Jhalkaribai — A legend kept alive through songs and stories

Jhalkaribai, Art by Nabigal Nayagam Haider Ali

The legendary Jhalkaribai was a Dalit woman warrior who played a crucial role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British Colonial Army.

As a rural Dalit girl, her tasks mostly included chores around the household. However, at a very early age, she exhibited exceptional strength of will. As a teenager, she was already a village legend. People were amazed when they learnt that when a tiger from the jungle tried to attack young Jhalkari, she stood her ground and killed the tiger with only an axe.

Her acts of bravery landed her career as a low-ranking soldier in Queen Laxmibai of Jhansi’s army. However, she quickly rose to be one of the Queen’s trusted advisors. At the height of the battle, she disguised herself as the queen, risking her life for her, fighting in place of her and allowing the queen herself to discreetly exit out of harm’s way. This is what she is most well known for. However, what is little acknowledged is what a key role she played in the analysis and strategising of the battle itself, alongside Laxmibai.

As she led her brave cadre of women into the British camp, she was formidable to even the General of the British Forces. On meeting her, he is known to have said, “If even one per cent of Indian women were like Jhalkari, the British would very soon have to leave India.”

Brahminical forces have been appropriating and distorting the names and narratives of Dalit veeranganas (warrior women) like Jhalkari, Uda Devi and Mahabiri, but the true value of women like Jhalkari are cherished by our people in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh through songs, stories and folk theatre.”

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