The Tamil Woman Warrior who Immolated Herself to Fight the British Raj

Kuyili, the commander in the army of Queen Velu Nachiyar may be the first suicide bomber in the history of Indian Independence.

When we talk about women freedom fighters, we often remember Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi. But nobody remembers Queen Velu Nachiyar from Tamil Nadu, or Kuyili, a commander in her army. Queen Velu Nachiyar fought valiantly against the British Raj after the death of her husband. And Kuyili, the commander in her army may be the first suicide bomber in the history of Indian Independence.

Despite their high preparedness, Velu Nachiyar’s army and weapons were not a match for the guns that the British carried. Their guns could kill people from a distance even before the combat began. Determined to protect her army in the battle, Kuyili volunteered to destroy the ammunition that the enemies had.

The ammunition was stored in a temple and only women were allowed to enter, assuming that they were harmless. Using this prejudice to their advantage, Kuyili, accompanied by the fellow women warriors of her regiment, entered the temple under the pretext of worshiping. All of them carried lamps filled with oil and passed unnoticed. Once inside, all the women came together and poured the oil they had brought on Kuyili.

Drenched in oil, Kuyili entered the storehouse filled with ammunition and set herself on fire. Eventually, the Queen’s army fought and won the battle and Kuyili went on to become the first woman martyr to willingly sacrifice her own life for India’s freedom struggle.

Centuries later, in 2008, a postage stamp was released in the Queen’s name. Kuyili was promised a memorial that was never built.

Credit: HerStory

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