When we recall the battle of 1857, it is usually the names like Rani Laxmi bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal that crop up in our mind. The contribution of Dalit women like Uda Devi has been pushed under the carpet.
It has been observed that the contribution of dominant castes to the freedom struggle is more prominently highlighted and that of the downtrodden is glossed over very conveniently.
The question still remains as to why the struggles of woman warriors like Uda Devi got undermined, unlike that of another woman Rani Lakshmi Bai. Probably because the latter belonged to the upper caste royal family and history has been written by writers from the upper castes.
Uda Devi was born in the small village of Ujariyaon located in the Lucknow district of Uttar Pradesh. Her husband Makka Pasi was a brave soldier in the army of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. She was a bodyguard for the Begums of the Nawab. Subsequently, she was promoted as the commander of the women’s wing. This was in contrast to the Hindu kingdoms, where Dalits were not allowed to take up arms. After the Nawab was deported to Kolkata, she along with her husband took up the cudgels for Begum Hazarat Mahal Her husband played a crucial role in the Battle at Chinhat, where the rebels managed to make henry Lawrence and his force a hasty retreat. But Makka Pasi was martyred in this battle. Uda Devi vowed to avenge the death of her husband.
The Sniper of Sikander Bagh
On the fateful day of November 16thSikandar Bagh, became the venue of a battle fought bravely by the Indian soldiers who had holed up in that building after inflicting heavy damages on the British Army at Residency. When the news reached Field Marshall Colin Campbell, he was furious and was determined to flush out the rebels from that hide-out. The mutineers were caught unawares as the British army attacked them. The battalion led by Campbell was advancing ahead, killing the rebels. In the face of imminent defeat, Uda Devi did not surrender, nor did she run away. Instead, the undaunted warrior climbed a tree with a gun in her hand and sufficient gunpowder and bomb at her disposal.
Camouflaged at the tree, she managed to pose a formidable resistance to the advancing army. Campbell was stunned as the 93rd highlanders and the 4th Punjab infantry regiment as were halted in their steps. The warrior proved her marksmanship when she single-handedly sniped and killed 36 soldiers of the British Army. It was only after probing the injuries of the dead soldiers it could be inferred that shots were emanating from a tree nearby. Campbell ordered indiscriminate firing at the tree, after some time Uda Devi fell to the ground, but the soldiers continued to fire. Only after being sure of her death, did they approach her and when looked at close quarters they realized that the marksman who kept them at bay for some time was actually a woman attired in men,s battle dress.
Overwhelmed by the bravery of an “adversary” woman. Campbell saluted the dead woman by tipping his hat.
Although forgotten by the Indian historians putatively because of her caste her valour has been glorified by foreign witnesses.
British Seargent Forbes Mitchelle mentions a woman sitting atop a tree who killed more than 32 British troops. In his London dispatch, Journalist, William Howard Russel mentions about a woman firing from a tree and inflicting huge damage on the British infantry. Certainly, these accounts, set forth by the foreigners speak volumes about the grit and gumption of the unsung warrior of Awadh.
The Appropriation of the Warrior Hitherto Unknown
Stories of her valour gained traction after the rise of Dalit assertion through politics. The offshoot has been that the parties vying for the votes of the Pasi Community have over the last few years bowed before Uda Devi. To mark her sacrifice her statue has been installed at the Sikandarbagh Chauraha near Sikandar Bagh, the place where she attained martyrdom.
Revealing crucial information about the Statue Bhawan Nath Paswan founder and President of DR. Ambedkar Rashtriya Ekta Manch says “ Uda Devi Pasi has been ignored because of a conspiracy. The statue at Sikandarbagh was installed as Unknown Viranganainitially after the then Mayor Dauji Gupta read about it in a library in the USA. Later it got the name Uda Devi Pasi after it was known that she was the wife of Makka Pasi, who was himself a soldier in the Nawab’s army, later her identity was verified through Ujariyon village, where she was born and also through other sources. Later Ram Vilas Paswan inaugurated the statue with her name as Uda Devi Pasi. There have been attempts to tamper with her identity like some calling her Lodhi and so on”.
The forgotten warrior has also become an object of research in academic circles and has been mentioned in the mainstream media. It can be hoped that other warriors from the depressed classes too will get their due and no longer figure on a lesser plane as compared to their counterparts of dominant castes.