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About Jhalkari Bai [ 1830-1858 ] Biography And Life History Of Jhalkari bai, A Dalit Woman warrior

Here Is The Real Story Of Jhalkari Bai- Dalit 'Viranganas' and Reinvention of 1857

About Jhalkari Bai- Biography And Life History Of Jhalkari bai, A Dalit Woman warrior

There were an incredible Dalit warrior and a female soldier named Jhalakari Bai, who lost in the pages of history. Jhalakari Bai had made important contributions to the war of Jhansi. He was known as Queen Laxmibai’s advisor. In fact, he was so courageous that during the battle of Jhansi, he fought himself as Queen Laxmibai. During the revolt of 1857, Jhalakari Bai had created fear in the heart of the British army with her bravery and courage.

Introduction of jhalkari Bai

Jhalkari Bai was a legendary Dalit woman warrior who played a crucial role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 during the battle of Jhansi in the women’s army of Queen Laxmibai of Jhansi. She was born in a Dalit family and grew up to become a soldier, eventually becoming Laxmibai’s trusted advisor. While she is remembered for her courage and sacrifice, what is significantly reminisced about her is that she disguised herself as the queen and fought to let the queen escape safely out of the fort.

Jhalkari Bai was the only daughter of a 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. She also killed a wild leopard in the forest with a stick that she used to herd the cattle when young. Her stories of courage and bravery since childhood were heard by Pooran of Namapur Jhansi, himself from Kori caste. Pooram was a courageous and famous wrestler, experienced in archery and expert in horse riding, fire arms, and sword yielding. He told his mother that he wanted to marry Jhalkari. Jhalkari Bai’s father agreed to it, and their marriage was ceremonised in 1843.

The legend of Jhalkari Bai remains fundamental in the popular memory of Bundelkhand over many decades. Her life as a warrior continues to be sung in various Bundeli folklores even today. Her bravery along with her identity as a Dalit has helped to create a sense of pride and cultural unity in Dalits across North India.

Life, Story, and Struggle of jhalkari bai

The revolt of 1857 figures in a major way in the narratives of popular dalit histories and the life of Jhalkari Bai as well. It is in this context that an alternative account of the revolt emerges, distorting the mainstream upper caste narrative of Indian history. The Indian Rebellion of 1857 has been in many ways held as the first challenging revolt against the British Rule in India. Reinventing 1857 from a Dalit perspective is hailed as imperative. This is why Jhalkari Bai’s story is a momentous part of Dalit reality. Her story questions the blurred presentations and partial/prejudiced histories of social historians in the country.

The story of Jhalkari Bai as a Dalit Virangana tells us why looking at the representations of Dalit women in the history of 1857 is crucial. Her story defines political and social positioning of Dalits in India. The Dalit female icons engaged in radical armed struggles far outnumber Dalit men in 1857. The political and public memories invoked by her story have become the symbol of bravery of the Dalit community.

Various authors have written stories and poems on Jhalkari Bai. The kind of cultural invocations include comics, poems, plays, novels, biographies, nautankis, and even magazines and organisations in her name. To name just a few, there is the comic Jhalkari Bai; poems variously titled Virangana Jhalkari Bai Kavya, Jhansi ki Sherni: Virangana Jhalkari Bai ka Jeevan Charitra and Virangana Jhalkari Bai Mahakavya; plays and nautankis called Virangana Jhalkari Bai and Achhut Virangana Nautanki; novels and biographies like Virangana Jhalkari Bai and Achhut Virangana; and a magazine called Jhalkari Sandesh. Various Dalit magazines have published articles on her.

Jhalkari Bai, in the various narratives, is depicted as an immortal martyr of 1857, belonging to the Kori caste. In many of the narratives, she is depicted as an ideal woman who helps her husband in his traditional occupation of cloth weaving, and also sometimes accompanies him to the royal palace. She is stated to be brave since her childhood and further trained in archery, wrestling, horse-riding and shooting, after learning it from her husband. Jhalkari Bai’s body and face resembled to that of Lakshmibai. She became friends with Laxmibai and was entrusted with the charge of leading the women’s wing of the army, known as the Durga Dal. When the 1857 revolt started, the rulers were mostly interested in just saving their thrones and it was not a freedom struggle for them. It was Dalits who made it a freedom struggle. When the British surrounded the fort of Jhansi, Jhalkari Bai fought fiercely. It is because of her that Rani Lakshmibai escaped from the palace alive. Jhalkari Bai took on the guise of the Rani and fought the battle from Dantiya gate and Bhandari gate to Unnao gate. 

Her husband died while fighting the British and when Jhalkari Bai heard this, the narratives say that she became a ‘wounded tigress’, killing many British men. She managed to con them for a long time, before her true identity was discovered. According to some versions, suddenly many bullets hit her, and she died. Some state that she was set free, lived till 1890 and became a legend of her time. 5th April 1857 is said to be the day when Jhalkari Bai, disguised as Rani, fought the British and was martyred.

According to stories narrated in Uttar Pradesh, when the British came to raid on Jhansi, Jhalkari Bai was a soldier in the women’s army of Queen Laxmibai and used to make decisions on behalf of the queen. She went out as a cover for Laxmibai, even confronted the enemies and saved Laxmibai’s life from the British soldiers.

The people of Bundelkhand fondly remember her through poems like:

Macha Jhansi mein ghamasan, chahun aur machee kilkari thee,
Angrezon se loha lenein, ran mein kudee Jhalkari thee

Significance and Presence

As this article on Roundtable India tells, the evidences about Jhalkari Bai emerged first from the community and then the researchers and historians uncovered more proof of the reality of Jhalkari Bai. Her life history has been neglected in mainstream history books due to upper caste hegemony and dominance of Brahmanism. The mainstream discourse has, for decades, ignored the many great stories of resistance against the colonial rulers and against the social system of the country. But alternative knowledge has always been in existence, though not in the same visible manner as the mainstream knowledge.

Jhalkari Bai’s role as an Indian warrior in the Rebellion of 1857 during the battle of Jhansi is significant at many levels. Her story is not only a stern critique of the hegemonic knowledge production of Indian history, but also telling of the innumerable erased Dalit figures in the nation’s history.

The literature surrounding Jhalkari Bai reveals a world that challenges textual, academic and historical narratives of 1857. It further shows how resistance to dominant discourses about Dalit women is an integral part of the lives of various Dalit women and Dalit communities.

Jhalkari Bai’s legacy

government of India released a stamp to pay tribute to a dalit woman warrior jhalkari bai
government of India released a stamp in 2001

While tales of courage and valour lived on in stories shared by the Dalit community, Jhalkari’s own story was largely ignored by historians for a long time. However, in recent times there has been a concerted effort by historians to highlight the story of this incredible woman. There is a statue in her honour in Gwalior and in 2001, the government of India released a stamp to pay tribute to a warrior who lived and died defending her people and her country.

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