At the height of its power, the Mughal empire ruled over a quarter of the world population. The empire was rich beyond measure. The yearly revenue exceeded over 4000 tonnes of silver. Yes, that’s PER YEAR. The empire was also one of the most effective in extracting money out of its empire – that means effective taxing. During its peak, Emperor Akbar was worth 25% of global GDP.
The European ruling class did not even come close to what the Mughals had in terms of luxury.
But life is tricky and sometimes it plays the part of a great leveler.
One of the direct descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, Sultana Begum lives in a Kolkata slum on a pension of just 6000 rupees a month.
She lives in a two-room slum house with a shared kitchen and washes utensils and clothes out under the common street tap. She has struggled to make her ends meet with the meager money she gets from the Government of India.
Sultana tried to make a living by having her own tea stall but it was shut down. Now, her only source of income is her pension.
Bahadur Shah Zafar was the great-great-great-grandson of Aurangzeb. And Sultana Begum is the great-granddaughter-in-law of Bahadur Shah. Bahadur Shah was the unofficial leader of the 1857 rebellion against the British
Although he did not have a big army, he was unofficially appointed the leader of the rebellion. 57 Europeans were held hostage in his palace by the rebel soldiers during the time and all of them were killed in revenge. Bahadur Shah had nothing to do with the killing of the hostages but was held guilty and was exiled to Rangoon for the rest of his life by the British.
Rangoon is the present-day Yangon – the capital of Myanmar (Burma).
While most of his descendants were killed after the rebellion, some survived, including the great grandfather of Sultana’s husband.
These descendants were scattered across the globe. Some lived in India in anonymity because they feared the British and some went abroad. Some descendants live in Detroit, USA, and even Pakistan.
Sultana Begum even wrote to Sonia Gandhi explaining her heritage. She appealed to the government that they provide some kind of assistance to her.
“My husband, the late Muhammad Bedar Bakht used to tell me that we come from respectable royal families who never begged for a living.”
The government did help her back in 2003. They gave her Rs. 50,000 in cash and even gave her an apartment. But the local goons threw her out on the streets and took away her apartment.
And that’s how she ended up in the Kolkata slum. She cared for six children in the small house.
Sultana Begum says that the Government earns crores from monuments like Taj Mahal, Red Fort, and Shalimar Gardens.
She says she deserves at least enough to live the rest of her life in peace and not in poverty.
If Bahadur Shah would not have been exiled, Sultana Begum would have lived in the beautiful Zafar Mahal in the heart of Delhi.
But for now, she has to contend with the poverty of a Kolkata slum.