Exploring the lives of two remarkable women who chose to enter a field of activity which, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was seen a male domain, this book brings to light how unusual circumstances catapulted Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi into the rebellion of 1857. Both of them sacrificed their lives trying to overthrow the British rule, which they considered to be alien and oppressive. Their resistance and their deaths are heroic and poignant.
The book captures the different trajectories of their lives and their struggles. In different but adjacent geographies these two women, both married into royal houses, decided to uphold traditions of ruling and culture that their husbands had established. These traditions had been subverted by the policies of Lord Dalhousie who had annexed both Awadh and Jhansi. While noting these similarities, it should be highlighted that Awadh was a large and sprawling kingdom with a long history whereas Jhansi was a small principality.
The rani and the begum never met, even though they were embroiled in the same struggle. It is the rebellion of 1857-58 that provides the context, which makes these two outstanding women feature in the same narrative. This book tells the story of two women in a rebellion.
The afterlives of the begum and the rani took on very different hues. The rani was made a nationalist icon: a woman on horseback with a raised sword, who died in battle. The begum was a relatively forgotten figure who did not get her due place in the roll call of honour. Revisiting the revolt of 1857 from a unique perspective and looking at their afterlives, the myths, this book attempts to set the record straight.
Looking at the revolt of 1857 from a different perspective, A Begum & A Rani is an act of retrieval.