This concludes Dr. Rampoldi’s series on the often overlooked women leaders of Muslim history.
Üçok’s research about female rulers in Muslim countries concludes with this chapter about three female rulers in the Moslem State of Bhopal in India founded by Dost Mohammed Khan, an Afghan adventurer in the service of the Turkish Indian King Evrengizb. After Evrengizb’s death, he declared his independence on the territories he had obtained as a reward for his services or through diplomacy.
When he died in 1740, aged 66, his two sons and three grandsons were too incompetent or too young, and the administration of the country was taken over by Hindu viziers at his court.
During the reign of Dost Mohammed’s third grandson, who died in 1778, close relations were established between Britain and Bhopal, which continued uninterrupted.
Towards the end of the XVIII century, Bhopal was attacked by Pinzara raiding parties; the Marathas, who were invited to put an end to these pillaging expeditions, refused to leave the country when their mission was completed. In 1807-9 the Vizier Mohammed Khan, the navvab’s nephew, recovered most of the territory lost to the Marathas, and with the help of Britain saved the state of Bhopal from collapse.
Mohammed died in 1816 after sitting on the Bhopal throne for 9 years, and was succeeded by Nazır Mohammed Khan, whose wife was Kutsiye Begum, daughter of the former king Gavs Mohammed Khan. Nazar Mohammed Khan signed a treaty with Britain whereby in return for 300 infantry and 600 cavalry to be put in the service of the British army, its sovereignty was guaranteed.
When he died three years later, his wife Kutsiye Begum was made regent as his daughter Skandar Begum was still a minor. Kutsiye Begum did all that lay in her power to prolong her period of regency, going so far as to delay the wedding of her daughter; she was reluctant to relinquish the control of the state even after the wedding. This led the bridegroom, Djihanghir Mohammed, nephew of Nazar Mohammed, to open revolt; but he was defeated and surrounded in a fort by his mother-in-law’s and his wife’s soldiers.
Through the intercession of Britain in 1837, the government was put in the hands of Djihanghir Mohammed, and Kutsiye Begum was sent into retirement. After Mohammed’s death, his wife Skandar Begum came on the throne and ruled the country with great success until 1868.
Being a woman of rare administrative ability, she won the respect and admiration of her subjects and her achievements became models for later administrators. Within six years she paid off all the debts of the state, improved the system of taxation, established close relations with large landowners and influential towns-people. Among the various reforms she accomplished, she also organised the police force. She used to go out among the people dressed as a man. She appointed her daughter Shah Djihan Begum as her successor. In comparison with Aceh, we see the active role of these female rulers in Bhopal.
During the Sepoy uprising in 1857, she acted with a courage which was rare even in a man, crushed the revolt, severely punished the culprits and restored order in her domain. Because of the protection she gave to British officers, Britain helped her to extend the borders of her country.
She went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1864 and wrote a book about her impressions of the journey. The date of her death is 1868.
The next female ruler in Bhopal was Skandar Begum’s daughter Shah Djihan Begum, who succeeded to the throne under the name of Nevvab Shah Djihan Begum. When her first husband died in 1867, she continued as administrator for a time, but retired from active work after marrying Mohammed Sıddîk Hasan Khan, having proved that she was as capable a woman as her mother.
Shah Djihan died on 16 June 1901 and her daughter Sultan Djihan ascended to the throne as the sole heir. She had been married since 1874 and was another talented woman with many interests, such as education, medical aid to women, agriculture and industry.
Sultan Djihan Begum visited Europe with her son in 1911 and 1925, and on her first visit she met Abdulhamid II, and on her second visit Mehmed Reshad V.
On 18th May 1926, she abdicated in favour of her son; and in 1927 the British government confirmed the right of women to ascend to the throne when there was no male heir.
Sultan Djihan Begum, another female sovereign dispersed through the labyrinth of history, died on 18th May 1930.
This series is based on “Female Sovereigns in Islamic States.” You can find it on Amazon here.
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