The 2009 movie "Rebel Queen" shares the incredible tale of the last Sikh ruler of Lahore, a brave Maharani who fought two wars against British rule in India. She continues to be a source of inspiration for young Asian women today.

 Maharani Jindan 

 In 1861, Maharani Jindan Kaur, the last Sikh queen of Lahore, strolls through Kensington Gardens in London. She wears traditional clothes with a crinoline and has emeralds and pearls under her bonnet. Known for her defiance against the British empire, Jindan Kaur spent much of her life fighting against the unfair takeover of  Punjab, a vast region from the Khyber Pass to Kashmir. A film titled "Rebel Queen," depicting her life, premiered at the International Sikh Film Festival in New York and was shown in the UK in 2009. Jindan Kaur passed away in 1863 and was laid to rest in west London.

 Her rebellion began when her husband, the last Maharaja of the Punjab, died in 1839. The British then attempted to take control of the kingdom from her infant son, Duleep Singh. As the regent, Jindan fought two unsuccessful wars against the British, resulting in the annexation of the Punjab. Despite her lack of military experience and young age (in her early 20s), Jindan was a strong leader. British historian Peter Bance praises her as a "very gutsy woman" who bravely resisted the British and actively managed the affairs of Punjab.

 Professor Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh of Colby College, Maine, US, says: "She was remarkable in how she discarded sati and purdah, dominant at the time, and led the courts, had meetings with chief ministers and the armies. All of them were taking her counsel."

 Christy Campbell, author of The Maharajah's Box, a book about the Maharani's son, Duleep, says Jindan was "one of the most remarkable characters of 19th-century history, let alone Indian or Sikh history". This is despite the fact that much of what is known about her is "through the words of the British, who regarded her as a threat to their power in India and therefore did their best to make her reputation as bad as possible".

 Strong Queen Jindan standing against oppressors 

 The Maharani posed a big challenge to British rule in India. They tried to ruin her reputation by calling her the "Messalina of the Punjab," portraying her as a rebellious seductress. Since she didn't cooperate and had a strong influence on Duleep, the British feared an uprising among the Punjabi people. As a result, they chose to separate the mother and son.

 Nine-year-old Duleep was taken to England, converted to Christianity, and lived as an English gentleman with Queen Victoria as a friend. Meanwhile, Maharani Jindan faced adversity, was dragged from Lahore's court, imprisoned in Sheikhupura and then Chunar Fort in Uttar Pradesh.

 Despite imprisonment, she cleverly disguised herself as a servant and escaped, traversing 800 miles of forests to find refuge in Nepal. In a letter to the British, she claimed her escape was "magic." Unfortunately, she couldn't reclaim the kingdom for her son. However, they reunited years later, prompting the Maharajah to revert to Sikhism, undoing British attempts to "brainwash" him.

 Rebel Queen-The film 

 Bicky Singh, an American entrepreneur, was inspired by the compelling story of Jindan, prompting him to invest approximately $25,000 (£15,500) in the production of Rebel Queen. The film, directed by Michael Singh, a filmmaker from California, highlights the dramatic and tragic aspects of Jindan's life. Described as a heroic figure, her story is well-documented by the British, providing a unique perspective on Sikh history, especially considering the limited records of women in that context.

 Jindan's son's correspondence with Queen Victoria adds an interesting dimension, making the narrative more relatable for casual viewers. Michael Singh asserts that Jindan symbolizes both indignation and injustice, as well as the Sikhs' inability to preserve their kingdom. He describes her as an iconic figure, noting that she was the last to defy the British, marking a pivotal moment in history.

 Many talented South Asian female artists, such as Gurinder Chadha, Meera Syal, and Shazia Mirza, have highlighted the challenges of British Asian identity. While the struggles of displacement are crucial to document, there is a notable lack of narratives like Maharani Jindan that delve into experiences predating the challenges faced by families grappling with being Asian in a predominantly white society.

 In contemplating my own story, should I begin with my parents' immigration to England in the 1970s? Or could drawing inspiration from Maharani Jindan's experiences offer insights to make sense of my present-day life? Exploring historical perspectives can provide a unique lens through which to understand the complexities of identity and assimilation.

 In England, many people tend to associate South Asian women with troubling issues like "honour" killings, forced marriages, domestic violence, and foeticide. While these are serious problems that we must address, positive stories of Asian women's achievements, like those recognized by the Asian Women of Achievement awards, often don't get enough attention in the media, art, or history books. This lack of representation leaves young British Punjabi Sikh or South Asian girls with limited aspirational role models. It's essential to highlight and celebrate the achievements of these women to provide more positive role models for the next generation.

 Artists Rabindra and Amrit Singh say: "We definitely need to . . . counter the negative stereotyping that so many of us grew up with . . . [This will come] from a better knowledge and pride in who we are, which involves looking to the exemplary, too often hidden figures in our history."

 There are many unsung heroines whose stories remain largely unexplored. Take Mai Bhago, a dedicated warrior saint in Sikhism during the 1700s. She fearlessly led men into battle as part of Guru Gobind Singh Ji's army. Another remarkable figure is Bibi Dalair Kaur, who in the 17th century, rallied 100 women Sikh soldiers to combat the Mughals.

 These inspirational stories extend beyond Sikhism and Punjabis. Ayesha (Aishah), the wife of Prophet Muhammad, boldly led an army against Khalif Ali in the early days of Islam, asserting her late husband's authority. In a different realm, Muslim writer Rokeya Hossain broke barriers by penning "Sultana's Dream" in 1905. This science-fiction narrative depicted a female utopia in Bangladesh, where women held sway in the public sphere. These narratives highlight the diverse and empowering tales of women across different cultures and eras.

 Lakshmibai of Jhansi, a prominent Hindu queen and renowned female warrior in India, gained recognition for her fiery spirit in resisting British rule. While initially acknowledged in Indian history books, her fame skyrocketed through media coverage. Now, there's a wish that a similar recognition will be achieved by Jindan Kaur, who also played a significant role in her time.

 *Based on an article by Herpreet Kaur Grewal, published on 3rd January 2011 in The Guardian


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