The image that forms in our mind, upon hearing the word 'courtesan', is that of a dancer and never of a warrior. However, to the utter dismay of popular portrayal, courtesans played a crucial role during the Revolt of 1857. Today, we are narrating the story of an unsung warrior, Azizun Bai, whose efforts in the decisive Seige of Cawnpore have been lost in the labyrinth of history. While there were no wealth, territory or other personal benefits she would've gained, had India won yet she fought against the Britishers for the sake of freedom.
A frontline warrior from the marginalised section
The city of Kanpur was a theatre of conflict with both Tatya Tope and Nana Saheb rallying forces against the Britishers. Aiding efforts of the rebel soldiers, especially the 2nd cavalry, was a courtesan of Lurkee Mahil, Azizun Bai, who played both an active and passive role in preparing for the First War of Independence.
It is believed that Azizun Bai's house was used by sepoys for secret meetings and that she was a spy who gathered sensitive information from Britishers and passed it along to mutineers. Apart from training other women to use firearms and take care of the wounded, she also collected and distributed arms and ammunitions to the freedom fighters.
She had established her headquarters in one of the gun batteries which was firing shots and shells from almost day one of the siege and stayed put with the soldiers for the entire duration. When the need arose, Azizun Bai even rode into the battlefield, much like Rani Lakshmi Bai, armed with pistols that she fired at the British army.
An inspiring tale, indeed!
One of the key conspirators of the rebellion, it is believed that Azizun Bai was taken into custody by General Havelock who tried to make her confess. However, this star-like beauty had unyielding courage that preferred martyrdom for her country over the forgiveness bestowed by a foreign power. Azizun Bai's story is that of selflessness, honour and bravery- an inspiration for all generations!