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An Article on Begum Hazrat Mahal ....
Reproduced from :

Known Personalities of 1857 - I


Written by
                    : S. N. CHANDA

        Hazrat Mahal was a queen of the deposed Wajid Ali Shah. After the Indian victory at Chinhut on July 30, 1857, when Oudh's forces captured Lucknow, the royal insignia was borne with amazing courage by the Begum. She crowned her minor son, Brijis Qadar, as King and became his Regent.

        Unlike Rani Lakshmi Bai Jhansi, the Begum had a different beginning to her career she was brought up in a manner suitable only for a life of luxury and gay abandon. Her obvious place was in the royal harem of an extraordinary king, essentially a poet, musician and a connoisseur of beauty. William Howard Russell, in My Indian Mutiny Diary, wrote:

"The Sepoys, during the siege of the Residency, never came on as boldly as the Zamindari levies and nujeebs (irregulars). This Begum exhibits great energy and ability. She excited all Oudh to take up the interests of her son and the chiefs have sworn to be faithful to him . Will the Government treat these men as rebels or as honourable enemies ? The Begum declares undying war against us. It appears, from the energetic character of these Ranis and Begums, that they zenanas and harems a considerable amount of actual mental power and, at all events, become able intriguantes. Their contests for ascendancy over the minds of the men give vigour and acuteness to their intellect."

Head of Government

        Before enthroning Brijis Qadar, the victorious soldiers had approached other Begums of Wajid Ali Shah (then a captive at Calcutta) to provide them their King None of them ventured to come forward. Begum Hazrat Mahal readily consented to crown her ten-year-old son, Birjis Qadar, as King.

        The Begum headed a government with top rebel leaders in key positions, under whose banner the different sections of the soldiers to form a united front. For about ten months the revolutionary government held the city of Lucknow.

        During all these operations the Begum was obviously the Supreme Commander. Under the seal of King Brijis Qadar, she issued proclamations to the people in general, and to the Zamindars and Taluqdars in particular, to unite under the banner of the new government to fight the English. She was in direct correspondence with Nana Saheb and with some of the noble and time honoured Taluqdar and zamindar families, who actively participated in the investiture of the Residency and later in the battles of Lucknow. Amoung her important associates were Raja Beni Madho Bakhsh of Baiswara, Raja Dig Bijai Singh of Mahona, Khan Ali Khan of Shahjehanpur, Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah of Fyzabad, Raja Man Singh and Raja Jaylal Singh.

        To fortify Lucknow against advancing relief forces of the English, she sanctioned five lakhs of rupees to "have a wall built around the city". When she was informed that the English had purchased the friendship of Rana Jung Bahadur of Nepal with the promise of Gorakhpur and a share of Oudh she immediately made the Rana a counter-offer of "Gorakhpur. Azamgurh, Arrah, Chupra and the province of Banaras, if he would unite with her". She contacted the officers of the Indian regiments serving the English at Kanpur and settled with them that, when they were to face the begum's forces, "the regiments should fire blank ammunitions" and afterwards "turn upon the Europeans". On February 25, 1858, she appeared in the field on elephant back to supervise defence operation.

        After the British capture of Lucknow, the Begum was listed by the English as No.1 of tbe enemies still at large. From Lucknow she retired with a large following across the river Ghagra and posted herself in the fort of Baundi in Bahraich district. A correspondent of the Government reported: "...a force is encamped on all sides of the fort, numbering about 15,000 or 16,000, including followers. Among these there are 1,500 cavalry and 500 mutineer sepoys, the rest are nujeebs and followers."

       While the English were busy in re-establishing their authority in Lucknow, the Begum once again succeeded in stirring the rest of Oudh in rebellion. In 1858, there were sporadic outbursts in different area of Oudh where the English experience some of the toughest encounters.

       After Queen Victoria's Proclamation, the English wanted to win the Begum over by offers of royal clemency and even a pension. The Begum replied with a counter proclamation under the seal of King Brijis Qadar, warning the people of Oudh not to be misled by false promises. The Begum's Proclamation, as it is called, 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 Hindostan; 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 a small offence, committed through ignorance, they never forgive... Therefore we, the ever abiding government, parents of the people of Oudh, with great consideration put forth the present Proclamation in order that the real object of the chief points may be exposed and our subjects be placed on their guard."

        The Begum was determined not to fall into the hands of the English. Leaving the fort of Baudi in December 1858, she wandered in the dense jungle of the sub-Himalayan terai. Accompanied by a few faithful, "half-armed, half-fed and without artillery". she continued to elude the English. Ultimately she 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.

       The Begum died in 1874 at Kathmandu.

From the Begum's Proclamation

       The Begum's Proclamation in reply to Queen Victoria's refuses the pious professions of the English. Its criticism of Victoria's statement on freedom of religion reads :

        "In the proclamation it is written that "Christian religion is true, but no other creed will be oppressed, and that the laws will be observed towards all". What has the administration of justice to do with the truth or falsehood of a religion? That religion is true which acknowledges One God and no other. To eat pigs and drink wine, to bite greased cartridges and to mix pig's fat with flour and sweetmeats, to destroy Hindu and Mussulman places of worship on pretence of making roads.... ..... to institute English schools and send clergymen into the streets to preach while the shrines of Hindus and Mussulmans are entirely neglected - with all this, how can the people believe that religion will not be interfered with? The rebellion began with religion. And for religion millions of men have been killed. Let not our subjects be deceived; thousands were deprived of their religion in the North-West and thousands preferred death by hanging rather than abandon their faith".

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