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Campaign to bring remains of last Mughal emperor back to India

Campaign to bring remains of last Mughal  emperor back to India
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Veteran journalists Kuldip Nayar and Saeed Naqvi have joined former Justice Rajinder Sachar in a common cause: to bring back the remains of India's...

Veteran journalists Kuldip Nayar and Saeed Naqvi have joined former Justice Rajinder Sachar in a common cause: to bring back the remains of India's last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar to the place where he wished to be buried in Delhi.

"Bahadur Shah Zafar was unfortunately forgotten or tactically removed from India's history by the British who captured him and took him to Burma, where he died in colonial captivity," said Naqvi.A Bringing back Zafar's remains will not just create a symbol of secularism - the majority of Indian soldiers who marched to Delhi in 1857 were Hindus who did not hesitate to proclaim him as their Emperor - but will also fulfil the Emperor's last wish of being buried next to Khwaja Bhaktiar Kaki's shrine in Mehrauli in the two yards he had carved for himself. "The idea is to look at secularism beyond the basic concept of tolerating each other to something more," said Nayar.

"Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn ke liye/ Do gaz zameen bhi na mili koo-e-yaar mein" (How unlucky is Zafar, to not even find two yards to be buried in the land of his beloved) - is how he concluded the ghazal he wrote as a British captive in Burma. It is said that when Subhash Chandra Bose launched his INA campaign from Rangoon (now Yangon), he invoked Bahadur Shah Zafar. His grave in Yangon is frequently visited by Indian dignitaries.

However, his descendants today live in obscurity, with some even struggling to make ends meet. Columnist Firoz Bakht Ahmed met Bahadur Shah Zafar's granddaughter-in-law Sultana Begum in 1988 living in what he calls "a dingy tenement" in Kolkata's Howrah area. The 60-year-old runs a tea stall. Sultana is bitter and even furious about the government's failure to have the remains of the last Mughal brought back to India. She cited the example of Udham Singh, who assassinated the Lieutenant Governor of undivided Punjab, and was hanged in 1940. Singh's remains were brought back to India from England in 1974.

Bakht Ahmed, while praising the efforts of the government for acknowledging Bahadur Shah Zafar's contribution in the cultural space, says the Mughal Emperor's descendants deserve better. "They lead a piecemeal life. The government should protect the family of those who fought for India's freedom," he says.

In May 1857, soldiers from Meerut marched into the Red Fort. They appealed to Bahadur Shah Zafar, who became the Mughal Emperor in 1837, to lead their rebellion against the British. Opinion is divided on how readily he agreed to the soldiers' demands. But he was declared Shahenshah-e-Hind, following which a bloody war for control began. The rebellion was soon quelled and contained.

In September the same year, the Mughal Emperor, then 82, was taken prisoner and was subjected to what is often viewed as an unfair trial. After being exiled to Burma, then a newly acquired colony of the British, his health worsened towards a slow and certain death on November 7, 1862.

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