Kanpur played a major role in the revolt of 1857. When Nana Sahib appealed to both Hindus and Muslims to unite for the freedom struggle, Azizan Bai, a courtesan, also participated in it. During the uprising of 1857, she helped in gathering information about the Britishers and passed it on to the freedom fighters. Although she had a significant role to play in the freedom struggle, not many people know about her contributions.

Early Life: 

Azizan was a born in 1832 in Lucknow. Her mother, a courtesan, died when Azizan was very young. After her mother’s demise, she was raised in the house of a courtesan at Satarangi Mahal in Lucknow. She later moved to Kanpur and lived in Lurkee Mahil in Umrao Begum’s house. There is no recorded reason in the history of why she moved to Kanpur but it is mostly said that it was a personal independence that she sought which convinced her to move cities.

Role in the Freedom struggle:

Many sepoys who were part of 2nd cavalry used to come to Azizan’s house. Her house became a meeting point of soldiers. She is said to have been close to a sepoy of the 2nd cavalry – Shamsuddin Khan – who played a key role in the rebellion. Two days before the revolt of 1857, Shamsuddin had visited her place and informed her that Nana Sahib would become the chief in one or two days and that the house would be filled with gold mohurs.

Azizan knew how to use arms and also taught it to other women. She used to dress in male attire, decorated with medals and rode on horses armed with pistols. She had formed a group of women who cheered for the men and took care of the wounded. She also helped in collecting and distributing arms and ammunition to the soldiers. In fact, Azizan had made her headquarters in one of the gun batteries in the north of Wheeler’s entrenchment which fired shots and shells almost from the first day of the siege. For the entire duration when Wheeler’s entrenchment was under siege, she stayed put with the soldiers. Amid heavy firing, she was always armed with pistols.

As per the accounts available, Nana Sahib seems to have known Azizan . She might have had a role to play in the Rebellion too. Azizan was also present when the flag was raised in Kanpur to celebrate the initial victory of Nana Sahib.

Also Read: 70 WOMEN FREEDOM FIGHTERS OF INDIA

Death: 

Azizan who is considered to be one of the key conspirators of the revolt was caught by the Britishers and was taken to General Havelock. He tried to convince her to confess to her crimes saying that she would be forgiven for her role in the revolt. However, she declined the offer of the General and preferred martyrdom. She still lives in the memory of people in Kanpur. Till date, people are demanding that one of the roads in the city should be named after her.

Also Read: Gulab Kaur: The woman who distributed arms in Ghadar movement while posing as a journalist

As India celebrates 70 years of independence, we bring you stories of women who were part of the Indian Independence Struggle. You might have heard about some of them but most do not find a mention in our history books or popular memory. These were ordinary women from all walks of life who managed to make extraordinary contributions to the cause of freedom.  This series is our tribute to these women and their exemplary work. We bring you 70 stories of courage and valour over the next one week leading up to 15th August 2017. Write to us, if you have any names to add to this list. Email: inuthsocial@indianexpress.com

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