September 26, 2021


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Women’s army contingent was formed even before 1857


Krishna Pratap Singh

On February 17 last year, the Supreme Court dismissed the ban on leading any contingent of women in the country’s army as irrational and against the right to equality, then it was a big decision in favor of ‘true equality and progressiveness’. Considered. Looking back a little, it is a pleasure to know that this equality and progressiveness existed in the Nawabi army of Awadh only two hundred and fifty years ago and it was very useful when the first freedom struggle broke out in 1857.

Incidentally, when Wajid Ali Shah took over the throne of Awadh in 1847, the condition of the army of the province was very bad. Under the treaties made by the previous Nawabs, the responsibility of guarding their royal palace was transferred to the Ghori army and the role of the Nawabi army became very limited. Wajid Ali Shah quickly caught on to the tricks of the British and began to reorganize his army. He also formed a contingent of women and got them trained like male soldiers. Like the men’s contingents, this contingent used to be paraded daily at five o’clock in the morning and as General Wajid Ali Shah himself supervised it. Then the leadership of this detachment was in the hands of women, the leadership of Khakani and Sulemani platoons was entrusted to the eunuchs. A transgender commander of Abyssinia was also given the title of colonel.

This was the period, when the British, on the one hand, on the pretext of the alleged luxury of Wajid Ali Shah, were vultures on his rule, on the other hand kept obstructing his administrative reforms. The then Governor General, Lord Hardinge, had written a letter to the Resident Colonel Richmond instructing Wajid Ali Shah to make whatever reforms he wanted in his police system, but refrain from reorganizing the army. But the ‘luxurious’ Wajid Ali Shah did not heed the instructions, despite becoming an eye-catcher in the eyes of the Governor General. Along with women, artists well versed in arts like music and dance also tested their military skills and used them appropriately by giving them various posts in the army. Also keep the names of many Risas and Platoons out of the box: Banka, Tirkha, Ghanghor, Phoop, Akhtari, Nadiri, Luki.

After Wajid was deposed and exiled by the British on February 11, 1856, his women’s contingent was disintegrated by the time the First War of Independence began in 1857. But his experience of this detachment came in handy in that. Begum Hazratmahal reorganized him and made him soldiers by training even the prisoners of the palaces and the Nebshi women. On many fronts, contingents of women soldiers in the guise of men joined the armed struggle against the British and many of them even sacrificed their lives while protecting their homeland. In the historic clash on the Sikanderbagh front in Lucknow, a group of Nebshi women fought very bravely. Historians have written that she fought with all her heart and the British soldiers fighting her did not know at all that they were women before they attained martyrdom.

It is also said that a Negro female soldier hid on a huge tree of Peepal located in the battlefield of Sikanderbagh and kept killing the British from there. This caused a one-time panic in the British army. When the secret was revealed, he was brutally killed. It is interesting to know that Begum Hazratmahal had not only formed a contingent of women soldiers but also women spies, which was completely different from the male spies and at times brought more important intelligence information than the enemy’s camp. Begum herself had remained a ‘perkala of calamity’ for the British on many fronts. Sarfaraz Begum Lakhnavi wrote to Begum Akhtar Mahal, who went to Matiaburj in Calcutta with the exiled Wajid Ali Shah in this regard, ‘Hazratmahal herself sits on an elephant and competes with the firangis in front of the Tilangas.’

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.