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Three decades before 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, Karnataka's Rani Chennamma took on the British

By Vishal S
|

Bengaluru, Oct 23: Whenever the debate and discussions are held on India's struggle for freedom against the British, it is by and large seen that the real major opposition to the British Rule began in 1857 when soldiers rebelled against East India Company's officers in Meerut. The 1857 mutiny served as a rallying point for those opposing the foreign rule. But, even before the 1857 rebellion, many rulers opposed the foreign rule.

Many such valiant acts by regional rulers or chieftains have been documented in history. Unfortunately, many have also been forgotten. Today is October 23, and it was on this day in 1778 that Chennamma was born.

Rani Chennamma statue

Three decades before the 1857 mutiny, Rani Chennamma stood in defiance of the doctrine of lapse, an annexation policy of the British. The doctrine of lapse was maliciously used by Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India to the East India Company, to usurp the princely states.

She married Raja Mallasaraja of the Desai family at the age of 15. In 1824, Chennamma's husband is said to have died and after sometime their son too passed away. When a ruler dies without a direct heir to the kingdom, the doctrine of lapse comes into the picture. In simple words, the doctrine says that if a ruler dies without a male heir then the princely status of the kingdom stands abolished which in other words means that the territory would be annexed into British India.

"Any Indian princely state under the suzerainty of the British East India Company (the dominant imperial power in the subcontinent), as a vassal state under the British subsidiary system, it would have its princely status abolished (and therefore annexed into British India) if the ruler was either "manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir," the doctrine states.

[Indian Railways passengers, cheer! Rani Chennamma Express is all set for a swanky upgrade!]

Following the death of her husband and son, Rani Chennamma adopted Shivalingappa in 1824 and made him the heir to the throne. The, however, was not acceptable to the East India Company. Rani Chennamma sent a letter to Mountstuart Elphinstone, Lieutenant-Governor of the Bombay Presidency pleading her cause, but the request was turned down, and war broke out.

The war and the capture of Rani Chennamma:

In the first round of war, during October 1824, British forces lost heavily and St John Thackeray, collector and political agent, was killed in the war. Amatur Balappa, a lieutenant of Chennamma, was mainly responsible for his killing and losses to British forces, according to Wikipedia. Two British officers, Sir Walter Elliot and Mr. Stevenson were also taken as hostages. Rani Chennamma released them with an understanding with Chaplin that the war would be terminated but Chaplin continued the war with more forces.

During the second assault, Subcollector of Solapur, Munro, nephew of Thomas Munro was killed. Rani Chennamma fought fiercely with the aid of her lieutenant, Sangolli Rayanna, but was ultimately captured and imprisoned at Bailhongal Fort, where she died on 2 February 1829, the Wikipedia's page on Chenamma says. Chennamma was also helped by her lieutenant Gurusiddappa in the war against British.

Sangolli Rayanna continued the guerrilla war to 1829, in vain, until his capture. He wanted to install the adopted boy Shivalingappa as the ruler of Kittur, but Sangolli Rayanna was caught and hanged. Shivalingappa was arrested by the British.

Chennamma's first victory and her legacy are still commemorated annually in Kitturu, during the Kitturu Utsava held from October 22-24.

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