#Art + Culture

Dalit History Month: Remembering Uda Devi, Warrior Who Led The 1857 Freedom Resistance

uda devi
Uda Devi was a warrior, one of the fiercest, in 19th century India when the call for independence from the British was being led by some of the most powerful voices of women in history. Marking Dalit History Month, we take a look at Uda Devi’s life and times as an icon of Dalit influence and female inspiration. 

When the first war of independence of 1857 is brought up, in either historical reminiscence or discourse exchange, the name of the woman warrior thrown up most is Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. But leaders like Uda Devi, whose contributions to the resistance remain unparalleled, deserve equal space, celebration and recognition in both history and public consciousness.

Hailing from Awadh in an India then ruled over by the British East India Company, Uda Devi was committed to the end of colonial administration that, since gaining a stronghold in the country from the 18th century, had come to symbolise foreign oppression, extortion and exploitation.

Given her location in the whereabouts of where the 1857 mutiny began and shaped over three consecutive years, Uda Devi was present right at the heart of the first fight for independence. She partook in the resistance as a frontline warrior, leading an impressive and accomplished women’s battalion under her command.

She, along with her Dalit sister soldiers from the 1850s such as Jhalkaribai and Mahabiri Devi, are today commemorated as veeranginis (female warriors of valour) and looked up at as upholders of justice, equality and resilience.

Uda Devi: A Look At The Veerangini‘s Life And Cause

The social milieu of Uda Devi was, in fact, a constitution of feminist power. She belonged to the vicinity ruled by Begum Hazrat Mahal, the second wife of Awadh’s last ruler Wajid Ali Shah. Moved to action with the growing unrest of the 1850s, Uda Devi approached the queen with an intent to get enlisted for the nearing war.

Armed with courage, ammunition and an army of women behind her, Uda Devi led her battalion into the Battle of Sikandar Bagh in 1857. Historians note this particular battle for being one of the most significant and “fiercest” ones in Lucknow during the revolt.

She fought valiantly and, it is said most ferociously in the aftermath of her husband and army soldier Makka Pasi’s death in the war. Her own death reportedly came when British soldiers shot down a sniper, later identified to be her.

In Recent Times

In records, the Pasi caste – identified as members of the Dalit community present predominantly in Uttar Pradesh – have professed commitment to keeping the late icon’s legacy alive. November 16 is marked as her death anniversary, a day for hailing and remembering Uda Devi’s resistance to both oppression and patriarchy.

A statue of Uda Devi stands tall at Sikandar Bagh in Lucknow, where the warrior icon looks upon the city with a stance and weapon ready to engage in combat.

In 2018, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reportedly proposed the construction of a 100-feet tall statue of Uda Devi. However, political experts have commented this move was aimed less at historical revival and Dalit women’s recognition, and more at voter appeasement.

Image Credit: Dalit History Month, Facebook + YouTube