We begin our series with the story of a Brave Queen, who fought for her Subjects and protected them till their last breath.
The Queen – Maharani Jinda, the erstwhile empress of Punjab, was the last wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, , the widow who had wielded great power as Queen Regent to her son, Maharaja Dileep Singh of Takht Lahore, Punjab. During the reign of her husband Ranjit Singh’s rule, the British never attacked the Khalsa Nation. However, considering the unstability created due to his death, the British started taking advantage of the same. She had mobilised a vast army and waged two wars, The First and Second Anglo Sikh Wars between 1846 and 1849. Unfortunately, both were unsuccessful and let to the annexation of the Khalsa Raj to the British in the year 1949.
The British arrested her on the charge of Treason and her son Maharaja Dileep Singh, the last ruler of Independent India, was sent to Britain. She was kept captive in the Chunar Fort. Subsequent to her escape from Chunar she got asylum from Jung Bahadur of Nepal. Jung Bahadur also permitted her to build a small Gurudwara in her compound at Thapathali Durbar Complex. She spent her initial years in prayers and charity.
During the Indian Mutiny of 1857, she wrote to the Maharaja of Kashmir to overthrow the British hegemony in Kashmir and move towards Gorakhpur, where the Nepalese army would join hands with him. She also told him about Nana’s and Tantya Tope’s presence in Nepal and exhorted him to fight in alliance with them. The letter was intercepted by the British and never reached Kashmir.
She was under high surveillance of British spies and the Nepalese kingdom slowly felt the pressure of hosting her. Moreover, her no-nonsense and overpowering visage and her sense of pride was too aggravating for Jung Bahadur Thapa. Her activities were gradually curtailed, to the extent that she was again virtually under house arrest. The Nepalese were looking for a way to let go of her. She would however continue to remain in Nepal for 11 long years, all the time yearning for her beloved son, who had been snatched away from her. Till the day when she received a letter calling her to Calcutta.
Her ten year old son, Dileep Singh, had meanwhile been taken to England was a favorite of Queen Victoria and she considered him a royal member of her family. He was adopted to the wardship of the royal doctor and was given a seperate estate. He forgot all about his illustrious legacy and converted to Christianity and was living his life as a British Aristocrat.
Dileep Singh tried and petitioned the British several times for news of his mother with a request to meet her. He was not allowed to meet her. So, on the pretext of a Tiger Hunt in India, he planned a visit to India. In 1860 he wrote to the British Resident in Kathmandu, enclosing his letter in one from his guardian Dr. Sir John Login so that it would not be intercepted or dismissed as a forgery. The Resident reported that the Rani had ‘much changed, was blind and had lost much of the energy which formerly characterised her.’
The British had decided that she was no longer a threat and allowed her to travel to Calcutta to meet her long lost son. It was then that she got a letter that called her to Calcutta, to meet her son.
On 16 January 1861, Jinda met Dileep Singh at Spence’s Hotel, in Calcutta. On that day, the Sikh Regiment was returning home via Calcutta after the end of the Chinese war. The presence of Sikh royalty in the city gave rise to demonstrations of joy and loyalty. The hotel was surrounded by thousands of armed Sikhs all eager for a view of their erstwhile queen and king. The atmosphere was of expectancy, and the prince was surprised at the love that he still enjoyed amongst his army.
And so, the erstwhile Maharani of Punjab set sail for the land of her conquerers.
Her story does not end here. She was now with her son, a Christian in religion and a British Aristocrat in bearing. He had little idea of his past glory and was a faithful servant of the British empire. Landing up in Britain, Jinda was housed initially in a seperate housing but gradually moved in with her son, sick and frail, almost blind, with little of her former glory.
Dileep Singh’s foster mother came to meet the erstwhile Maharani. It is reported about the meeting “compassion was aroused when she met a tired half-blind woman, her health broken and her beauty vanished. Yet the moment she grew interested and excited in a subject, unexpected gleams and glimpses through the haze of indifference and the torpor of advancing age revealed the shrewd and plotting brain of her”
The British had confiscated all her jewels, worth a fortune. They returned some of these jewels to her. And during her visits to his son’s friends and foster family, she never failed to exhibit them. A portrait was commissioned of her in all her finery, and the poster is a testament to her determined poise.
She knew she was sick and was losing health fast. She only had one dream to see her son, Dileep Singh re-gain his power. She told him tales of his lost glory, of his magnificent father, and the indomitable spirit of the Sikhs, the Khalsa Raj of Lahore, the Raj that had stood independent for 60 long years when all around it everything other Indian kingdom had fallen to the British, the Raj that the British dare not attack even three decades after they had defeated the Marathas, half a century after they had killed Tipu Sultan and ages since the famed Rajputs had meekly surrendered in lieu of pensions, the Raj that had won Afghanistan, Bulochistan, Kashmir and had even had the gumption to attack the Chinese in Leh as far as Tibet and the passes around Mount Kailasa and Lake Mansarovar; the Raj that the British had defeated through treachery and back-stabbing. She brought him back to his faith as he started re-embracing Sikhism.
The British establishment got jittery at her influence on her son and petitioned the Queen to send her back to India. The proposal was under consideration when she again did her own thing.
On 1 August 1863, shortly after 6:15 in the evening, the frail and partially-blind queen who had spent much of her life raging against the British Empire, died in her bed at Kensington townhouse.
Her legacy lived a bit longer than her. Her son, reminded of his legacy gradually shook off his British up-bringing. He rebelled and wrote to the Russian Csar and tried to meet him to seek his help in his fight against the British. The Csar was however not convinced, being a relative of the British Tudors and Dileep’s attempts to persuade the Csar to invade India backfired spectacularly because British spies had followed his every move. Dileep Singh tried a few more tricks (that is a long story for another day), but the British were too powerful for him.
Queen Victoria is however said to have a strong motherly relationship with him and saw him as a fellow royal. Even after he rebelled against the British Empire, she gave him a royal pardon but stripped him of some of his earnings.
A number of historians now believe it was Jinda’s brief reunion with her son in the country she despised that rekindled Dileep’s desire to take back his kingdom. “In a way she had the last laugh,” says Harbinder Singh, director of the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail. “When you look at the life of Duleep Singh the moment where he began to turn his back on Britain and rebel was immediately after meeting his mother. The British assumed that this frail looking woman, who was nearly blind and had lost her looks, was no longer a force to be reckoned with. But she reminded her son of who he was and where his kingdom really lay.”
The Maharani died, the prince died, the lineage died, the legacy died; and with it died the story of this indomitable lady; the story of the Last Maharani of India, the last woman to stand eye to eye to the British. The story disappeared from the history books of India, never to be heard again.
The movie, the Black Prince made in the year 2017 is based on the story of Maharaja Duleep Singh and his relationship with Queen Victoria.
Image Source: Live History India
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.
If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at firstname.lastname@example.org
We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.
We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world.
You may also like to read: