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BEGUMS OF BHOPAL (1801–2002)

Begum Nawab Qudsia was born in 1801, and with her began a line of woman rulers who united and enlightened Bhopal under them. She ruled for 18 years, and was succeeded by her daughter Begum Nawab Sikandar, who ruled till 1868 and was succeeded by Begum Nawab Shah Jahan. Begun Shah Jahan’s daughter Begum Sultan Jahan was proclaimed heir apparent and succeeded her mother. Begum Sultan Jahan, who ruled from 1901, has left a description of the court in her autobiography, An Account of My Life. This builds on memoirs left by her grandmother and mother and shows the many responsibilities and difficulties they faced, as well as their strong commitment to social progress and justice, especially for women.

Begum Shah Jahan attended the Delhi durbar of 1903, and was one of the most striking and brilliant figures there. She has also left an account of her training at the hands of her grandmother which shows the meticulous care that these women invested in preparing the future ruler for her responsibilities, and she has written with regret of how her mother’s second marriage caused a rift with her which never healed. The history of Bhopal under the rule of these enlightened women is a valuable addition to our picture of India before Independence. The last of the line was Begum Abida Sultan (1913-2002) who married Sarwar Ali Khan of Kurwai. She was the presumptive heir to the throne of Bhopal but she renounced the title and emigrated to Pakistan in 1950 where she joined the foreign service. He younger sister Sajida stayed behind and carried out the ceremonial roles of the Bhopal ruling family. Abida Sultan spent her last years in Karachi where she died on 11 May 2002.
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