08 July 2007

Begum Hazrat Mahal - a hero of The Great Mutiny

I was only going to make one link to today's issue of Dawn, but found this one, a column by Jawed Naqvi, simply irresistible. Naqvi seems to be Dawn's expert on Indian issues of interest to Anglophone Pakistanis.

In today's essay he discusses the life of a great, and much neglected, hero of the revolt against English rule usually called The Great Mutiny in 1857. One reason this outstanding fighter for independence may be neglected is that she is a female, the Begum Hazrat Mahal. Read the whole thing to see what Naqvi says about her, but here is a small taste:

She was born at a time and brought up in a manner suitable only for a life of gay abandon. Her obvious place was in the royal harem of the extraordinary King Wajid Ali Shah, essentially a poet par excellence and a connoisseur of beauty. William Howard Russell in his ‘My Indian Mutiny Diary’ writes: “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 has 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 the zenanas and harems (wield) 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.”

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