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The Royal Insignia
An Article on Begum Hazrat Mahal ....
Reproduced from :

Begum Hazrat Mahal
Freedom Fighter par excellence

Radiance Weekly
31, August - 6, September, 2003,
New Delhi 23.6.1985

NAYEEM RAZA digs out the historical records and recreates the inspiring image of Begum Hazrat Mahal, a freedom fighter par excellence who left her indelible mark on the annals of Indian Freedom Struggle because of her devotion to the cause of freedom, courage and patriotism.

        There were hundreds of unknown Muslim women who laid down their lives for the cause of their motherland. From the date of the Sepoy Mutiny (June 30, 1857) at Chinhut near Lucknow till the last phase of the rebellion of 1857-58, the revolutionary history of Awadh was overshadowed by a woman who was in no respect less illustrious than the Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi. She was Hazrat Mahal, a Begum of the deposed King Wajid Ali Shah.

        The King gave her the title of Iftikhar-un-Nisa (the Pride of all Women) at the time of marriage. After her only child Birjis Quder was born, her husband gave her the title of Hazrat Mahal.

        Born in a poor family, Muhammadi Khanum (her pre-marital name) was an astute politician. On February 7, 1856 came a bolt from the blue on that land. The greed of Lord Dalhousie swallowed up the happy kingdom overnight. The King Wajid Ali Shah, and with him the peace of Awadh, was removed.

        Prince Birjis Quder, then 14 years old, was crowned the King of Awadh on July 5, 1857. Hazrat Mahal herself assumed charge as his guardian and regent. She inspired the people of Awadh along with Maulvi Ahmad Shah so much that the toughest efforts had to be made by the British to subdue Lucknow and Awadh.

        In the early stages of the War of 1857 when British rule from Awadh had overnight vanished like a dream, "Gen. Outram offered to restore vast territiories of Shuja-ud-daulah's time to King Birjis in lieu of peace". This obviously meant that the rest of India should go to the English with the help of the forces of Awadh. Hazrat Mahal simply refused to be selfish, to play dirty, and to betray the greater cause of Indian freedom.

        After the capture of Lucknow the Begum was listed by the English as No. 1 of the enemies still at large. From Lucknow she retired with a large following across the River Ghaghra and posted herself in the Fort of Bundi, in Bahraich district. She fortified her stronghold with heavy guns and armed men.

        It was her sincerity of purpose, that attracted around Begum Hazrat Mahal, over one and a half lakhs of rebel sepoys and native soldiers - an army numerically more than what any other leader brought against the English anywhere. This army consisted mainly of the people of Awadh and most of them were retained by the Rajas, Jagirdars and Talukdars who were the vassals during the kingdom and allies of Hazrat Mahal in the freedom struggle. Historians are surprised to find that the revenues and taxes which used to be paid to previous Rulers of Awadh after much harassment and bloodshed, were paid to Hazrat Mahal promptly by the same landholders. And the love and esteem in which the Queen Mother and the young last King of Awadh, Birjis Quder, were held, bellied the theory of those who justified the annexation of Awadh on grounds of unpopularity of the ruling family.

        While the English were busy in re-establishing their authority in Lucknow, the Begum once again succeeded in stirring the rest of Awadh to rebellion. In fact, 1858 saw a series of sporadic outbursts in different areas of Awadh, and the English experienced some of the toughest encounters of the rebellion. The heroes were, mainly and obviously the taluqdars and zamindars of Awadh, and there is enough evidence on record to show their attachment to the Begum.

Says Howard Russel in his My Indian Mutiny Diary of Hazrat Mahal:


        "She was a woman of great energy and ability. She has excited all Awadh to take up the interests of her son, and the chiefs have sworn to be faithful to him. The Begum declares undying war against us; and in the circumstances of the annexation of the kingdom, the concealment and suppression of the Treaty, the apparent ingratitude to the family for money lent, and aid given at the most critical times, has many grounds for her indignant rhetoric."

       

        The Begum's Proclamation stated: "At this time certain weak-minded, foolish people, have spread a report that the English have forgiven the faults and crimes of the people of Hindustan. This appears very astonishing, for it is the unvarying custom of the English never to forgive a fault, be it great or small, so much so, that if a small offence be committed through ignorance or negligence they never forgive itů.. Therefore we, the ever-abiding government, parents of the people of Awadh, with great consideration, put forth the present proclamation, in order that the real object of the chief points may be exposed, and our subjects placed on their guard."

        In the battle of Musabagh, Hazrat Mahal personally led 9,000 troops against the English invaders. When her palace at Kaiserbagh was being stormed and five thousand faithfuls turned traitors, she struck to her guns like a man. Hazrat Mahal was the last leader to retreat when the Indian forces were finally defeated in Lucknow on March 18, 1858.

        Vanquished though she was, the Begum remained faithful to her cause to the last and maintained a never failing resolution of purpose. She was determined not to fall into the hands of the English; and leaving the Fort of Baundi in December, 1858, she wandered in the dense jungle of the sub-Himalayan spur with a handful of faithful soldiers, "half-armed, half-fed and without artillery". Eluding the English, she ultimately crossed over to Nepal (some time in the last quarter of 1859), where she was given refuge by the King of Nepal despite English protests.

        On defeat Hazrat Mahal was offered the principality of Lucknow and a large annuity. The proud queen spurned the offer with open derision. Lastly, through an European artist who went for a portrait of Birjis Quder to their residence in Nepal the Governor-General offered a British pension of fifteen lakh rupees to Birjis Quder and five lakh to Hazrat Mahal if they returned home". But Hazrat Mahal refused. She could not countenance returning to her own land as a subject and slave in chains of gold and silver.

        Only after 16 years when she died in Kathmandu in 1874 there was not enough money to spare for even a modest mausoleum on her grave. Hazrat Mahal had spent her entire wealth in sustaining the vast number of Indian refuges in Nepal. Considering that she had no income and no hope of an income for generations to come for herself or her young son Birjis. Hazrat Mahal's sense of supreme sacrifice, generosity, valour and patriotism in this regard speaks volumes of her character, upbringing and greatness of the woman that she was.

        A girl from a poor family, she rose to the height of being a Queen and still higher to a place in history where her selfless devotion to the cause of freedom, her feminine courage, her patriotism, her example of national pride shall ever remain resplendent with hundred inspiring themes. "Iftikhar-un-Nisa" was really the "Pride of all Women".

        Eminent English and Indian historians are eloquent about the military and administrative ability of Hazrat Mahal. To defy the English with success, to wrest the land from them and hold for almost a year, to defeat them in many battles, and to successfully and elegantly elude their hunting armies on defeat were no mean achievements. By doing these, Hazrat Mahal did what no other woman, or even man, could do in the great though unsuccessful Revolution of 1857.

        Besides Begum Hazrat Mahal we come across the names of a lot of Muslim women who actively participated in the Freedom Struggle. Prominent among them are : Begum Zeenat Mahal (wife of Bahadar Shah Zafar), Begum Azeezun, Begum Habeeba, Begum Raheema, Asghari Begum, Abadi Bano Begum, Kudeeram Ki Deedi, Razia Khatoon, Shaheed Umar Bibi, Muneera Begum, Begum Jafar Ali Khan, Zahida Khatoon Sherwani, Ismath Ara Begum, Fatima Begum, Begum sisters of Delhi, Hameeda Tayabji, Begum Mohammad Alam, Ameena Taybji, Begum Nishatunnisa Mohani, Majeeda Haseena Begum, Shamshunnisa Ansari, Zulekha Begum, Sufia Som, Rabia Bi, Amjadi Begum, Shafazunnisa Begum, Fatima Tatab Alik Zubeda Begum Dawoodi, Syed Kaniz Begum, Sakina Khatun, Sadath Bano Kichloo, Majida Bano, Begum Rehana Taybji, Khurshid Khaja, Bibi Amtussalam, Hazra Apa, Sultana Hayat Ansari, Padamshree Kulsum, Johra Ansari, Khatoon Bibi, Hazar Bibi, Bakhtavar Mayee, Sathiya Abdul Wajid, Fatima Begum, Nafis Ayesha Begum.


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