International Women s Day Break the Bias

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Anupama Nair


The International Women’s Day will be celebrated on 8th March this year too, this is the day we commemorate the social, cultural and political achievement of women across the world. For the first time, International Women's Day was celebrated in 1911, when the world witnessed great turbulence in the industrialized world paving way to population growth and the rise of various ideologies.

In 1908, the mounting oppression and gender inequality forced them to step out of their homes and campaign calling for a change. Nearly 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights. Finally, women were allowed to vote only  August 18, 1920. Would you be surprised if Women in the US were only allowed to open a bank account in the 1960s? After a year with the declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman's Day (NWD) was observed across the US on February 28. Women championed their cause and celebrated NWD every last Sunday of February until 1913. In 1910, a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen, in Denmark. A a woman called Clara Zetkin started the idea of International Women's Day.

More than 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament.  All of them unanimously approved Zetkin's idea that led to International Women's Day becoming the norm. Soon after the decision at Copenhagen in Denmark in 1911, International Women's Day was honored for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. It was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. The UN later announced its first annual theme ‘Celebrating the past, planning for the Future in 1996’.

Purple, green, and white are the colors of International Women's Day. Purple signifies justice and dignity; green symbolizes hope; and white represents purity. ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’ is the theme for this year’s celebration.“The year 2022 is pivotal for achieving gender equality in the context of climate change and environmental and disaster risk reduction, which are some of the greatest global challenges of the twenty-first century,” UN Women said in a statement. “Without gender equality today a sustainable future and an equal future remains beyond our reach,” the statement added. The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2022 is #BreakThe Bias.

Bharat Ma has given birth to many brave women. Let me tell you about a few brave women:

Velu Nachiyar

Velu Nachiyar was the first Indian queen to fight the British Imperialism. She was the only daughter of the King of Ramnad  (Tamil Nadu). She was born in 1730. In absence of any brothers, she was brought up like a prince with training in martial warfare and weaponry. The British had just started their conquest of India through the East India Company. The dream of the British East India was to capture the “sone ki chidiya”—India and become “the masters of the subcontinent from Khyber to Chittagong and Kashmir to Comorin (Kanya Kumari)”. For this they gained the support of the Nawab of Arcot (Tamil Nadu), Muhammad Ali Khan  who wanted to defeat the French Imperialists and Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore (Karnataka).

Velu Nachiyar was married to Muthuvaduganatha Periya, the King of Sivagangai (Tamil Nadu) who lost his life in the war between the British and the French in 1772. However, she escaped with her daughter. Just as all looked well for the British, in 1780 the queen returned with Hyder Ali as her ally and accompanied by a large army was prepared to fight the British again. She had found out where the British stored their ammunition and set it ablaze through a suicide attack when her army commander the great and brave woman Kuyili immolated herself in the storage.

Under her instructions her adopted daughter Udaiyaal blew up the British arsenal through another suicide attack. In the memory of Kuyili and Udaiyall, she formed a women’s army. Despite several attacks, she fought on and eventually seized Sivagangai. Thereafter, she imprisoned the Nawab of Arcot, who was later released to the British in exchange for Sivagangai’s independence. Velu Nachiyar is famous as “Veeramangai” as she remained the undefeated ruler of Sivagangai until her death in 1790.

Rani Chennamma

Rani Chennamma was born in Belgaum (Karnataka) in 1778 to the Lingayat community. She became the queen of Kittur district (Karnataka) after her marriage to Raja Mallasaraja and had a son by him. Unfortunately, the son did not live long. This was before the Doctrine of Lapse was codified by Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of the East India Company, who then used paramountcy, as a flimsy excuse to grab Kittur, like every other Princely State in the Sub-continent.

Rani Chenamma had sent a letter to Mountstuart Elphinstone, Lieutenant-Governor of the Bombay Presidency to allow her adopted son whom she wanted to inherit the throne. When her request was turned down and the British administration advanced upon Kittur, they met with a fierce resistance from its queen in 1824. Rani Chenamma, not only won the war but also imprisoned two British officials who were later released in exchange of the promise of non-interference. This promise was ultimately broken in 1829, as the British East Indian Company attacked  Kittur with more reinforcements. While they suffered significant fatalities, Rani Chenamma was ultimately captured and breathed her last in their captivity the same year.

Rani Lakshmibai

What is Indian history without Manikarnika or Lakshmibai, the brave queen of Jhansi? With immense pride I am writing about her. Even today, for every Indian she is the icon for the freedom struggle against the British Raj for Indian Independence.

Manikarnika was born in Benares (Manikarnika Ghat), in 1828 as Manikarnika Tambe and was nicknamed Manu. Her father was Moropant Tambe, and her mother Bhagirathi Sapre. Her mother died when she was four-year old. Her father was working with Peshwa Baji Rao II in Bithoor (near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh). The Peshwa called her "Chhabili", which means "playful". She was educated at home, able to read and write, and was more independent in her childhood than many others of her age. Her studies included shooting, horsemanship, fencing with her childhood friends Nana Sahab and Tatya Tope.

She married the King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao and as per tradition given a new name Lakshmibai. She  was widowed without bearing an heir to the throne, as her son Damodar Rao died as a baby. Just before his death the King adopted a boy Anand Rao, also renamed as Damodar Rao, as his heir. Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India, refused to recognize the adopted heir and annexed Jhansi in accordance with the Doctrine of Lapse. An agent of the East Indian Company, was posted in the small kingdom to look after administrative matters. When she was informed of this she cried out " I shall not surrender my Jhansi”. In March 1854, Rani Lakshmibai was ordered to leave the palace and the fort by the Administrator.

She returned to Jhansi, when the First War of Independence started in May 1857. From August 1857 to January 1858 Jhansi under the Rani's rule was at peace. The British who was fighting the rebellion could do nothing. They summoned their greatest war hero, General Hugh Rose to fight against the queen. Sir Hugh Rose commanding the British forces, demanded the surrender of the city , and threatened if this was refused it would be destroyed. Rani refused and said that after due deliberation she issued a proclamation, "We fight for independence”. She defended Jhansi against British troops when Sir Hugh Rose besieged Jhansi on 23 March 1858.

The company’s forces surrounded the fort of Jhansi, and a fierce battle raged. Offering stiff resistance to the invading forces, Lakshmi Bai did not surrender even after her troops were overwhelmed and the rescuing army of Tatya Tope, was defeated at the Battle of Betwa. Lakshmi Bai managed to escape from the fort with a Damodar Rao, on her back on her favorite horse Badal, and is still in our memory. A small force of palace guards left with her and headed eastward, where other leaders joined her.

Tatya Tope and Lakshmi Bai then mounted a successful assault on the city-fortress of Gwalior, and the Scindia the ruler ran away to London. The treasury and the arsenal were seized, and Nana Sahib, a prominent leader, was proclaimed as the Peshwa. After taking Gwalior, Lakshmi Bai marched east to Morar to confront a British counterattack led by Sir Rose. Dressed as a man, she fought a fierce battle and was killed in combat on 17 June 1858, in Kotah-ki-Serai near the Phool Bagh in Gwalior.

The British captured the city of Gwalior, after three days of her martyrdom. Sir Hugh Rose commented “personable, clever and beautiful" and she is "the most dangerous of all Indian leaders”. Colonel Malleson said “Whatever her faults in British eyes may have been, her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country, we cannot forget her contribution for India.”

Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, a great poetess wrote “Khub ladi mardani, woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi”.  On the occasion of Women’s day let us remember these and many more great women.



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