Report: Ritwik Dutta and Pratikshit Singh
Jhalkari Bai was one of the renowned woman warriors during the Battle of Jhansi in 1857.
Jhalkari Bai was born on 22nd November in the year 1830 and hailed from a very humble background. She rose to the position of Advisor to Rani Lakshmi Bai. She was a braveheart who took command of the Army in disguise as Rani Lakshmi Bai during the battle of the fort of Jhansi. This action helped the queen a chance to escape and save her life at the time of the battle. A prominent and courageous fighter during the Rebellion of 1857, she was a woman driven by courage and with an ability to strike fear amongst the British Army. Despite being lost in the rich history of freedom struggle her leadership left valuable contributions for many to emulate in the future.
Jhalkari was born in a village called Bhojla which is now located in the Jhansi district of Uttar Pradesh.
She was raised by her father after losing her mother at a very young age. Hailing from a rural area, most of her work involved taking care of household chores.
She never got a chance to attend elementary schooling during her lifetime although she was trained in horse riding and martial arts by her father.
Even today her legacy and tale are spoken with pride in the city of Jhansi.
One such story includes defending and killing a tiger which attempted to attack her.
Keeping in mind her excellent strategy-making ability, courage and tenacity made her an excellent fighter in the battle of 1857.
Jhalkari Bai was born into a Kori family to Sadovar Singh and Jamuna Devi and her father worked as a farmer.
She was married to an artilleryman in the Army of Rani Lakshmi Bai, who was also a wrestler and an archer.
In most of history, she is considered to be the closest aide of Rani.
Sooner, she was entrusted to lead the women’s wing of Lakshmi Bai’s Durga Dal.
It was during the first war of independence that with her action she was able to put front a strong fight against the merciless British Army.
To put an end to the battle of 1857 which started in Meerut, General Huge Rose attacked the city of Jhansi.
In the entire duration of the battle, Jhankari Bai fought bravely covering and defending the area from Dantiya Gate to Unnao gate of the Jhansi Fort.
To get more help, Lakshmi Bai needed to leave for Gwalior but she was being hemmed in by the Britishers by barricading the fort
Meanwhile, having a slight resemblance to Rani Lakshmi Bai came in handy for Jhalkari as she played a major feint by disguising herself as Lakshmi Bai and hence engaging the British soldiers, which enabled Lakshmi Bai to escape.
When Jhalkari Bai became ferocious after she heard about her husband’s death, she mercilessly went on a killing spree of the British Army like a wounded tigress.
It is often said that one of the British informers came to know about her identity and her incognito mode and tried to expose her. She fired a bullet to kill the informer but it missed him and hit some other British officer.
Death: Various Conflicting accounts
Many speculations exist about the reason for her death. Some believe she was killed by the British Soldiers during the battle whereas others believed she lived till 1890.
There has been another speculation about her appearing in front of Gender Huge Rose to have a meeting with him where she was asked by him how she wants to die. To which she responds by saying she wants to get hung by him.
However, another man known as DulhaJoo says he recognised her in the prison and that she lived until the year 1890.
There may be conflicting accounts about her death, but it is undisputed that she sacrificed her life for the nation. She contributed to the first war of independence and despite that, she has been sidelined in the textbooks.
In Popular Culture
Although her name appears for the first time in the 1951 novel Jhansi Ki Rani it was in 1964 that her biography was written by Bhawani Shankar Visharad.
On the big screen, it was only in the 2019 film Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi that she is portrayed by actress Ankita Lokhande. However, the critics have dismissed the small role in the film as “fleeting” and have opined that she deserves much more screen space.
Jhalkari Bai’s story is often sung in Bundeli Folklore. One such common use of Jhalkari in the Bundelkhand Region is:
“Macha Jhansi mein ghamasan, chahun aur machee kilkari thee. Angrezon se loha lene, ran mein kudee Jhalkari thee”( There was a fierce battle in Jhansi and there was squeal all over. Jhalkari jumped to the battlefront to combat the Britishers)
The Rise Redounded by Dalit Assertion
The entire Kori community celebrates “Shaheed Diwas” in honour of her death on 4th April. Oflate, the rise of Dalit assertion has enabled her recognition, which is a bit late. The first step to mark her legacy was made in 1997 in her home state U.P. during the BSP-BJP government when the Women’s Hospital at Hazratganj was named Veernagna Jhalkari Bai Hospital.