Oct 8, 2007

Sultan Jahan’s Abdication

On 29th April 1926, while still away from Bhopal in London, Sultan Jahan informed the secretary of state for India, Lord Stamfordham, that she was abdicating as Begum of Bhopal in favor of her son, a decision that stupefied the British ministers. There was another flurry of legal controversy in the Viceroy’s Secretariat questioning the Begum’s right to abdicate as ruler of Bhopal. The Begum refused to accept, and the British eventually accepted on 17th May 1926 accepting Hamidullah as the Nawab. Meanwhile Habibullah left Bhopal for Poona, vowing never to return. There, he went to the dogs under the influence of assorted scoundrels who told him they could get the British decision reversed - for a price. Habibullah lost money, became an inveterate gambler who eventually fell under the spell of a prostitute called Nawab Jan whom he married.
On his return to Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan was recognized by the viceroy as the 13th Nawab of Bhopal in a durbar held on 29th June 1926. The drama of the Bhopal Succession case did not quite end with Sultan Jahan’s abdication. Soon it was recognized that the situation was fraught with the danger of Hamidullah being assassinated. The British, Begum and the new Nawab closed off this possibility by getting Hamidullah’s eldest daughter Abida Sultan recognized as heir apparent. This was accomplished after much controversy on 15th March 1928 almost two years after Hamidullah was recognized as ruler. Content Sultan Jahan hereafter dedicated herself to two objectives. The first was the molding of her eldest granddaughter Abida into a personality that would rule Bhopal in the manner of preceding Begums. The child was given a harsh apprenticeship in learning Quran’s Urdu translation besides Farsi, Hadith and English. She was encouraged to ride, shoot, swim, drive play all the manly sports like hockey, tennis, squash and go out big-game hunting. Sultan Jahan personally supervised construction of a house for the wedding gift of her beloved grand daughter named the Noor-Us Sabah (now a heritage hotel). The second objective of her life was crusade for the emancipation of Muslim women. After going about pleading her case in the highest offices of London and running a state without any difficulty, clad form head to tow in a burkha, she dramatically discarded purdah at the age of 70. giving a message to the Muslim women of India to follow her example.

(Video courtesy: www.britshpathe.com)

Shortly after , she underwent a gall-bladder surgery. The operation was not a success. As she lay dying on her bed in the palace her favorite granddaughter, Abida Sultan, sat grieving silently in a corner of the darkened room. The doctors had forbidden Sultan Jahan water and her lips were parched as she lay comatose in deathly silence. Sultan Jahan stirred but unable to speak beckoned her with her eyes. “Pani” (water) she whispered imploringly. Abida knew she was not allowed water but she also knew her “Sarkar Amman” was dying. She brought a cup of water to her beloved grandmother who sipped from it. Sultan Jahan blessed the child and closed her eyes, never to open them again.

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