The exemplary contribution of Rani Jhalkaribai has unfortunately been forgotten.

Denying Dalits their place in history Time to awaken Rani Jhalkaribai to IndiaStatue of Jhalkaribai in Gwalior - By Gyanendra Singh Chauhan via Wikimedia Commons
Features History Saturday, November 26, 2016 - 16:51

“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.”

These words of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar envisioning social democracy resonates even today as India celebrates 70 years of Independence and enters 67th year of remembering the making of its constitution. 

One of the gravest mistakes committed and most often not acknowledged by the society today is of social inequality. To get an accurate perspective, one may have to study in detail the caste-class and gender factor, and combine them with the prevailing socio-cultural and economic realities of today. However, what is apparent and discernible is that the grievous mistakes of denying Dalits their rightful place and most significantly not recognising them in Indian history for centuries have been committed. 

Urgent and important questions need to be asked. Have citizens of India made a conscious attempt to integrate and remember Dalit icons as part of this country? Do each and every one of us realise that the right to equality, regardless of caste and gender, is a fundamental right? Do we question if rights have been denied to a particular community and what is that we as responsible citizens are to be doing to address such differences?

Unless and until such questions and conversations feature most often in our day to day lives India will not win the battle of ensuring Dalits are represented in every sphere equally and amicably.

Dr. BR Ambedkar once famously said, “I am conscious of the fact that if women are conscientized, the untouchable community will progress. I believe women should organise this and will play a major role in bringing to an end the social evils. The progress of the Dalit community should be measured in terms of the progress by its womenfolk. Every woman should stand by her husband, not as his slave but as his contemporary, as his friend.” 

The fact remains much before Babasaheb Ambedkar, the country has been grateful to have witnessed a legendary Dalit woman icon Rani Jhalkaribai who played a key role in the Indian rebellion of 1857 in Jhansi.  Rani Jhalkaribai was the only daughter of Sadoba Singh, and Jamuna Devi. She was born on November 22, 1830, in Bhojla village near Jhansi. Her family belonged to the Kori caste. After her mother’s death, her father raised her. At a very young age, she was trained to use weapons, ride a horse and fight like a warrior.

Koris claim descent from Kabir, who in his lifetime questioned and challenged the orthodoxy within the religious order and rekindled it for the good. The innate beauty of our civilizational core is inclusion and integration. The legendary poet-reformer through his intellectual creations often raised satirical observations on the contemporary state of affairs.

If there was one warrior who epitomised Sun Tzu’s striking quote, “Attack is the secret of defence; defence is the planning of an attack” then it has to be Rani Jhalkaribai. Rani Jhalkaribai’s husband Pooran of Namampur in Jhansi played a key role in empowering her with all the skills that she needs, be it offence or defence, in essence he realised the necessity for her to militarily train herself, which was Rani Jhalkaribai’s passion. 

Rani Jhalkaribai was trained by her lookalike Rani Lakshmibai in the art of archery, horse riding, shooting, wrestling and other physical exercises. Bundelkhand, from where Jhalkaribai hailed, holds a legend that her role in battles stunned the British, as a general went on to say that even if “one per cent of Indian women were like Jhalkari; the British would soon have to leave India.”

Such was the exemplary contribution of Rani Jhalkaribai, unfortunately forgotten, lest remembered.

In 2001, the Government of India under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee released a stamp in honour of Rani Jhalkaribai. In the description while issuing the stamp, the Government then had stated how Rani Jhalkaribai sprang out of her comfort zone to rough it up to learn the hard way, the description says, “She is a living memory in the folklore of the Bundelkhand region (which was part of the erstwhile state of Jhansi) even today. Jhalkari was a village girl who had to take charge of the household chores in her childhood itself, following the early loss of her mother.”

History and history writers have not been kind to the subaltern segment of our society. Social history and historical personalities are important cornerstones for resurrection of social pride and dignity for any community and country. Time is ripe to confront the brute realities of the country’s erstwhile narrative builders who have deliberately avoided the contributions of iconic woman leaders such as Rani Jhalkaribai. The deep-seated patriarchy and intellectual feudalism needs to end from academia. In the course of preliminary research, the writers were astounded at the unavailability of any authentic academic resources based on the life, times and contributions of Rani Jhalkaribai in the making of India. That by itself is saddening. 

Unless and until Indians are made aware of such icons and their social origin, India will stay far behind. The persistent wave of disenchantment within some of the Dalit communities in India today can be positively contained by creating the nucleus of unity around symbols such as Rani Jhalkaribai. Dalits have been viewed as a political commodity since the days of our independence. Initially Congress through its politics of patronage subverted Dalits within the limits of policy welfarism that amounted to crumbs for a sea of people. Dalits have to move beyond from being political capital to having being viewed as social capital. And we can begin by bringing back icons like Rani Jhalkaribai into mainstream, unfortunately lost in the annals of history. 

Guru Prakash and Sudarshan Ramabadran work with India Foundation - a New Delhi based think tank. The views expressed by the authors are strictly personal.


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