This is the story of Malika Kishwar- a forgotten Awadh queen.
You can take an Indian out of India but you can never take India out of an Indian. One such Indian, who now rests in a cemetery in France, was Malika Kishwar. Buried with her is a story of willpower and a story of tragedy. Around her lay great men like Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and others. Yet she would have preferred the soil of her country over the company of these art moguls.
During the early expansion of the East India Company, they came up with a screwed policy named ‘The Doctrine of Lapse’ to take over kingdoms. They would acquire any kingdom whose king died leaving no direct male heir for the throne or was considered a bad ruler. One of the most important kingdoms to fall under this jurisdiction was Awadh.
The East India company wanted the province of Awadh badly. It was the connecting kingdom between Calcutta, the company’s capital, and Delhi. The company was planning to move its capital to Delhi for more central command.
Hence they cunningly got rid of Wajid Ali Shah, the ruler of Awadh. They made up a case of internal mismanagement and through the ‘doctrine of lapse’ took over the Awadh kingdom. As he was a popular and beloved ruler, they couldn’t get rid of him. Hence he was unofficially sent to house arrest in Calcutta.
Wajid Ali Shah decided to take this matter directly to the British royals. He was to be accompanied by his fierce mother, Jenab Aliya Begum aka Malika Kishwar. But before he could start the journey he was captured by the East India forces. After his capture, he suspiciously fell ill and later died in prison. This made his mother more determined to complete the mission his son wished to fulfil.
While the wife of Wajid Ali remained behind taking care of the newborns, Malika Kishwar took the journey to England. The task of reaching England itself was a daunting task for a woman with no previous sailing experience. It took more than 6 months to travel from Calcutta to London. She also had to bear the cold she would never have in India.
Then Malika Kishwar landed in the cold, dark, and wet England. England was alien to her. Its people, its culture, its language, and yet she demanded to meet Queen Victoria one on one. One thing that was common between her and Victoria was that they were both mothers. She appealed to this motherly side of Victoria to explain the wrongdoings her son had to face. Queen Victoria was moved by her story and her journey. But Malika Kishwar soon realized that the Queen was nothing more than a representation, who had a marginal say in the company’s expansion policy.
While she was in England, her daughter-in-law had become part of a sepoy mutiny. Hence the British government stopped her from returning to India. They were looking to use her as leverage against her daughter-in-law.
The Queen escaped to France by land in hope that the French would help her reach India. But all this effort had made her weak and soon she fell seriously ill. When she died in Frace, she became the face of the rebel. The French and Turkic royals came to bid farewell to her.
Though her body remained in the soil of France, her spirit travelled far. Her fearlessness and determination now flew in the veins of her daughter-in-law. She defeated the East India Company and regained the Awadh Kingdom. Even if it was for a short while, the dream that Malika Kishwar died for came into existence.