Maharani Jind Kaur: The Warrior Queen Who Fought Back

Maharani Jind Kaur (1817 – 1863) was the beautiful, courageous and tragic wife of Ranjit Singh, the king of the Sikh Empire. The empire fell apart 10 years after his death and was annexed by the British, although she led many military campaigns fighting the colonization.

She was not militarily experienced, but she was brave and determined to retain Punjab’s sovereignty. After the British East Indian company won the First Anglo-Sikh War, they imprisoned Jind Kaur and took her nine year old son Duleep away from her.

Jind Kaur fiercely campaigned for Duleep’s rights as a regent, but the British Crown refused to recognize that he had any and reneged on the treaty they had made with her. They smeared her publicly as “the Messalina of the Punjab,” demonizing her as a “seductress” because she dared to oppose them. 

Duleep and his mother

Her son Duleep was taken to England and was kept under the watchful eye of the Queen Victoria, and was forced to convert from Sikhism to Christianity. Although the British tried to brainwash Duleep into rejecting his mother and her ideals, he missed her throughout his life and yearned to be re-united with her.

Jind Kaur managed to escape prison and hid out in Nepal, where the British envoys surveilled her as they suspected she still had ambitions to revive the fallen Sikh Empire. After 13 years of separation, the British finally allowed her to meet her son again and she died 2 and a half years later.

Jind Kaur did her best to undo the Anglicization of her son and to educate him about his heritage, and wanted the priceless Kohinoor diamond that the British had stolen from her late husband to be returned to Punjab and for her son to rule his father’s great empire once again. This never happened. The only consolation for Jind Kaur was that she was finally reunited with her son after thirteen years of separation from him.

Duleep had requested the Login family (who had housed him in his youth) to provide his mother a home in England. When Lady Login went to visit Jind Kaur, she described her as being aged by stress and suffering partial blindness, “yet the moment she grew interested and excited in a subject, unexpected gleams and glimpses through the haze of indifference and the torpor of advancing age revealed the shrewd and plotting brain of her, who had once been known as the ‘Messalina of the Punjab’.”

Duleep had also negotiated the return of his mother’s jewels, which made her overjoyed. Lady Login claimed that when she visited Jind Kaur after the jewelry’s return, “she forthwith decorated herself, and her attendants, with an assortment of the most wonderful necklaces and earrings, strings of lovely pearls and emeralds.”

Portrait of the Queen in England wearing her jewels, by George Richmond. The painting was sold in 2009 for £55,200

After a life of sorrow and struggle, Jind Kaur died at age 46 in England. The British government refused to allow Duleep to cremate his mother as per Sikh tradition since it was illegal in England. Her body remained in a Dissenters’ Chapel in a rural cemetery for a year until her son was allowed to returned to India to cremate her.

Unfortunately, none of Jind Kaur’s wishes were fulfilled. The Kohinoor diamond was never returned, Punjab would be ruled by the British until 1947, Duleep was only allowed to visit India in two tightly controlled visits, his body was buried in England with Christian burial rites against his wishes, and their royal bloodline eventually died out, just as the British monarchy hoped it would.

Although depressing, Jind Kaur’s story symbolizes Sikh bravery and she remains an inspirational figure in Punjab’s history and resistance of colonialism. She died with honor, never forgetting once that she was once, and would always be, a warrior queen.

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