Ban on Durga Puja: An Assault on the core of Hindu civilisation [Part I]

This piece has been co-authored by Shanmukh, Saswati Sarkar and Dikgaj.

 |  Breaking views  |   Long-form |   18-11-2015
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अमरीकबरी भार भ्रमरी मुखरी कृतम्।

दूरी करोतु दुरितं गौरीचरणपङ्कजं॥

Thus begins Kuvalayananda of Appayya Dikshita, one of the finest books on Alankara in Sanskrit – with a prayer to Goddess Gowri that the endeavour may be free of obstacles and problems. Similarly, when the kings of Mysore went to war, they would begin by seeking the blessings of Chamundeshwari Devi in Mysore. Even today, Mysore Dasara, so famous across the world, is rooted in the martial tradition of the erstwhile rulers of Mysore, who prayed to Chamundeshwari Devi for her blessings. From poets and scholars, to warriors all over India, Goddess Gowri, in the multitude of her forms, is close to the hearts of many Hindus. 

Indeed, Shakti Peethas exist from Hinglaj (Baluchistan) to Sitalkunda (eastern Bangladesh) and from Manas (Tibet) and Amarnath (Kashmir) to Nainativu (Sri Lanka) and Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu), the worship of Shakti spanned the length and breadth of the Bharat that existed from ages, the "Indu" whose territories Xuanzhang, the Chinese pilgrim of the 7th century AD described: "was above 90,000 li in circuit, with the snowy mountains [the Hindu Kush] on the north and the sea on its three other sides. It was politically divided into above seventy kingdoms; the heat of the summer was very great and the land to a large extent marshy. The northern region was hilly with a brackish soil; the east was a rich fertile plain; the southern division had a luxuriant vegetation; and the west had a soil coarse and gravelly" p. 56, [46].  In fact, so widespread is Durga Puja that most states boast at least a major Shakti Peetha/Maha Shakti Peetha. Mahamaya (Jammu and Kashmir) in Amarnath, Chinnamastika at Chintpurni (Himachal Pradesh), Savitri at Thaneswar (Haryana), Varahi at Panchsagar (Uttarakhand), Lalita at Sangam (near Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh), Sarvamangala at Gaya (Bihar), Kalika at Kalighat (West Bengal), Kamakhya in Neelachal (Assam), Tripura Sundari at Udaipur (Tripura), Jayanti at Nartiang (Meghalaya), Avanti at Bhairavparvat (Madhya Pradesh), Gayatri at Manibandh (Rajasthan), Chandrabhaga at Prabhas (Gujarat), Bhadrakali at Nashik (Maharashtra), Bimala at Puri (Odisha), Vishveshwari at Sarvashaila, Chamundeshwari at Mysore (Karnataka), and Sharvani at Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) constitute some of the Shakti Peethas, dedicated to the worship of Shakti. Even outside today’s India, the worship of Shakti was spread in all of the civilisational Bharat. From Kottari of Hingula, through Uma at Mithila (Nepal), Dakshayani at Manas (Tibet), Aparna at Bhabanipur, Jeshoreshwari at Ishwaripur, Bhavani at Chandranath Hill, Mahalakshmi at Shree Shail, Sugandha at Shikarpur (all Bangladesh) to Indrakshi at Nainativa (Sri Lanka), the worship of Shakti is highly prized. The Goddess as Shakti (Durga or Kali) is worshipped with passion and fervor by tribals throughout India, starting from the Jaintias of Manipur (Durga), Bodos of Assam (Durga), Gorkhas of the Himalayan belt (Kali), to the Santhals of West Bengal and Jharkhand (Durga), and other tribes of Odissa, Chhattisgarh (Kali) [27] [72], [73]. Like other polytheist Hindus, the tribes worship local gods and goddesses in addition to the more mainstream forms of Shakti (Durga, Kali). Interestingly, the war deity of the Santhals is Goddess Jaher-era, who accompanies their principal God, Marang-Buru, the God of the mountains. Similarly, the worship of Saraswati, the mistress of all knowledge, is spread from the Sharada Peetha on the banks of the Neelam river (Kashmir) to Sringeri on the banks of the Tunga river (Karnataka). The worship of Lakshmi, as the fount of all wealth, similarly enjoys India-wide worship. It may be said, without exaggeration, that Hinduism embraces the worship of the feminine in all forms, and distinguishes itself from all major religions existing in today’s world, and that perhaps is why the Goddess is ruthlessly targeted by the contemporary expansionist religious fundamentalists.

In this article, we show that the worship of Shakti (strength or valour) as Goddess has inspired principal Hindu resistances across ages and throughout the civilisational land of the Hindus. It is perhaps this worship that has inspired Hindu women to militarily defend their civilisation against invaders, along with, and many times leading their male counterparts. In Part II of this series, we show that in contrast, Abrahamic religions exhibit a deep-rooted aversion towards worship of Goddess in any form, and provide theological sanctions for disrupting Hindu public worship and festivals, which has in turn inspired dastardly attacks on the same since the beginning of India’s subjugation to foreign powers (Islamic and British). In Part III, we demonstrate that the tradition of denial of  the right to practise religion in general, and worship the Goddess in particular, continues till date. In Part IV, we show that the denial of religious freedom to Hindus is the result of active collusion of India’s political class with Abrahamic fundamentalists, or complicity of silence in the face of grave atrocities. The state of the affairs is in sharp contrast to the values that India’s genuine freedom fighters had lived, fought and died to defend. The anti-Hindu nature of the Indian polity may in future alienate Hindus vested in the freedom to practise their religion from the polity.        

Section A: The Shakti in the Hindu resistance to foreign invasion

Goddess worship, all over India, is an integral component of Hinduism. In the form of Shakti, she has been the symbol of sacrifice and strength, as the existence of the major Shakti Peethas scattered all over the Indian subcontinent testify. Shakti is the embodiment of valour, martial spirit and the will to conquer enemies. And the imagery of Shakti fits her indeed. As Asura Dalani, she is the destroyer of Asuras – Mahishasura, Chanda, Munda, Raktabeeja and so many others. As Sinha bahini, she rides a lion/tiger; as Shakti Rupini, she is armed with weapons and wears a garland of skulls of her enemies.  When Hindu Gods lost out to the Asuras, the forces of Adharma, they invoked the Mahisasura-Mardini Durga. The imagery and the significance of her ferocity in the Hindu psyche has been eloquently described by Aditi Banerjee, in her article "Fierce is beautiful" [1].

Section A.1: Shakti as Inspiration

In the course of its long history, India has faced two sustained invasions that aimed at destroying the indigenous culture and replacing it with the culture of the invaders as the basis of an occupying regime and state. The first invasion was by the Muslims, starting in 632 AD (when the first Arab naval expedition which aimed at the conquest of Thana near Bombay was undertaken as early as 636 AD, (p. 209, [55]), and the second by the European imperialists (Portugese, French, English) starting in 1500 AD when Pedros Alvarez  Cabral ordered his ships to bombard Calicut. The Muslim invasion lasted for more than 1,000 years – the last independent Muslim ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar, fell in 1857 AD. The European invasion ended in 1947, when power was transferred to a divided India. The political conquest of India by these invaders was significantly slower than the rest of the world by these forces, and cultural control never complete. In a period of more than 1,200 years, starting from the first Muslim invasion, by the time both invading powers lost political control, about 70 per cent of undivided India remained Hindu. In a sharp contrast, by 732 AD, which marked the first centenary of the death of the Prophet of Islam, "the Arabs had set up the largest and most powerful empire of the world, extending from the Bay of Biscay to the Indus and the frontiers of China, from the Aral sea to the upper Nile"  p. 78, [57], p. 5, [48]. The subjects were not only politically vanquished but also culturally assimilated-Islamised and, often, Arabised over a period of time. North African conquests like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia speak Arabic till date. Arabic was enforced on the Persians for about two hundred years [59] until the Persian language was resurrected through Shahenamah, a masterpiece by  Ferdowsi in the tenth century AD [58]. Persian would later become the court language in several Muslim kingdoms outside Iran, including in India. The pertinent point, however, is that the religions followed in these countries (eg, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism) were all but obliterated except among the populace who emigrated abroad to retain the same (eg, large number of Zoroastrians migrated to India and live there as Parsis). Similarly, the conquest of the Incas and the Aztecs by the Spaniards in the early 16th and 17th centuries by Francisco de Pizarro and Cortes respectively resulted in the extermination of the two cultures.  The Inca populace was pressed into silver mining with the result being the near extermination of the native population. The Machu Picchu of the Incas and the Tenochtitlan of the Aztec are mute remains of once thriving cultures in the respective regions. Similarly, the Portuguese extinguished the original culture of what is today’s Brasil, conquering it in the 16th century, with massive genocides of the Tupi and the Tapuya tribes, and the British conquest of the eastern American seaboard in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in the wipeout of the various native American tribes that lived in region between the north American coast and the Great Lakes. Their languages are nearly extinct. The Hindu story has, however, been different. And, we show that worship of the Goddess as Shakti is intimately related to the remarkable resistance offered by the Hindus to invaders.   

The worship of Shakti has always been a source of strength for the national heroes of resistance.  जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी। The country has been visualised as Bharat Mata or Bharat Lakshmi by the Hindus and thus, worship of the country follows naturally from a worship of Shakti herself. Thus, Shakti has always been an inspiration for Indic freedom fighters.

Section A.1.1: The Resistance to Islamic Invasion

During the struggle against the Islamic invasion, the Sisodias of Mewar, the clan that produced Rana Pratap, the most formidable foe of Akbar, drew strength from the worship of Shakti; their Kuladevis were Amba, Kalika, Baan Mata, different forms of Shakti (Chapter 2, Kuladevi tradition Myth, Story and Context [78], [79]). Pratapaditya, from Jessore, mounted one of the foremost challenges to the supremacy of Akbar – Jessoreshwari Kali, was the presiding deity of his kingdom. Shivaji who stalled the religious bigot and tyrant, Aurangzeb, drew strength from the worship of Tulja Bhavani.  "उदे उदे ग अंबाबाई", and "आदी शक्ती तुळजा भवानी जोगवा दे" are till date famous prayers of Tulja Bhavani among the Marathas. In honour of Durga, Shivaji’s teacher and religious mentor (guru) Ramdas had composed:  

दुर्गे दुर्घट भारी तुजविण संसारी।

अनाथ नाथे अम्बे करुणा विस्तारी।

वारी वारी जन्म मरणांते वारी।

हारी पडलो आता संकट निवारी॥

Guru Govind Singh who seeded the Sikh resistance against the Mughals composed "Chandi Di Var" in honour of Durga as Chandi or Mahakali:   

चिंतन कुरू मा महाकाली देवाक्षी। रूद्रकाली सा महामाया राक्षसमारणे॥ "Raise your awareness towards the eye of the Devas, i.e. Mahākāli Rudrakali, is she who is this great veil for the slaying of the demons."

Lachit Borphukan inflicted a crushing defeat, on the army of Aurangzeb in 1671 in the battle of Saraighat, in Guwahati. And, one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Peethas, the Kamakhya temple, where goddess Kamakhya and ten MahavidyasKaliTaraSodashiBhuvaneshwari, BhairaviChhinnamastaDhumavatiBagalamukhiMatangi and Kamala preside, reside in Guwahati.  

Section A.1.2: The Resistance to European Invasion

During the freedom struggle against the British, when Bankim Chandra composed his "Bande Mataram" – the song which inspired thousands of Indian revolutionaries to die with the words on their lips - he vocalised the heartfelt cry of millions of Indians. It is this song that saw motherland as Goddess reincarnate, as a combination of Durga, Laxmi, Saraswati:

वन्दे मातरम्। सुजलाम् सुफलाम् मलयज शीतलाम् शस्यश्यामलाम् मातरम्। वन्दे मातरम्। त्वम् हि दुर्गा दशप्रहरणधारिणी कमला कमलदलविहारिणी वाणी विद्यादायिनी, नमामि त्वाम् नमामि कमलाम् अमलां अतुलाम् सुजलां सुफलाम् मातरम्।। ४।। वन्दे मातरम्।

It translates as: 

Mother, I salute thee! Rich with thy hurrying streams, bright with orchard gleams, Cool with thy winds of delight, Dark fields waving Mother of might, Mother free.

Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, With her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned, And the Muse a hundred-toned, Pure and perfect without peer, Mother lend thine ear, Rich with thy hurrying streams, Bright with thy orchard gleems, Dark of hue O candid-fair.

Songs that celebrated the nation as mother Goddess subsequently appeared in multiple regional languages, particularly in Bengal which was at the forefront of the armed incursions against the British. We transcribe  one such song, composed by Atulprasad Sen in Bangla, and in Devnagri scripts:

উঠ গো ভারত-লক্ষ্মী, উঠ আদি-জগত-জন-পূজ্যা, দুঃখ দৈন্য সব নাশি করো দূরিত ভারত-লজ্জা। ছাড়ো গো ছাড়ো শোকশয্যা, কর সজ্জা পুনঃ কনক-কমল-ধন-ধান্যে! জননী গো, লহো তুলে বক্ষে, সান্ত্বন-বাস দেহো তুলে চক্ষে; কাঁদিছে তব চরণতলে ত্রিংশতি কোটি নরনারী গো।

उठगो भारत लक्ष्मी उठो आदि जगत जन पूज्या

दुःखदैन्य सब नाशि करो दुरित भारत लज्जा

 

छारगो छार शोक सज्जा करो सज्जा

पुन कमल कनक धन धान्ये

 

जननी गो लह तुली बक्षे सन्तान बाश देह तुलि चोखे

कन्दिच्छे तब चरण तले त्रिंशति कोटि नर नारी गो

Next, "When Bengal was partitioned in 1905, in Calcutta, gatherings of 50,000 people took a collective oath before Goddess Kali in the holy Kalighat temple that they would throw the British out of our homeland. Numbers touching 50,000 marched through the streets after taking a dip in the holy Ganges, anointing their foreheads with tilak, and holding copies the Bhagvad Gita in their hands’’ pp. 9-10, [43]. 

Aurobindo, who was at the forefront of the anti-Partition agitation and organised armed insurgencies against the British, began his lectures and speeches often with a prayer to Chandikaamba. Invoking the Goddess Durga to lend aid to the Freedom Struggle, Aurobindo wrote:

"Mother Durga! Rider on the lion, giver of all strength, Mother, beloved of Shiva! We, born from thy parts of Power, we the youth of India, are seated here in thy temple. Listen, O Mother, descend upon earth, make thyself manifest in this land of India." [44].  

Revolutionary Veer Savarkar, who was an atheist himself,  composed "Jayostute" – a prayer where he saw Freedom as his Goddess.   

जयोस्तु ते श्रीमहन्मंगले Iशिवास्पदे शुभदे

स्वतंत्रते भगवतिIत्वामहं यशोयुतां वंदे II

[Victory to you, O Auspicious One, O Holy One (also Abode), O Granter of Joy,

O Goddess of Freedom, Victorious One, we salute you]

One of the eminent leaders of the freedom struggle, Subhas Chandra Bose, who sought to liberate India through military action, was devoted to worship of Goddess as Shakti, especially as Durga or Kali  p. 123 [46]. On December 26, 1925, from Mandalay jail in Burma, he wrote to his sister-in-law, "In Durga, we see Mother, Motherland and the Universe all in one. She is at once Mother, Motherland and the Universal spirit" p.170, [40]. Shakti worship had formed an important component of his struggle against the British. On February 18, 1926, again in Mandalay jail, he had organised a fast in protest against the authorities who denied financial allowances to the prisoners for conducting Durga and Saraswati Puja pp. 221-226, [40]. On December 9, 1930, he had called upon the women to participate in liberation struggle, invoking the imagery of asuradalani Durga: "Women had not only duties to their family, but they had also a greater duty to their country. When the gods found their sliver almost vanquished in their fight with the demons, they invoked the help of 'Sakti' in the form of mother. The country was in a sad plight, therefore the country looked up to the mothers to come forward and inspire the whole nation" p. 238, [47]. Years later, when he was illegally incarcerated, in Presidency jail, he announced at fast unto death in protest. He announced it on the sacred day of Kali puja (30.9.1940) to affirm his faith. He wrote to the Superintendent of Prison: "There is no other alternative for me but to register a moral protest against an unjust act and as a proof of that protest, to undertake a voluntary fast. This fast will have no effect on the 'popular' ministry, because I am neither the Maulavi of Murapara, Dacca nor a Muhammadan by faith. Consequently, the fast will, in my case, become a fast unto death. ... Britishers and the British Government have been talking of upholding the sacred principles of freedom and democracy, but their policy nearer home belied these professions. They want our assistance to destroy Nazism, but they have been indulging in super-Nazism. My protest will serve to expose the hypocrisy underlying their policy in this unfortunate country-as also the policy of a Provincial Government that calls itself 'popular', but which in reality, can be moved only when there is a Muhammadan in the picture.....I repeat that this letter, written on the sacred day of Kali Puja, should not be treated as a threat or ultimatum. It is merely an affirmation of one's faith, written in all humility" pp. 187-189, [39]. 

The worst atrocities perpetrated on the religion, culture and livelihood of the tribals were by the British during their regime, and  by the Christian missionaries subsequent to the transfer of power in 1947. It is the tradition of Shakti puja that inspired them to mount the desperate resistances they could despite severe limitation of resources in comparison to that of their adversaries. It is the imagery of Durga they invoked when they fought off Islamist aggression launched by Pakistan against India in 1999. Excerpts from an article written by a tribal student at JNU, on behalf of the JNU Tribal Students Association, provides testaments to the above, as also to how Shakti Puja is an organic component of  Hinduism throughout the lands the tribals inhabit [72]:  

   ॐ जयन्ती मङ्गला काली भद्रकाली कपालिनी।

   दुर्गा क्ष्यमा शिवा धात्री स्वाहा स्वधा नमोस्तु ते॥

We tribals revere our mother Goddess Durga in all her forms, we go into the battlefield invoking her name, when our Gorkha brothers captured territories from the invading Pakistani army in 1999 we invoked the name of Durga Mata and this is our religion and culture! We tribals from Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also worship Goddess Durga. It is unfortunate that some of our brothers and sisters have fallen prey to the evil activities of invading Christian evangelical missionaries who have tried to lure us away from our culture and religion but we have resisted their nefarious designs and we shall continue to do so. Durga Puja is a very important part of our identity. We tribals from this region have not forgotten how the missionaries have tried to ridicule and attack our religion and now a small group of people in JNU are trying the same with the backup of these evil missionaries. We again repeat. WE ARE TRIBALS. WE WORSHIP GODDESS DURGA AND WE SHALL DO SO FOR GENERATIONS TO COME! 

The santhal tribe of West Bengal and Jharkhand also worship Durga and Durga Puja is a very important festival for us, we remember the sacrifices of our leaders against the British and the Evangelical missionaries years ago when we went to war with them for defending our lands, culture and beliefs. Remember our leaders Brojo Murmu and Durga Murmu who invoked the name of our Mother Goddess and fought against the British, what more we still follow the age old custom of sacrificing a white goat to the Goddess seeking her blessings in defending our culture and religion. We are proud worshippers of Goddess Durga and we are tribals. We have not forgotten what the Christian evangelical missionaries have done to us, they have played with our feelings and have tried to destroy us but because the Mother Goddess is with us they have failed and will always fail!  

We tribals know what imperialist evangelical missionaries have done to our brothers all over the world, they have changed their history in Ethiopia, caused war between brothers in Rwanda, they forced our brothers to convert in Ecuador and they have for years tortured, harassed and hurt us all over the world. This is the holy land of India where we exist and we shall exist. We shall not bow down before this imperialist agenda, we tribals have resisted these evil peddlers and we shall defend our religion and culture no matter what! To those who have sold their souls to these imperialist agents, we are not like you and we spite you, we are Hindus we are tribals and we worship our Mother Goddess. We dance and sing in her honour and we revere her!... WE ARE TRIBALS, WE ARE HINDUS AND WE ARE PROUD OF IT! JAI MA DURGA, JAI MA KALI, WE SWEAR BY OUR RELIGION AND WE SWEAR BY OUR GODDESS! …JAI MA KALI AAYO GORKHALI!’’ [72] 

We now narrate in greater detail the relation between Durga Puja and the tribal rebellion led by Brojo and Durga Murmu alluded to in the above. The year was 1907 and the region, the Sulunga village of Birbhum, West Bengal, then inhabited by the Santhal tribe. Birbhum district Left Front chairman, Arun Chowdhury, describes: "The zamindari of this area was given away to one Kerap saheb from Bihar, who resorted to violence to collect taxes from poor peasants. Those who failed to pay the tax on time were forcibly sent to Assam, where they had to work as coolies (porters). However, Kerap saheb had once announced that if the defaulters convert to Christianity they would be exempted from paying taxes. While a few chose to do so, most revolted against the landlord under the leadership of Brojo Murmu (who belonged to Sulunga). It was Brojo Murmu who introduced this Durga Puja. The puja has been performed every year since then" [76]. Brojo Murmu, worshipped "Mahishasuramardini" - "the warrior form of the goddess - some 100 years ago. It was intended to unite Santhals living in the bordering areas of Birbhum and in the Jharkhand region against oppressive British rule. Priest Robin Tudu, who has been overseeing the puja here for over two decades now, said: 'An animal sacrifice is made on Ashtami, usually a white goat, as according to local belief, a white goat symbolises "gora sahib" (the whiteman)."  [76] Tapan Murmu, a descendant of Brojo Murmu’s family said: "Many years ago, our ancestors Brojo Murmu and Durga Murmu were inspired to overpower the British rulers by uniting our people by initiating the worship of Durga as the goddess of Shakti" [76].

Last, but not the least, the Goddess is conspicuously absent in the Hinduism espoused by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the leader who staunchly opposed Indian resistance to the British by force (he did not, however, oppose application of force by and in support of the British). He referred to God in the masculine, by and large.  

 

Section A.2: Shakti in Action – the Martial Women of India  

Given the fact that a Goddess is the protector of the righteous and the destroyer of her enemies, it is unsurprising that India has always had her women fighting for the country, not only as soldiers, but also as inspirational figures. In our epics, Vidula berated her son for being passive after being defeated in battle, Kaikeyi and Satyabhama accompanied their husbands to the battlefield (and rendered invaluable aid on the battlefield itself). Chandragupta Maurya had his bodyguard corps comprised exclusively of women. Thus, not only the rulers, but also common women have rendered yeoman service in the defence of the country.

During the Islamic invasion, in 1178 AD, Muizuddin Ghori descended in Gujarat seeking to repeat Mahmud Ghazni’s feat of sacking Somnath. He was defeated by the army of the Rai of Anhirwala, Bhim Deo, (also known as Mularaja) who was then a minor p. 36, [53], p. 170, [49]. Hindu records state that the mother of Mularaja, Maharani Naiki Devi, the daughter of Parmardin, king of Goa, "taking her son (Mularaja) in her lap led the Chalukyan army against the Turushkas and defeated them at Gadararaghatta at the foot of Mount Abu" pp. 186, 198, [50], p. 154, [51], p. 210, [52], p. 95, [48]. As the onslaught continued, medieval rulers like Rani Padmini of Chittaur, first fought Alauddin Khilji to aid her husband and then committed Jauhar to avoid capture and humiliation. The tale of Padmini has been eloquently sung in the Padmavat. Then,  Rani Durgavati of Gondwana, fought Akbar’s mighty Mughal army. RC Majumdar narrates, "She [Rani Durgavati] was a capable and benevolent ruler, a good shot and a courageous leader; …. The advance of the Mughul army alarmed Durgavati's soldiers, many of whom deserted. The rani, however, made a gallant stand at Narhi to the east of Garha against the Mughuls in spite of their overwhelming superiority in number. She was easily overpowered, received two vounds from arrows and stabbed herself to death to avoid disgrace" p. 143, Vol. 7, [65]. Obavva, defended the fortress of Chitradurga against the invasion of Haidar Ali with a pounding staff [67].  

During the invasion by the European imperialists, Rani Abbakka of Ullal, led the attack on the Portuguese, torching their ships and ending their depredations on the hapless countryside of South Kanara and Malabar [66]. Pietro della Valle writes of Rani Abbakka [66], "In brief, her aspect and habit represented rather a dirty Kitchen wench, or Laundress, than a delicate and noble Queen; whereupon I said within myself. Behold by whom are routed in India the Armies of the King of Spain which in Europe is so great a matter!” Rani Velu Nachiyar, the brave queen of Sivaganga, fought the British several times, causing them much damage. It is recorded in [68], "When Nachiyar finds the place where the British stock their ammunition, she builds the first human bomb. A faithful follower, Kuyili douses herself in oil, lights herself and walks into the storehouse. Finally ending the agony that lasted eight long years, Colonel Bonjour's troops promise to leave the region.'' Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and Rani Chennamma of Kittur, braving desperate odds, defended the states they ruled.

The martial tradition of Indian women has continued even after the British brought India under its yoke. Rani Gaidinliu, the brave Naga leader, fought the British many times, leading her men with patriotic fervor. During the freedom struggle, many women revolutionaries played a vital role.

In 1907, Durga Murmu led the santhal rebellion against the British along with Brojo Murmu (refer to A.1 for details) [72], [76]. 

"In 1915, when Rasbehari Bose, the great revolutionary leader, was hunting for a house in Lahore to organise an All-India Uprising, he could not get accommodation anywhere as the Police Commissioner of Lahore at that time had issued a notice that no house would be given to a bachelor. Rasbehari Bose was, at that time, a bachelor. The problem was, however, solved when Yamuna, the young wife of Ramswaroop Das, one of Rasbehari's close associates, came froward. She posed as Rasbehari's wife. A house was then taken at Lahore where Rasbehari and Yamuna started staying as "husband and wife" and thus Rasbehari got the opportunity to organise his plan. However, within a few days, the whole plot was uncovered by the police. Rasbehari could manage to escape but Yamuna was arrested and taken to Lahore jail. After three days of ceaseless interrogation which yielded no result, she was sent to the barracks of the Baloch regiment. The Baluch soldiers physically tortured and raped her. Ultimately she became unconscious and was left stripped on the roadside p. 3, [54]." Thus, she didn't flinch under extreme stress. Rasbehari Bose considered her as any other (male) combatant, didn't return to rescue her and sacrifice his mission either. In  due course, he would escape to Japan to form the Indian National Army which Subhas Bose led to the Indian soil, and indirectly forced the British to leave India. 

"Suhasini Ganguly, posing as the wife of Sasadhar Acharya, did housekeeping in Chandernagore to shelter four revolutionaries. Suhasini, being a spinster, showed tremendous moral strength to pose as somebody else's wife with regular vermilion mark and conch shell bangles just to give shelter to the four runaway revolutionaries." p. 56, [54] "In August 1915, Ramachandra Majumdar, a leader of the Indo-German plot, was captured. He kept concealed one Mauser pistol in a place but he could not inform his colleagues before his arrest. A widow, Nanibala, dressed herself as a married woman with vermilion mark on the forehead and conch shell bangles in hand and posing as Ramachandra's wife met him in Presidency jail and obtained information from him about the pistol. In those days it was unthinkable for a Bengali widow to change her dress." p. 59, [54] The phenomenon was replicated welsewhere in India as well. "After Bhagat Singh shot dead Saunders, the Assistant Superintendent of Lahore Police, on 17 December 1928, Durga Devi Vora, wife of Bhagwati Charan Vora, one of Bhagat Singh's close associates, helped him to escape from Lahore. Posing as Bhagat Singh's wife she along with her infant son accompanied Bhagat Singh in his journey to Calcutta." pp. 5-6 [54] Thus, throughout India, women easily transcended social norms as required during combat.

On September 24, 1932, Preetilata Waddedar, the first and the only woman who died during an armed revolutionary action, led a group of seven male revolutionaries, to launch an attack on the Pahartoli European Club in Chittagong to avenge the death of innocents at Jallianwallahbag. While they were about to leave, after succeeding in the mission, "she got a bullet shot in her breast and fell down on the ground. She coolly handed over her revolvers to one of her companions and asked them to go back immediately and herself took potassium cyanide and collapsed there"; pp. 93-95 [54]. All others in her group returned unhurt. A testament was found with her in which she had written: "I wonder why there should be any distinction between males and females in a fight for the cause of country's freedom? If our brothers can join a fight for the cause of motherland, why can't the sisters ? Instances are not rare that the Rajput ladies of hallowed memory fought bravely in the battlefield and did not hesitate to kill their country's enemies. The pages of history are replete with high admiration for the heroic exploits of these distinguished ladies. ...As regards  fitness, is it not sheer injustice to the females that they will always be thought less fit and weaker than the males in a fight for freedom ? Time has come when this false notion must go. ...Females are determined that they would no more lag behind, but they will stand side by side with their brothers in any activities, however dangerous or difficult;" p. 4 [54].

"On 19 May, 1933, Kalpana (Dutta) when asked to surrender to the police and military force at Gairala village, forced her leader Tarakeshwar Dastidar to give all the arms to her, so that she could create an impression that she was the leader of their group. In doing so, her main object was to save the leader from capital punishment and instead get herself hanged;"  p. 111 [54].

The courage of Bina Das, who tried to assassinate Stanley Jackson, the Governor of Bengal, in a convocation hall is also exemplary.  In her trial, she calmly declared, "I fired on the governor, impelled by the love of my country, which is repressed. I sought only a way to death by offering myself at my country's feet.... I invite the attention of all to the situation created by the measures of the government. This can upset even a frail woman like myself, brought up in the best traditions of Indian womanhood"; [69].

Shanti Ghosh and Suniti Chaudhary shot dead Stevens, District Magistrate of Tippera, and were sentenced to life in prison.

Subhas Bose had installed an all-women brigade, the Jhansi Rani brigade, in the Indian National army he led against the British during the Second World War. Led by Capt. Lakshmi Sehgal, it comprised the first combat troops composed exclusively of women.

None of the women revolutionaries could be broken, despite capture and often, brutal torture, and some of them  preferred death to subordination to the enemy. "Shanti, Suniti, Kalpana and Parul were physically tortured. Even in that stage they remained silent. When they became involved in  those actions, they were fully aware of the risks involved to themselves. These considerations could not stand in their way to join such actions"; p. 110,  [54]. 

Thus, the role of women on the battlefield has always been phenomenal. The news about the induction of women into the ranks of fighter pilots by the Indian Air Force is merely the latest indication of the martial spirit of Indian women.

[All references can be found in Part IV of this sequence.]

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