Azizan Bai: Incessant Struggle of a Courtesan (prostitute) to liberate India from the clutches of British Raj in the First War of Independence 1857

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The revolt of 1857 or the mutiny of 1857 was the first major armed insurrection against the colonial British government. This was perhaps the first time when the soldiers of East Indian Company which had till now remained loyal to their white masters now turned guns against them. The soldiers of the East Indian Company wholeheartedly remained loyal to their masters until their white masters started messing with the religion of the native soldiers.

First War of Independence had given us the stories to remember those who laid down their lives for our country’s freedom. The names of Veer Kunwar Singh, Manikarnika (Rani of Jhansi), Tantia Tope, and many more are still alive in folk songs.

Note: The revolt of 1857 from the British perspective was not more than a mutiny while according to the great nationalist like V.D. Savarkar was the First War of Independence.

azizan bai the kanpur cortesan freedom fighter
Azizan Bai

But there were some freedom fighters of 1857 whose stories are yet to be told. One of them was the famous Courtesan (prostitute) of Kanpur who worked as a spy for Nana Saheb and even took up arms to fight against the White masters.

Her name was Azizan Bai.     

Background

Note: The Policy of Doctrine of Lapse (introduced by Lord Dalhousie in the year 1848) played a significant role in the revolt.

Heavy taxation, eviction, racial discrimination, low salaries of Indian soldiers as compared to the English soldiers, the introduction of Christian missionaries who converted a large number of Hindus and Muslims gave a sense of threat to both Hind and Muslim followers. Later the British introduced Enfield Rifles in which the cartridge was greased with animal fat. This move of the British government was the immediate cause of the revolt.

Outbreak of Revolt

Mangal Pandey, who was the 34th native infantry soldier, shot down his senior officer at Barrackpore (in Bengal) started the mutiny. Then on 10 May the 3rd native cavalry also started the mutiny. The northern part of India was involved in a full-scale mutiny by June and Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed as the Emperor of Hindustan with the slogan of March to Delhi.

The Sepoys burned the government institutes like telegraph offices, treasury, bungalows, jails, etc. Due to this, the mutiny got significant support from fellow soldiers and civilians. The white men now became a common target for the Indians.

Azizan Bai-most of us do not even know this name and her contribution to the revolt of 1857. She was famous for her beauty and profession all over the city. Born on 22 April 1832 in the region of Malwa at present-day Madhya Pradesh. Later she moved to Kanpur. Her unending beauty attracted many British soldiers.

She gathered important information from the British soldiers and passed it to the fellow country.

Siege of Kanpur

In Kanpur, the soldiers and civilians fought under the leadership of Nana Sahib. Azizan Bai is believed to have been influenced by Nana Sahib. Even today the name of Azizan Bai is still alive in the city of Kanpur. There was a soldier whose name was Shamsuddin Khan of 2nd cavalry who is believed to be a close friend of Azizan Bai.

The siege of Kanpur resulted in a bloody massacre for both the rebels and the East Indian Company soldiers. The British commanding officer of Kanpur was Major General Hugh Wheeler, who was married to an Indian woman, sent his troops to Lucknow to provide aid to fellow British soldiers. This decision completely made the British at Kanpur vulnerable.

Note: When on 1 June 1857 Nana Sahib and Tantia Tope took the oath to throw out the British Raj ,Azizan Bai was present there.

On 4 June 1857 Nana Saheb with his army crushed the British forces at Kanpur and looted all the treasury. Later the situation of the white masters became worse when only Major General Hugh Wheeler and 250 British soldiers remained to face the wrath of Nana Saheb. The British later surrendered in front of Nana Saheb and it was decided that the former should be given a safe passage to retreat.

Nana Saheb Peshwa

But this couldn’t happen because the mutineers were informed that the British army had killed innocent civilians at Benaras due to this the retreating British men, women, and children were massacred at Ganga Ghat. Later this ghat is known as the Massacre Ghat. The British were agitated by this incident and later massacre the mutineers which are known as the Bibighar Massacre.

Note: Nana Sahib and Tantia Tope chose Azizan Bai for the task of Spying on British soldiers.

It was during this time when Azizan Bai wholeheartedly supported the Indians. From the starting, she was very impressed by Nana Saheb and during the revolt, she supported him and his men till her last breath.

During the battle between Nana Sahib and the British forces, Azizan Bai arranged the meeting for the sepoys. The engagement is known as the Siege of Kanpur. She even wore male attire and is believed to have carried pistols.

Siege of Kanpur

Later she organized a group of women which was known as Mastani Mandali who helped the wounded soldiers and motivated them to keep their morale high. The same group of women supplied the guns and ammunition to the sepoys and even gathered the support of civilians by promoting the ideas of freedom.

In her home, Azizan Bai also made gun batteries which played an important role during the siege.

But when the city of Kanpur was recaptured by the British all hope of freedom was gone. The British also captured Azizan Bai and were presented in front of General Havelock. The general offered Azizan Bai several offers in return for the information related to the sepoys and Azimullah Khan.

But brave and proud Azizan Bai refused and the British soon after this killed her.  V.D. Savarkar praised Azizan Bai’s immense work and highest sacrifice for the freedom of this country.

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