Sultana Razia of Delhi
One and Only Female Ruler of ancient Indiaby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
In Europe, universities such as Oxford and Cambridge were established. The Crusades were still fought. St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order. The Inquisition was put into effect. In Africa, the Mali Empire amplified itself with more territories. In Russia and China, the locals attempted to fight off Genghis Khan and his forces. All of these events occurred while, in India, a female ruler was living. She was loved by the people, yet hated by the nobility. Who was this woman and why were opinions of her so diametrically opposed?
It started when, in the 11th century, a Turcoman tribe known as the Seljuks re-subjugated the Arab territories that were conquered contiguous with the period of Mohammed, their Prophet. With their capital in Iran, they went about taking dominion of the Byzantine Empire and even as far as India. It is from this tribe, this Muslim family, that the first and only woman to ever have power over India arrived. Her name is Sultana Razia of Delhi1.
This historically obscure figure was born in 1205, and, as most Muslim princesses during this period were trained to lead armies into battle as well as administer politically and economically throughout the kingdom, so was Razia. Her father, a man named Iltutmush, would leave her in charge of the affairs in Delhi when he was out of town. Iltutmush was a wise man, as he saw how the men in the family lived simply for their own pleasure and were not responsible enough to ruler an entire kingdom. Actually, the only one of the brothers believed to be capable enough died while Iltutmush was living2. Razia, adversely, was talented, wise, and responsible. Thus, Iltutmush allowed Razia to put her learned skills to use, and appointed her successor of the kingdom. Unfortunately, when her father died, she gave in to family peer pressure by stepping down as ruler. A man named Ruknuddin, Razia's stepbrother, took over. Predictably, he disregarded the state of his kingdom and instead focused on his own luxuries. This, in turn, angered the people of India greatly, so they demanded a new ruler. The citizens aided Razia in overthrowing Ruknuddin, and so she was proclaimed Sultana once again in 1236.
Sultana Razia's reign was incredibly successful because of the love and care she had for her people, instead of the selfishness of her stepbrother. She established order and peace once more. Her social projects included the building of roads, planting of trees, digging of wells, as well as support for artists, poets, and musicians. In addition, she encouraged trade and built schools and libraries. One notable thing she did when she was ruler was to abandon the look of a female while in public. She discarded the traditional headdress of females and wore a male's clothing. Razia also held meetings and court appointments in public, allowing anyone to be a witness. It may seem surprising today, but Hindus in India were discriminated against greatly. Sultana Razia, though, worked hard for this racism to be abolished. More so, the Sultana worked to abolish racism against the Hindu citizens of India. She was not only a good leader in battle, but was also a gifted fighter herself, and this is what led to her downfall.
Men, in their pride, did not like the fact that a woman was better than them at everything, especially in "manly" occupations such as fighting in battle and administering justice. Another reason for her making enemies was that her most trusted adviser and friend was a man named Jamal Uddin Yaqut, who wasn't Turkish. The Turkish nobles believed strongly in their monopoly, and Razia and Jamal's partnership was threatening this. When Sultana Razia of Delhi began to contest the power of the Turks, it was the final straw. One of them, the Turkish governor of Lahore, plotted a conspiracy against her. When he finally rebelled in 1239, she challenged him, then ran away in battle and even apologized afterwards! Next in line to rebel against her was her governor of Bhatinda, a man named Malik Altunia. The governor actually did not run away and defeated Sultana's troops. He killed Jamal, then captured Razia and forced her to marry him. For this short period of time, Bahram, one of her foolish brothers, became Sultan. Razia attempted to use Altunia to recapture the throne, but to no avail. The Turkish nobles convinced her to flee, so she did in the year 1240. As she was fleeing, a peasant took her in and offered her food and shelter. Unfortunately, he took her life in exchange.
".We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies."3 Razia's enemies had too much knowledge. They knew so much about their system, that they believed their monopoly was the only one that worked. This led to huge amounts of pride among the nobles. When a woman came to challenge that prideful system, they did not respond kindly. On the other hand, Sultana Razia of Delhi was full of love for her kingdom's citizens. She worked to help them and to give them peace. The love of the first Muslim female ruler in Southeast Asia led to the edification of an entire kingdom.