This is the story of Rani Chennamma.
The mainstream history textbook often forgets some hidden heroes of India’s freedom struggle against the British. One such hero was the Queen of Kittur, Rani Chennamma.
The sepoy rebellion of 1857 is known as the first war of independence. But before this event, many smaller rebellions were fought by the locals of India. One of the very first battles fought against the British was in the South of India.
Kittur, a princely state in modern-day Karnataka was faced with the unjust ‘Doctrine of Lapse’.
Rani Chennamma was married to the prince of Kittur at the young age of 15. She too belonged to the royal bloodline of Lingayats. She was well-trained in archery, horse riding, sword fighting, and spear-throwing. In 1824, amidst the tension between Kittur and the East India Company, his husband died. This was a crucial time. The Britishers saw it as an opening, an opportunity. The throne was succeeded by the son of the King.
In suspicious condition, he too lost his life in the same year. And the British, as if expecting this to happen came knocking on the doors of Kittur. Chennamma’s son had left no direct heir. Hence Rani Chennamma adopted Shivalingappa as his son and made him the new king.
The queen however looked for a peaceful solution at first. With her husband and his son gone, their state needed time to rebuild its morale. Hence she wrote a letter to the Bombay constituency office of East India Company. Her letter was requested to consider her case as an exception. But the British desperately wanted control over Kittur. Kittur was a rich state and its jewels and precious stone collection were worth more than millions.
Mr Chaplin, commissioner of Bombay sent a troop of twenty thousand with guns and canons to take over Kittur. The army of Kittur was led by Rani Channamma’s lieutenant Amatur Balappa. Balappa was the most experienced leader of the state. After the death of both kings, he was the force that kept the army stable.
Under his tactical leadership and Chennamma’s moral support the Kittur army was able to fend off the first wave of the British attack. They even managed to capture two prominent officers as hostages. Rani Chennamma leveraged these hostages for a peace treaty. But her trust was misled. The peace treaty was a sham. The East India Company attacked again and this time they were better prepared. The Kittur army was deprived of resources while the company had an ever-expandable source of soldiers. Rani Chennamma was captured and she died a year later in captivity.
Chennamma’s life came full circle. From being the first woman to rebel against the British to her statue being unveiled by India’s first woman president. Now her statue stands in front of the Parliament House. It reminds lawmakers of the cost of freedom.