with the help of Poddars, a business clan.
Vikramaditya Singh fell seriously ill. He was unable to take part in the administrative and other affairs of his kingdom. The young Avantibai in her early twenties took over the reins of the kingdom. She started ruling wisely. She trained herself in the art of warfare to lead from the front in possible future battles.
During that time, while few of the princely states were directly under British dominion, respective rulers of few kingdoms continued their rule against certain terms and conditions laid down by the British. Few kingdoms were independent though the British interfered in the internal affairs. Meanwhile, from 1848 Lord Dalhousie applied the Doctrine of Lapse and started annexing kingdoms to the British Indian empire. This doctrine included those kingdoms whose kings were ‘incompetent’ or ‘died without a male heir’.
The British started interfering in the affairs of Ramgarh when they learnt that the king was bedridden for several days. They declared him as unfit to be a ruler and forcefully tried to annex Ramgarh. It was 1851. The British declared Ramgarh as ‘Court of Wards’ and appointed their own administrator. But Avantibai did not recognize the supremacy of the British. She rose to the occasion and herself took charge of the administration, throwing out the administrator. Meanwhile, the king died. The British did not accept Aman Singh and Sher Singh, the heirs to the throne, as they were minors (also amid rumors that they were adopted).
Six years passed by amid bitter relations between Avantibai and the British, who forcefully employed British officials in her territory. She did not let them enter Dindori Ramgarh fort. Meanwhile, the war of Independence in 1857 started in Meerut cantonment on May 10 where Indian sepoys with the help of local civilians killed 50 Britishers. This news spread like wild fire and many a son and daughter of Bharat Mata rose in revolt against the British across the country.
Avantibai joined this movement independently. Her objective was – the British should leave the Indian soil. She raised an army of 4000 warriors with the help of neighboring rulers and local zamindars. In association with many thakurs and malguzars of the area, she first forced the British officers to leave Ramgarh and occupied the treasury. It was 26th September, 1857. This enraged the British. They attacked Ramgarh with a huge force.
The first battle between the British forces and Avantibai took place in the village of Kheri near Mandla in Ramgarh. The queen herself led her army. She fought like an angry goddess in the battlefield. The British lost the war. Avantibai is one of the few Indian rulers who won a battle against British in 1857.
Stung by the defeat, the British came back with vengeance and launched an attack on Ramgarh after a few days. Avantibai moved to the hills of Devharigarh for safety. The British forces set fire to the city of Ramgarh besides destroying crops and standing structures. They pursued the queen to Devharigarh.
Avantibri resorted to guerilla warfare techniques as an open battle would mean her defeat given the superiority of the British forces in terms of military strength and ammunition this time. The guerrilla warfare involved involvement of a small group of combatants in ambushes, hit-and-run tactics, sabotage, raids, etc. using arms. This went on for some time until she was surrounded by the enemy from close range. The British asked her to surrender. Avantibai thought it better to sacrifice her life rather than to surrender and get captured. She drew out her sword from the scabbard tied to her waist. With one blow she struck herself hard and attained martyrdom. It was 20th March 1858. She was only 27 years old!
Naman and Salute to the brave Rani Avantibai! Jai Hind!
1. Relics of 1857, Madhya Pradesh ,Pankaj Rag
2. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Reminiscences of the Great Mutiny 1857-59, by William Forbes-Mitchell
Featured image courtesy: Wikipedia and exoticindiaart.com.