Wednesday 24 October 2012

The first woman warrior who fought the British

The State Government of Karnataka organized the Kittur festival this year on October 23 and October 24 in memory of  Rani Chenamma. Chief Minister Jagadish Shetter inaugurated the festival.
Here is a small piece on one of the first freedom fighters of Karnataka. She fought against the British several decaded before Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai. She, therefore, deserves attention and our respect. So, here goes.  
 Indian history ranks her among the first women to have taken on the British. The Queen of a small principality in North Karnataka, she took a strong stand against British highhandedness and fought for her rights. Unfortunately, her own men joined hands with the British and betrayed her. Though she died without realising her dream of an independent kingdom, the legacy of  Rani of Kittur, Chennamma, still lives on and inspires millions of people.
Chenamma was born in 1778 in Kakati, a village neat Belgaum city She was married to Mallasaraja Desai in 1793, whose family was ruling over the kingdom of Kittur.
Chenamma was only 15 years of age when she married. She however seemed to be marked for kingship as she easily slipped into the task of managing the royal household. She was the second wife of Mallasarja.
The marriage proved tragic as Mallasaraja died in 1818. Both Chenamma and Mallasaraja had a son who died in 1824.
Chenamma then took on the role of leading the kingdom of Kittur. She decided to adopt a child. The British resident of Dharwad, which is near Belgaum, J.M. Thackeray was an overzealous officer. He pointedly told Chenamma that as per the Doctrine of Lapse,  the British had the right to annex kingdoms whose rulers did not have biological male heirs.
(Dalhousie, who was the Governor-General of East India Company in India between 1848 and 1856 had cleverly used this policy to annex territories. He thus had managed to successfully “annex” the princely states of  Satara in 1848, Jaipur and  Sambalpur in 1849, Nagpur and Jhansi in 1854, Tanjore and Arcot in 1855. Oudh and Udaipur were also taken under British rule in 1856 using the doctrine but the reason given was misgovernance).
The British refused to recognize either Chenamma and her adopted son. Thackeray demanded that Chenamma hand over the kingdom. He said Kittu would come under the administration of Dharwad province of which he was the head. The Queen refused to comply and hostilities broke out between the British and Chenamma.
Chenamma then wrote to the Commissioner of Bombay, Chaplin, about Thackeray and sought to prevent the outbreak of a war. Dharwad came under the control of Bombay Presidency. However, both Thackeray and Chaplin stood firm. Give up your kingdom, they said.
Chenamma refused and both the Britsh and Kittur went to war. Thackeray, for some reason, had underestimated Chenamma. He was also overconfident of annexing Kittur. What he did not know was that Chenamma was trained in horse riding, archery and sword fighting.
The British were defeated in the battle in 1824  and Thackeray even lost his life. This victory was shortlived as the British could not digest the defeat. They decided to wage another battle with Chenamma and this time around they used their usual trick-of  identifying a traitor and luring them into their camp.
The trick worked and the Kittur camp could not fire the cannons as  cowdung and mud was mixed with the gunpowder. The canons proved useless and despite the best efforts of Chenamma and her able lieutenant, Sangoli Rayanna, Kittur fell after 12 days and the queen was taken prisoner.
Chenama was house in the British prison in Bailhongal, near Belgaum where she died in 1829. Today, all that remains of Kittur is a ruined fort and a palace where Chenamma lived. Within the fort constructed of black basalt rock is an ancient telescope. Locals say Chenamma watched Dhruva Nakshatra from this instrument every day.
Her tomb is at Bailhongal. There is boarding school for girls in Kittur named after Chenamma.     

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