The Lioness hunted by her own Pride

If one were to go into the cramped streets near the Turkman gate of Old Delhi, in its Bulbuli Khana lays an infamous tomb. This tomb is neither as intricately made as the Taj Mahal nor as grand looking as the Qutub Minar but, this tomb doesn’t need these intricacies and grandness to be admired because in it rests the Lioness that once roared over Delhi, Razia Sultan. Unfortunately, women have always been in a disadvantageous position in society. But owing to examples like the journey and struggles of Razia Sultan, there is still hope that things will change in the future.

At a time in medieval India, when women were expected to stay at home and care for children, Razia fought and ruled over Delhi only to become India’s first woman ruler. Her intelligence in ruling and bravery in warfare made her father believe that she was fit to succeed him, however as per the traditions her half-brother, Ruknuddin Firuz, became the ruler after her father’s death. The succession was however followed by people choosing her as their rightful Sultan after the rebellion against her half-brother. Her refusal to act according to conventions was not limited to her being the first female ruler; it was signified through her actions as well.

Razia was the first Sultan of Delhi who believed in equality regardless of any religion, adopted gender neutral outfits, rode on elephants and personally led her armies into battle. However, though she was a fierce ruler a conspiracy against her and her husband made her leave Delhi and lose power to her stepbrother Muizuddin Bahram Shah. While the brave ‘Lioness of Delhi’ fought fiercely to win back her kingdom, sadly she fell in the battle and was silenced forever.

But what if the wheels of fate were kinder to her? What if the Lioness was not betrayed by her own pride and ruled longer to establish her own ‘Razian Age’ like the ‘Elizabethan Age’ in England? Could she have had a deeper impact on the position of women in the Delhi Sultanate and thereafter in the years to come?

As Razia was the first female ruler of Delhi Sultanate; she couldn’t understand why her gender was the only thing that disqualified her from holding power in the eyes of courtiers and clergymen. She constantly drove herself to prove that her gender was not a barrier to her ability. In order to build the 'Razian Age', Razia had the will to campaign for the rights of women and would have tried to make as many laws as possible to solve the gender divide that was so evidently prevalent in those times.  She would have also provided avenues for women to achieve their desired goals.

As a ruler, Razia gave up traditional Muslim women's attire including the Pardah and if had a chance would have further sought to abolish the compulsory system of Pardanashin women. The gender-neutral attires that were donned by her would have been popularized by her and used by other ambitious women as well who stepped out to work/educate themselves. Being an educated ruler, Razia knew the importance of proper education that helped her become an effective ruler. She could have invested finances and aids on women’s education thereby getting them appropriate opportunities. This would have brought about reforms in the education system like adopting a co-ed style of education in Madrasas and other educational establishments.  Razia believed in neutrality of religions while being a Sultana. She would have abolished the Jizya tax (pilgrimage tax) imposed on the non-Muslims along with that she would have promoted greater inclusion of people from all religions in Government affairs. She would have campaigned for a merit-based system of appointment and promotion for the Government posts. Defying the atrocities of the society, she would not have just been Razia Sultan but would have been remembered as Razia Sultan the Great.

While Razia was unsuccessful in establishing a 'Razian Age' we know that her greatest contribution to society is to inspire the Razia’s in all of us. Her life serves to inspire all the women to believe in themselves and to fight their battles head on. Women today may not ride elephants into battle, but they are no less brave when they fight for their rights, for their equality that they so rightly deserve. In that spirit we wish all the brilliant Queens of the present and future a very happy International Women's day.

Author: Aneesh Khare and Mahak Singhania,
            Justice League Ambassadors, MIT World Peace University, Pune