Leaders of the 1857 Anti-Colonial Agitations — Uda Devi — A Dalit Virangana
This post was first published on 4th April 2016 on DHM’s social media channels. It is now republished on Medium.com with minor changes.
Today in Dalit History we honor freedom fighter Uda Devi. While oppressor caste histories highlight the resistance contributions of caste heroines like Jhansi Rani, the reality is that the anti-colonial movements featured many more strong contributions and sacrifices made by Dalit resistance fighters like Uda Devi and Jhalkaribai. Uda Devi and her other Dalit sisters were the warriors or “Virangana” of the 1857 Indian Rebellion against the British East India Company. These women were fierce independent fighters whose bravery inspires event till today.
Uda Devi was born in a small village in the Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh. Seeing the rising anger of the people with the British administration, she reached out to the local head, Begum Hazrat Mahal to enlist for war. In order to prepare for the battle that was headed their way, the Begum helped her form a women’s battalion under her command. When the British attacked Awadh, both Uda Devi and her husband were part of the armed resistance. Amidst the fighting, word was sent to her that her husband had become martyred in the battle. On hearing this, she unleashed her final campaign in full force.
After issuing instructions to her battalion, she climbed up a pipal (sacred fig) tree and began shooting at advancing British soldiers. Her impact was so great that on November 16, 1857, a British officer noted that many of the British casualties had bullet wounds also indicating steep, downward trajectory. Suspecting a hidden sniper, he ordered his officers to fire at the trees and dislodged a rebel who fell to the ground dead. Upon investigation, the sniper was revealed to be Uda Devi .
More than a 150 years since her passing, the memory of Uda Devi’s sacrifice is kept alive by Dalit communities in Uttar Pradesh who cherish her as a model of fearless Dalit womanhood. To the spirit of independence and liberation we salute Uda Devi!