Over the past few days, you must have seen reports that the state education department in Maharashtra has decided that the history of the Mughals is irrelevant for high school students under the state board. They’ve decided to shorten entire chapters on Mughal history to a single chapter, in favour of dedicating more space in school textbooks to the Maratha Empire and Chhatrapati Shivaji.
Many people have been quick to point out that this sounds like an attempt to erase Muslim history from the minds of a new generation of students. And when Mughal history is erased from school textbooks, it isn’t just men like Akbar who might be forgotten, but a number of powerful and influential Mughal women who will be erased from memory and the public imagination too.
Like Aisan Daulat Begum, the grandmother of the first Mughal emperor, Babur. Babur was 11 years old when his father died, leaving him unprotected and under attack from various family members, who wanted to take over his inherited principality of Farghana. Aisan guided and protected Babur from that early age, and it’s said that real administrative and control was in her hands. Years later, she also saved him from being attacked by the army of a rival ruler Hasan-i-Yaqub, who was trying to put Babur’s younger brother Jahangir Mirza on the throne.
Then there’s Gulbadan Begum, the author of Ahwal Humayun Padshah Jamah Kardom Gulbadan Begum bint Babur Padshah amma Akbar Padshah, which those who studied Mughal history in school may remember as the Humayun Nama. It’s the account of the life of Humayun, Gulbadan Begum’s half-brother. She wrote a factual account of her memories of Humayun, without embellishment, in simple Persian. Her unique position allowed for the Humayun Nama to chronicle Humayun’s rule and also provide an insight into life in the Mughal women’s quarters. The Humayun Nama is the only surviving piece of writing authored by female Mughal royalty in the 16th century.
Nur Jahan was married to a Persian soldier when Emperor Jehangir fell in love with her. Three years after the death of her husband, she married Jehangir, and quickly became the brains behind Jehangir’s rule. Historians say she was the real power behind the throne for 15 years, and is the only Mughal empress to have coinage made in her name. Mumtaz Mahal, who is Nur Jahan’s niece, was the chief consort of Shah Jahan, and the Taj Mahal was built as a monument of Shah Jahan’s undying love for her.
The new syllabus also erases Razia Sultana, the only woman to ever rule the Delhi Sultanate. She was the daughter of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, who started out as a slave and ended up as the Sultan of Delhi. Iltutmish had actually been grooming his elder son to take over the throne after him, but when the time came to name an heir, he found that all his sons were by and large useless and unfit to rule the kingdom, so he named his competent daughter Razia as his successor. Upon his death, though, his son Rukn-ud-din Firuz took over the throne, handed over administrative powers to his father’s widow, and committed himself to a life of debauchery. He was soon assassinated, and the nobility allowed Razia Sultana to take over the throne. She’s known for being a ruler who liked to mingle with her subjects, and it’s said that she protected the cultures of all her citizens across religious faiths.
It’s such a pity then that high school students will miss out on badass Mughal women but till then we leave you with this wonderful Mughal art that depicts women in science and academia, just killin’ it.