As we enter the 69th year of being a Republic, we cannot help but look back at the bold women freedom fighters of India who have made the sacrifices and will occupy the foremost place.
History of Freedom battle is loaded with the legend of sacrifice, bravery, selflessness and political insight of women of the country.
Can you imagine how great that feels?
To hear the courageous stories of women freedom fighters of those times who worked with exceptional bravery and intelligence.
It was through their efforts that British rulers finally fled the subcontinent in 1947, after partitioning it on communal lines to form West Pakistan, India, and East Pakistan.
You’ll be glad to know that
Almost 71 years have passed since India was formed. Unfortunately, the credit for freedom struggle is given to few notable men and select women.
Others who played a major role in fending off British or colonial rule over the subcontinent go unsung till date.
This is especially true of Indian women who contributed significantly to fighting for freedom.
Names of most of these women do not find mention in history books and nor are there many memorials that celebrate their achievements.
And we don’t stop here:
If you want to know these Incredible women and Their Role in India’s Freedom Endeavor
Then read the below-mentioned list of Female freedom fighters of India.
This article pays tribute to unsung and lesser-known female freedom fighters of India.
Top 10 Unsung Women Freedom Fighters of India:
1) Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal
Unknown to many, Rani Abbakka of Ullal is the first Indian female freedom fighter and queen to have fought against any colonial power.
Born in 1525 in the Digambar Jain dynasty, Chowta, rulers of Ullal near Mangalore, she was named as successor to the throne by her uncle, Tirumala Raya.
The king also trained Rani Abbakka in warfare and strategic planning. She was married to King Lakshmappa Arasa of Banga principality near Mangalore.
However, the marriage was short-lived and Rani Abbakka returned to rule Ullal.
After Sultan Adel Shah Bahman Shah of Bijapur left Goa, the area fell to Portuguese colonials. Portugal tried to capture Mangalore and Ullal since they were strategic to maintain control over Goa.
By 1550, it was clear that Portuguese navy would lay siege to Mangalore and neighbouring areas.
Lady Freedom fighter was well prepared to counter the foreign threat and had formed strategic alliances with Zamorin of Calicut, Kerala and Hindu and Muslim rulers of the region.
In 1555, the Portuguese attempted to force Rani Abbakka in paying financial tribute. The queen refused to bow to threats.
Angered by this refusal, Portuguese ruler sent a large armada from Goa led by Admiral Dom Alvaro de Silveira.
However, Rani Abbakka and her forces vanquished Portuguese forces. Another attack was mounted on Mangalore in 1557 during which the Portuguese destroyed and razed the city’s fort.
In 1568, Portuguese viceroy, Antonio Noronha sent troops under the command of General Joao Peixoto to attack Ullal.
The siege of Ullal was successful with Portuguese troops gaining control over the port town and the royal court. Rani Abbakka and handful of her troops hid in a nearby mosque.
They launched a counterattack that night on Portuguese troops, killed General Peixoto and some senior officers and took over 70 prisoners.
Others fled by sea to Goa. In further attempts on Mangalore, Rani Abbakka’s troops inflicted heavy losses on Portuguese navy and killed Admiral Manuel Mascarenhas.
However, treachery by her husband and inability to find support from other kingdoms that were busy battling British, Rani Abbakka was captured by Portuguese troops.
She was imprisoned in Mangalore where she died in 1571. Her contribution to India’s freedom fight was commemorated with Indian Coast Guard naming one of their ships as Rani Abbakka in 2012.
2) Rani Velu Nachiyar & Kuyili of Sivaganga
Rani Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga (now in Tamil Nadu) was the princess of Ramanatapuram. In Tamil Nadu, she is known as ‘Veeramangai’ meaning brave woman.
Born on January 3, 1730, she was the only child of her parents, who ruled the Ramnad kingdom.
Consequently, Velu Nachiyar received full military training since childhood and was married to the king of Sivaganga.
She assumed the throne of Sivaganga in 1780 after her husband was murdered by British soldiers and the Nawab of Arcot.
Rani Velu Nachiyar, the brave women of India, formed an army and successfully led a suicide attack on British troops in 1780, with help from local allies.
Her companion, Kuyili doused herself with flammable oil and blew up the British arsenal in a suicide attack.
Rani Velu Nachiyar inflicted heavy losses on British troops and their vassals to regain rule over Sivaganga.
She successfully ruled her kingdom for over a decade before abdicating.
Rani Velu Nachiyar is the second queen to have fought against any European power in India and the first against British rule.
Her companion Kuyili holds the distinction as being the first woman suicide bomber in the world.
In 2008, India Posts released a stamp commemorating Rani Velu Nachiyar. A statue commemorating Kuyili stands in Sivaganga town.
3) Rani Avanti Bai of Ramgarh
Rani Avanti Bai Lodhi was the queen of the kingdom of Ramgarh, which is now a major city in Rajasthan.
Though her birth date is not known, it is believed she was born around 1825 to 1830. She was married to King Vikramjeet of Ramgarh.
However, when Vikramjeet fell sick and could not rule efficiently, British colonials attempted to assume dominion over the kingdom.
Rani Avanti Bai Lodhi raised an army of over 4,000 troops and attacked British troops at various locations.
The first major battle occurred near the village, Khera in Mandla region in 1857. Rani Avanti Bai and her forces inflicted significant losses on British and vassal troops, forcing them to flee.
Rani Avanti Bai is the first Indian queen to have fought a full-blown guerrilla war for over a year.
Confronted by increasing number of British troops and left with no choice than surrender, she killed herself in forests outside Ramgarh.
Her contributions towards India’s freedom struggle are just being recognized: it took till 2011 to include Rani Avanti Bai’s name and exploits in Indian history books, following protests by Bahujan Samaj Party and others.
4) Rani Chennamma of Kittur
Few outside Karnataka have heard of Rani Chennamma (also written as Rani Channamma), the queen of Kittur near the modern city, Belgaum. Chennamma was born in a Lingayat family in Kakati village near Belgaum on October 23, 1778.
She was married to Raja Mallasaraja of Kittur, at an age of 15 years and was trained in horse riding, swordfights, and other warfare techniques.
Widowed in 1824, Rani Chennamma faced the unpleasant prospect of her kingdom Kittur being annexed forcibly by British East India Company with the help of vassal states nearby.
In 1848, British forces attempted to capture Kittur and loot the kingdom’s treasury. They sent a heavily armed force of over 21,000 men and nearly 500 guns to lay siege to the tiny kingdom.
Rani Chennamma led her troops against British forces and killed John Thackeray, a British agent, and collector.
Two other senior British officers were taken prisoner but released on the explicit understanding that hostilities would cease.
However, the British resorted to treachery and launched fresh attacks on Kittur. The queen’s forces once again inflicted heavy losses and death of more senior British officials.
Rani Chennamma was captured through deceit in 1826 and imprisoned by the British. Brave women died in Bailhongal jail in 1829.
In 2007, Indian president Pratibha Patil unveiled a statue of Rani Chennamma at the Parliament House complex in New Delhi- the first ever outside Karnataka.
5) Begum Hazrat Mahal
Begum Hazrat Mahal was one of the royal concubines of Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Khan.
Begum Hazrat Mahal was a commoner and had no formal military training.
She led a successful military conquest to dislodge British rulers from Lucknow. During the first war of independence on the Indian subcontinent, women leader successfully formed an alliance with neighbouring and distant kingdoms to fight the British.
She made allies as far as Pune, which was ruled by Peshwas. She found an ally in Nana Saheb Peshwa who later vanished fighting with British troops near Kanpur.
Begum Hazrat Mahal, assisted by army commanders, led several successful assaults on British forces.
She successfully forged an alliance between Hindu and Muslim rulers and their forces on grounds that British were a common evil for the Indian subcontinent.
However, increasing military strength of the British forced Begum Hazrat Mahal into exile. She found asylum in Nepal and died in Kathmandu on April 7, 1879.
Her tomb is located in the Nepalese capital till date. The Indian government commemorated her contribution as a freedom fighter by releasing a postage stamp in 1984.
6) Phulo Murmu & Jhano Murmu
Phulo Murmu and Jhano Murmu are not sisters. They belong to a migratory tribe- Santhal- predominantly found in Jharkhand and bordering areas of West Bengal, having arrived in the region around 1750 to settle in Rajmahal hills and its forests.
The two tribal women are little known for their contribution to India’s freedom struggle.
Since tribal folk of ancient India did not maintain elaborate records due to lack of education, the exact birth dates and family history of Phulo Murmi and Jhano Murmu remain obscure.
The two women, however, find mention in the tribal history of India as prominent female freedom fighters that participated in the great Santhal uprising of 1855 to 1856, a year before the great war of Indian independence.
According to historians, British colonials tried to find free and cheap bonded labour by encouraging landlords to annex land owned by members of the Santhal tribe.
Supported by the British, these landlords began evicting Santhal families from their land and forced them to work as bonded labourers in lieu of loans taken by the tribal people.
Angered at this move, Santhals led an armed uprising and laid siege with bow and arrows, axes, swords, spears and other deadly weapons on British military camps.
Santhal leaders lost to superior weapons such as guns possessed by British troops.
In the fierce fight, Phulo Murmu and Jhano Murmu were martyred. There exists no memorial in their name till date, despite foreign and Indian historians documenting the contributions of the two tribal women freedom fighters or India.
7. Rani Gaidinliu
Rani Gaidinliu was not a queen as her title suggests. She was born in 1915 in Nungkao district of India’s northeastern state, Manipur, in the Naga community.
At the age of 13 years, she joined the Heraka spiritual movement formed by her cousin, Haipou Jadonang.
However, Heraka soon became a political movement aimed at ousting British rule from Manipur and other neighbouring states in India’ north-east region.
Haipou Jadonang successfully rallied Naga and other tribal communities under the Heraka movement.
They acquired weapons from neighbouring China and Myanmar and launched armed attacks on British encampments in the area.
Jadunong was wounded in one such attack, captured and executed by British troops. Gaidinliu assumed leadership of the Heraka movement and continued to wage guerrilla warfare and political activities against British rule.
In 1932, Gaidinliu and her followers were arrested by the military unit, Assam Rifles dispatched for the purpose by British rulers.
She was jailed for over nearly 13 years, until being released by an order by interim Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru in 1946.
Post independence, she worked for the uplift of the Naga community but met controversy. She acquired the prefix ‘Rani’ to her name following a newspaper interview, where she was described as a queen of the hills.
Guidinliu passed away in 1993. A stamp to commemorate her was issued by India Post in 1996 and in 2015, a coin was issued in her memory.
8. Kanaklata Barua
Kanaklata Barua is perhaps the youngest Indian female martyred during the freedom struggle.
She was born in Boranabari village in Darrang district of Assam on December 22, 1924, in a family of royal lineage.
Horrified by atrocities committed by British rulers in her area, Kanaklata Barua became a member of Mrityu Bahini (Death Squad) formed by Pushpalata Das.
On September 20, 1942, members of Mrityu Bahini decided to hoist the Indian flag at a police station in the Gohpur subdivision of Assam.
Kanaklata Barua led the procession. They were stopped by armed policemen. Undeterred, Kanaklata proceeded to hoist the flag and was fatally shot by cops.
Kanalklata Barua is called ‘Birbala’ (brave daughter) of Assam. Though she does not find mention in any history books as the youngest female martyred in the nation’s freedom movement, a ship, CGS Kanaklata Barua was commissioned by the Indian Coast Guard in 1997.
Interestingly, Pushpalata Das, who founded Mrityu Bahini and later became a prominent political leader post-independence and was awarded the ‘Tamrapatra’ for her role in the freedom movement and India’s highest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna.
9. Lakshmi Sehgal
Born on October 24, 1914, in Malabar province of Madras Presidency as Lakshmi Swaminathan went on to become Captain Lakshmi, the most respected member of Indian National Army and founded by India’s most respected freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Singapore.
She graduated as a doctor in 1938 from Madras Medical College. In Singapore, she began treating Indian soldiers who were captured by Japanese forces when allies fled from the region.
Around the same time, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore and was forming Indian National Army with assistance from Germany and Japan.
She met Netaji and helped him form women’s unit of the INA, called Rani of Jhansi Regiment. Here, she acquired the name, Captain Lakshmi and She led it like a fury for the struggle for Indian Freedom.
As INA marched towards Imphal to attack British troops, Captain Lakshmi and the women’s regiment also assisted their male counterparts with armed attacks in Myanmar (then Burma) in 1944.
With Germany and Japan unable to provide much-needed weapons, INA faced imminent route at the hand of well-armed allied forces by 1945.
Captain Lakshmi was taken the prisoner in Burma and jailed in Rangoon and Mandalay.
She was sent to India to stand trial but public furor and weakening of the British empire by Nazi Germany forced her release.
She married Prem Kumar Sehgal in 1947 and Post independence she became a member and prominent politician with the Communist Party of India and also contested elections to become the country’s president. Her opponent was Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
10. Mahmuda Razzak
Mahmuda Razzak was born in Madras (now Chennai) in 1929.
Her first contact with India’s liberation movement occurred in 1936 while studying at a college in Lahore (now in Pakistan).
Mahmuda Razzak led several protests by women against British rule in Lahore and adjoining areas. She was arrested thrice by British rulers for leading the freedom movement and its rallies.
Unconfirmed reports state, Mahmuda Razzak also broadcast short speeches on an underground radio station operated with equipment smuggled from Germany.
Not much is known about Mahmuda Razzak’s contribution to freedom struggle on the Indian subcontinent.
She migrated to Pakistan after partition. She was awarded for contributions to the freedom struggle and Pakistan cause.
The list of women who have contributed towards freedom of the Indian subcontinent is very vast.
Unfortunately, lots of women freedom fighters remain unsung or even unknown.
This is because post-independence power plays that began after India was formed with each political party trying to impose its doctrine on the country’s populace.
A lot of history of female freedom fighters born in Pakistan and Bangladesh is also lost because of their association with Indian political parties and leaders.
However, through this list, we hope to cover at least some Indian women that have made significant contributions towards freedom of this country, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
At the same time, we also salute prominent female freedom fighters, whose names were excluded from this list since they are well publicized popular.
Indian women have also contributed to freedom struggle in different ways.
For example, Savitribai Phule was a social reformer who began promoting education for Indian women during British rule.
She believed that education would enable women to rise against atrocities at home and by foreign rulers.
Unfortunately, her contributions seldom find any significant mention in India.