Tribulations of Roshanara & Zeb-un-Nissa –the Royal Princesses & the present situation
By : Ms.Bhakti Sethi(Pasrija)
“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right”-Rosa Parks
Two Characters from the pages of History which fascinated as well as appalled me are Jahanara and Roshanara-the Royal Mughal Princesses. They were the daughters of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan & his Chief Consort Empress Mumtaj Mahal.I also came across story of another Mughal princess Zeb-un-Nissa, daughter of emperor Aurangzeb. All these ladies were beautiful, intelligent and extra ordinary. They were gifted poetesses. They were also bestowed with rich literary knowledge, religious and Sufi inclination, war & sporting skills and training in housekeeping too. The royal palace was a hub of various warring and political strategies that time & all these ladies had a great exposure to ministerial & war planning roles. Jahanara used to frequently advice her father who entrusted her with charge of the Imperial Seal. During the war of succession Jahanara supported her brother Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Shah Jahan who was defeated and later on killed by Aurangzeb. Jahanara was greately attracted towards Sufism. She was a disciple of Mullah Shah Badakhshi, who initiated her into the Qadiriyya Sufi order in 1641.Later she wrote a biography of Khwaza Moinuddin Chishti, the founder of the Chishtiyah order in India, titled Mu’nis al-Arwāḥ, as well as a biography of Mullah Shah, titled Risālah-i Ṣāḥibīyah, in which she also described her initiation by him. Her biography of Moinuddin Chishti is highly regarded for its judgment and literary quality. In it she regarded him as having initiated her spiritually four centuries after his death, described her pilgrimage to Ajmer and spoke of herself as a faqīrah to signify her vocation as a Sufi woman.
Roshanara was a robust lady and an intelligent strategist who masterminded her brother Aurangzeb’s succession to the royal Mughal Throne and helped him in winning the family feud to throne. After Aurangzeb’s coronation, she was in power and managed all the affairs of the palace.Later Aurangzeb’s daughter Zeb-un-Nissa succeeded in stepping in shoes of Roshanara Begum by manipulating the internal politics of the royal palace and ousting Roshanara successfully.
Aurangzeb’s daughter Zeb-un-Nissa composed brilliant poetic compositions which are even today in circulation. Her poignant compositions exude warmth of her benevolence, strength as well as sufferings.
However what intrigues me more is not their poetic or political skills but the fact that they were forced to spend a major part of their life in recluse.They had their own love interests but they were ordained not to get married due to the Farman(Dictate) running from the time of their Great Grandfather emperor Akbar. It is believed that Emperor Akbar was responsible for banning of marriage of Mughal Princesses.They were obliged to remain single since the time of Akbar so that their offspring would not make a challenge for the throne.
Another rumours emerge which say that if at all the mughal daughters had to get married, it could happen only within their close relatives and cousins. Whatever it may be, the irony is that nobody was ever bothered about a ‘woman’.
In one of her compositions Zeb-Un-Nissa described her plight as follows:
“I have spent all my life, and I have won nothing but sorrow, repentance, and the tears of unfulfilled desire”.
(From ‘The Diwan of Zeb-un-Nissa, the first fifty ghazals rendered from the Persian by Magan lal and Jessie Duncan Westbrook).
It is said that she was deeply religious & Sufi by heart, a complete contrast to her cold and orthodox father.
The fright and consternation in girls is further reflected from this instance-One day Zeb-un-Nissa was walking in the garden,and,moved by the beauty of the world around her exclaimed, “Four things are necessary to make me happy-wine and flowers and a running stream and the face of the Beloved.”
Again and again she recited the couplet; suddenly she came upon Aurenzeb, on a marble platform under a tree close by, wrapped in meditation. She was seized with fear, thinking he might have heard her profane words; but as if she has not noticed him, she went on chanting as before, but with the second line changed, “Four things are necessary for happiness-prayers and fasting and tears and repentance!”
It is also said that her lover Akil Khan was crucified- boiled alive in a large cooking vessel where he had hidden to escape the sight of Aurangzeb.
(Source: Article by L.Cranmer Byng & S.A.Kapadia on The Diwan of Zeb-un-Nissa)
Mughal emperors used to have a whole battalion of wives themselves but when it came to their own daughters, they became extremely ‘Paranoid’ and dictated their terms on the hapless ladies as they did not want any ‘outsider’ as a ‘claimant’ to the royal throne. Huhh!!An Emperor or his sons themselves could get any number of Muslim women, Rajput women or even a foreigner as wives but their own daughters had no choice. They were only on the mercy of their eligible cousins who could pick and chose them or leave them. Such was the plight and agony of the royal daughters. All know that Emperor Akbar married Jodha Bai, a Rajput princess. Not only this, he married numerous other Hindu and Muslim girls( most of them were daughters of the kings he defeated in war).His son Salim went on to marry many pretty girls from Hindu & Muslim families and also got married to his several cousins. His third wife was Princess Manmati, another Rajput girl.Noor Jahan was his 20th wife. Similar was the story of many Mughal Princes.
I wonder how could they lose sight of the fact that even boys born out of marriages with Rajput Girls by this measure contained half Hindu blood & then when this half hindu boy grew up and married a hindu,the kids born out of that wedlock would have 75% Hindu blood.Then why only boys were given the freedom to choose their life partners,whereas,the girls were not even considered a human being who also had emotions. It is said that many mughal girls remained unmarried because at times no eligible cousin was available or free to get married. And for many girls who got opportunity to get married, the marriage was an empty formality and in real the so called Husband did not even recognise them as he had number of wives with no time for most of them.
The Princesses like Jahanara, Roshanara and Zeb-Un-Nissa too lived a life filled with solitude and agony due to the Draconian rule of ‘Ban of marriage of Mughal girls to anyone else except first cousins’. It is said that Shah Jahan killed all his brothers, their sons and grandsons for sitting on the Royal Throne. No cousin was left in that generation to whom they could get married. The ladies spent later part of their lives in devotion and pious deeds.
Instant Triple Talaq is one of such poignant remnants from that gloomy era for Women.
Though the two concepts ‘Plight of Roshanara or other Mughal Princesses ’ and ‘the concept of Triple Talaq’ are not related to each other, still I am mentioning and correlating them only to the extent that both are in their own ways examples of the one sided and unjustified rules pertaining to women.
I may clarify that I don’t want here to be ‘Religion Specific’ or ‘Religion centric’. I simply want to say ‘what is wrong, is wrong’ & it must ‘GO’.
So please don’t misunderstand me to be a part of ‘Saffron bandwagon’, nor I am a ‘fundamentalist’. I am very much a secular person who respects all religions equally and for me the spirit of each religion is to connect with the Divine. All religions promote peace, tranquality and happiness of all the Children of God irrespective of Gender. No religion would ever preach to hurt one gender and give unjust happiness to another.
I feel proud as a lawyer practising before the sacred institution, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India for the Triple Talaq judgement which it delivered and paved way for real justice in the society. On October 16, 2015, the Supreme Court questioned if Muslim personal law practices of marriage and divorce reduce women to mere chattels.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court on August 22, 2015 set aside talaq-e-biddat or instant and irrevocable talaq which allowed a Muslim man to “whimsically and capriciously” divorce his wife as a “manifestly arbitrary”practice, which is not protected by Article 25(freedom of religion) of the Constitution.Accordingly, directions were issued by the Hon’ble Supreme court to the Union of India to consider appropriate legislation, particularly with reference to ‘talaq-e-biddat’.
Today after passing of ‘Triple Talaq Bill’ alias the Muslim Women(Protection of Rights on Marriage)Bill,2017 the souls of the princesses Roshanara or Zeb-Un-Nissa who had to bear the brunt of ‘Male Chauvinism’ and were forced to remain single or some Khalida Begum who was left on streets when her husband pronounced ‘Triple Talaq’ instantly without a second thought must be smiling in Heaven & celebrating a step forward to the life of Dignity of their sisters below on earth.So for the moment i don’t want to even ponder over the controversy ‘whether the instant triple talaq should or shouldn’t be criminalised?’ or ‘whether it should be treated under civil laws?’ For I know these splendid steps are indicators of metamorphosis to a brighter future for our coming generations. Amen!!