Chronicle of the forgotten female warriors:Jind Kaur

- Md. Yousof Alam

The history of India and its bravery is incomplete without discussing Ranjit Singh, popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab or "Lion of Punjab", who was the first Maharaja and the founder of the Sikh Empire. He was brave asa lion since his childhood and defeated dangerous smallpox in infancy. The main geographical footprint of the empire was from the Punjab region to Khyber Pass in the west, Kashmir in the north, Sindh in the south, and Tibet in the east. He married several times for different political and personal reasons. He had 20 wives. But,Maharani Jind Kaur was the youngest wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his favorite too.

Born at Chachar in Gujranwala in 1817, Jind Kaur Aulakh was the youngest of three siblings. Her father Manna Singh Aulakh was the overseer of the royal kennels. It is said that impressed with Manna Singh’s description of his daughter’s beauty and intelligence, Maharaja Ranjit Singh married Jindan in 1835 when she was 18. She gave birth to Duleep Singh in 1838, a year before the death of the maharaja.

She was renowned for her beauty, energy, quick learning capability, and strength of purpose and was popularly known as Rani Jindan, but her fame is derived chiefly from the fear she engendered in the British in India.

Her revolt began when her husband, the last Maharaja of Punjab, died of a stroke in 1839 and the British tried to wrest the kingdom from the heir to the throne, her infant son, Duleep Singh.

Duleep Singh was five years old when he was placed on the throne in 1843 after the death of two heirs to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Since he was just a child, Maharani Jindan was made the regent. Not a rubber stamp, she took an active interest in running the kingdom, introducing changes in the revenue system at the start of her time.

During her rule as regent, Jindan waged two disastrous wars against the British that led to the annexation of Punjab. She may have made huge strategic errors due to her military inexperience and young age (she was in her early 20s), but Jindan was a fierce ruler. British historian Peter Bance describes her as a "very gutsy woman". "She stood her ground against the British . . . she actively took charge of Punjab."

She was remarkable in how she discarded Sati (a practice among Hindu communities where a recently widowed woman, either voluntarily or by force, immolates herself on her deceased husband's pyre) and Purdah (seclusion of women from public observation utilizing concealing clothing), dominant at the time, and led the courts, had meetings with chief ministers and the armies. All of them were taking her counsel.

The outbreak of the war has been attributed to the action of the Sikh army crossing the River Sutlej on 11 December 1845. On 13 December 1845, the British Governor-General Sir Henry Hardinge issued a proclamation declaring war on the Sikhs. The Sikhs lost the war, dueto the treachery of their commander-in-chiefLal Singh and Teja Singh and the war ended with the humiliating Treaty of Lahore. The terms of the Treaty of Lahore, signed in March 1846, were punitive but the seven-year-old Duleep Singh remained as Maharaja, and Jind Kaur was to remain as regent. After the Sikhs lost the First Anglo-Sikh War she was replaced in December 1846 by a Council of Regency, under the control of a British Resident. 

The council supported her and she gradually became the symbol of sovereignty. She took control of the government with the approval of the army and cast off her veil. As Regent, she reconstituted the Supreme Council of the Khalsa and restored a balance between the army and the civil administration. She held court, transacted State business in public, and reviewed and addressed the troops.

The Maharani was described as "a serious obstacle" to British rule in India. So they adopted various tricks toweaken her. The British campaign against her was vicious, describing her as a prostitute, seductress, and the ‘Messalina of the Punjab’, a reference to the promiscuous third wife of Roman Emperor Claudius.

But all these made no effect on her. She refused to co-operate and the British saw that her influence on Duleep could lead to an uprising among the Punjabi people. And they decided to separate mother and son.The bitterest blow to the Maharani was the separation from her 9-year-old son. She wrote to Lawrence imploring him to return Duleep to her. "He has no sister, no brother. He has no uncle, senior or junior. His father he has lost. To whose care has he been entrusted?" She got no reply forthe next thirteen years.

In August of the year, 1847 Duleep Singh refused to invest Tej Singh as Raja of Sialkot, the British Resident, Henry Lawrence, imprisoned the Maharani in the Samman Tower of the Lahore Fort and, ten days later, moved her to the fortress in Sheikhupura and then Chunar Fort in Uttar Pradesh.


After the First Anglo-Sikh War, the British rewarded the leaders who had helped them, including Lal Singh and Tej Singh, who cheated with their motherland and led the head down. However, the Sikh commanders were seething at what they saw as his treachery.

Nine-year-old Duleep was taken to England where he converted to Christianity, living the life of a typical English gentleman, with Queen Victoria among his friends.

She was hurt and in pain by losing her child. But, her motive was active and she continued her fight against the British. Jindan believed that if united, Indian rulers could oust the British. She was in touch with Bhai Maharaj Singh, who tried to rebel against the British after the annexation of the Sikh empire.

Maharani Jind Kaur was someone who refused to be broken in her whole lifetime. A year later she escaped from the Chunar Fort. The book, ‘Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond’ it is describing her dramatic prison break on April 19, 1849, from Chennai Fort in Uttar Pradesh. The book says: “Dressed in beggars’ rags, she fled under cover of darkness, taunting her British captors as she went.”

“Scattering money on the floor of her cell, Jindan scrawled a note for the guards to find: You put me in a cage and locked me up. For all your locks and your sentries, I got out by magic… I had told you plainly not to push me too hard – but don’t think I ran away. Understand well, that I escape by myself unaided… don’t imagine I got out like a thief.’’

Maharani Jind Kaur arrived at Kathmandu on April 29, 1849, where she was given asylum by Jung Bahadur, the prime minister.  She was given a house on the banks of river Bhagmati. She stayed in Nepal till 1860, when she continued to reach out to rebels in Punjab and Jammu-Kashmir.

Her letters trying to contact rebels detained in Allahabad fort were intercepted by the British government. She established contact with Bhai Maharaj Singh in Jammu and Kashmir. She also sent emissaries to Maharaj Gulab Singh of Jammu. At one point, the British caught some funds she was sending to rebels. Things reached such a pass that the British asked the Nepal PM to rein her in.

Later, Maharani Jindan Kaur met her son Duleep Singh at Calcutta in April 1861. The British, ever suspicious of the maharani’s machinations, ordered then that she leave for London in May.

It was due to her influence that Duleep Singh, who had converted to Christianity, returned to Sikhism.

The long exile took a heavy toll on Maharani Jindan’s health. She passed away in her sleep on August 1, 1863, two years after she walked into the Kensington Gardens in 1861.

Christy Campbell, author of ‘The Maharajah’s Box,’ a book about Duleep Singh, says Jindan was “one of the most remarkable characters of 19th-century history, let alone Indian or Sikh history”.

Jindan was buried in west London as cremation was illegal in Britain during those days. In 1997, a marble headstone with her name was uncovered during restoration at the Dissenters’ Chapel in Kensal Green, and a memorial to the Maharani was installed at the site in 2009.


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