Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Introducing Lakshmi Bai

Let me start by seconding Mata Hari's warm thank you to Grace O'Malley for creating a forum for us Grrrls to debate the compelling international law issues of the day.
This is also an opportunity for me to introduce Lakshmi Bai, the Rani (queen) of Jhansi, a princely state in Northern India. After her husband's death in 1853, the British moved to annex the territory she governed. When her negotiations with Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of British India, failed, Lakshmi Bai filed a lawsuit in London challenging the annexation. The British court denied her claim and ordered her to leave Jhansi fort, but Lakshmi Bai instead assembled a volunteer army, including women in her military training program. She and her army put up a strong defense, but the British eventually captured Jhansi. Lakshmi Bai continued to fight colonial rule, and was killed in battle defending the fortress city of Gwalior on June 17, 1858.
Lakshmi Bai is popularly viewed in India as an icon of anti-colonial resistance and female empowerment. But a recent book suggests that Bai may have been a reluctant objector to the British Raj whose initial opposition to colonial power came only at the behest of her angry subjects. This new historical perspective raises interesting questions of voice, inclusion, and elitism in international law. As international law scholars, our conceptual frameworks have been shaped by a system that may not represent a diverse range of gender, race, or sexual orientation identities. Can we, as insiders and elites, reconceive the field of international law to embrace a multiplicity of perspectives – crafting a truly international venture? Or will our position of relative advantage distance us from outsider voices? Perhaps Lakshmi Bai can inspire us to represent subjugated viewpoints against new forms of colonialism, and in the process, empower marginalized groups to take up new roles in international lawmaking. I look forward to hearing your perspective on these questions.


Mata Hari said...

Welcome Lakshmi Bai! I look forward to grappling with the questions you raise.

Grace O'Malley said...

Welcome, Lakshmi (or, to use my indingenous voice, Cead Mile Failte)! I too hope that we will continue to open space for more voices from all parts of our world.