In Indian history, we find only a few women actively participating in government affairs. In the early medieval Muslim period Razia was a solitarywoman who conducted the affairs of government for a short time but she suffered early death mainly because of the weakness of her sex. During the Mughal period the inmates of the Emperor's harem lived in seclusion excepting Nur Jahan. And in later times, Rani of Jhansi flashed into prominence for a while, during the uprising of 1857. But, strange enough. the short span of Sikh history is replete with the remarkable role of Sikh women of princely families. Guru Nanak had preached quality and respect for womenfolk and the Guru's observations in favour of women went a long way in getting them an honourble status and share in the various fields of life.
The Sikh ranis (queens) as and when an occasion arose, actively participated in state affairs. They occasionally took charge of state administration and their contribution. to the Sikh polity as rulers. regents, administrators and advisers has been creditable indeed. "The Sikh ladies ruled with vigour and diplomacy," says General Gordon
In the words of William Francklin, "Instances indeed, have not unfrequently occurred, in which they (women) have actually taken up arms to defend their habitations, from the desultory attacks of the enemy, and throughout the contest, behaved themselves with an intrepidity of spirit, highly praiseworthy
To quote Griffin, the Sikh women "have on occasions shown themselves the equals of men in wisdom and administrative ability." Usually the dowager ranis were up to commendable works. A passing reference of the role of some of them towards the end of the eighteenth century and in the first half of the nineteenth century may not be out of place here. Rani Sada Kaur, widow of Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh Kanaihya and mother-in-law of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was well versed in the affairs of the state and commanded her soldiers in the battle-field. She was a very shrewd lady with a thorough grasp of statecraft. Mai Desan, the widow of Charhat Singh Sukarchakia, was a great administrator, an experienced and a wise diplomat who conducted the civil and military affairs dexterously. Rattan Kaur, the widow of Tara Singh Ghaiba, was a brave and an able lady who kept the Lahore Durbar forces at bay for a sufficient time till the gate-keepers were bribed by the Lahore army. Mai Sukhan, the widow of Gulab Singh Bhangi, strongly defended the town of Amritsar against Ranjit Singh for some time. Dharam Kaur, wife of Dal Singh of Akalgarh, after her husband's imprisonment by Ranjit Singh, mounted guns on the walls of her fort and fought against the Durbar forces. She was a brave and a wise lady who was able, for some time, to foil the designs of the Lahore ruler on her territory.
After Sardar Baghel Singh's death in 1802, his two widows, Ram Kaur and Rattan Kaur, looked after their territories very well. Ram Kaur, the elder Sardarni, maintained her control over the district of Hoshiarpur which provided her a revenue of two lakh ruprees and Sardarni Rattan Kaur kept Chhalondi in her possession, fetching her an annual revenue of three lakh rupees. She administered her territory efficiently. Similarly, Rani Chand Kaur, widow of Maharaja Kharak Singh, and Rani Jindan, widow of Ranjit Singh, played important roles in the Lahore Durbar polity.
From the Patiala house also many names like that of Rani Fato, wife of Baba Ala Singh,Rani Ranjinder Kaur, Rani Aus Kaur and Rani Sahib Kaur may be mentioned. In the words of Lepel Griffin. "Rani Rajinder (Kaur) was one of the most remarkable women of her age. she possessed all the virtues which men pretend are their ownócourage perseverance and sagacityówithout mixture of weakness which men attribute to women."'9 Sahib Kaur was proclaimed as Prime Minister of Patiala at the age of 18. She managed the affairs, both in office and in the battle-field, wonderfully well. Later, when her husband, Jaimal Singh Kanaiyha, was imprisoned by his cousin, Fateh Singh, she hastened to Fatehgarh at the head of a strong force and got her husband released. In 1794, when the commander of the Maratha forces coming northwards sent a message to Sahib Kaur of Patiala house for submission, she preferred to settle the issue in the field of battle. Hurriedly sheformed a league of the neighbouring chiefs, Bhag Singh of Jind, Bhanga Singh and Mehtab Singh of Thanesar, and rushed forth to check the advance of the Marathas- The two armies came to Frips near Ambala She infused new spirit in her disheartened soldiers, led a surprise night attack on the Marathas. In the words of John J. Pool, "With mingled feelings of fear and respect they (Marathas) turned their forces homeward and gave up the expedition. Thus, Patiala was saved by the skill and daring of Rani Sahib Kaur." Rani Desa of Nabha and Daya Kaur of Ambala's role, in shaping the destinies of their territories was no less noteworthy. Daya Kaur, wife of Gurbakhsh Singh, ruler of Ambala, succeeded to her husband after his death. In the words of Lepel Griffin, "She was an excellent ruler and her estate was one of the best managed in the protected territory.'' These ladies were well known for their administrative acumen, grasp of political situations, and dexterity in handling arms and organising defence.