The role of Begum Hazrat Mahal in the first full scale war of independence to overthrow the British rule (1857) is often overlooked. Like Bahadur Shah Zafar, she also couldn’t get buried in her motherland, and her grave in Kathmandu (Nepal) has somehow survived 150 years.
Begum Hazrat Mahal was the wife of the last Tajdaar-e-Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah. The British had annexed Oudh in 1856 and Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta. But a year later when the ‘mutiny’ began, the Begum who had been divorced by Nawab long ago and was living in Lucknow, led the rebel soldiers against East India Company.
Begum Hazrat Mahal placed her 14-year-old son Birjees Qadr on the throne of Awadh and she fought to regain the territory lost to the British. For six months she defended Lucknow from the British army.
The people of Oudh supported her and she proclaimed independence from the British rule. She fought bravely and had urged the rural folk to take part in the war. Along side Nana Sahib, Rani Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope, Bakht Khan and Maulvi Ahmadullah, she played a unique role in the 1857 struggle.
Begum was not only a strategist but also fought in the battlefield. She had rejected the offer to accept a pension of Rs 12 lakh by British. When her forces lost ground, she fled Oudh and tried to organise soldiers again in other places.
She spent sometime in Terai also and ultimately had to leave for Nepal where despite demands of British government asking for her handover to face trial, she was allowed to live in the Himalayan kingdowm where she died in 1879.
And it is to the credit of one, Karimuddin Miyan, that the grave couldn’t be acquired by authorities. He fought all his life to stop the administration from acquiring the land and constructing commercial structures on it. Here is the photo of her grave that was even attacked by vandals during the period of unrest. The stamp was issued in her honour in 1984.