Razia Sultan: A Lioness on the Throne

A portrait of Sultan Raziya al-Din | Source: The Asian Age
A portrait of Sultan Raziya al-Din | Source: The Asian Age

900 years ago, on Indian soil in Haryana, the second mighty battle of Tarain was fought. Muhammad Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan to establish the Islamic chapter of Delhi rule. In a world of great sultans shone Razia Sultan.

She was the daughter of the greatest king of the Slav dynasty- Mamluk Iltutmish. Indian History reached a momentous milestone when Iltutmish nominated his daughter as the ruler of Delhi.

Razia Sultan shines throughout the pages of history. But would her fate have been the same if she were a male ruler?

On one hand, Razia’s dominant soul and potent appearance made her a puissant sultan.  The ruler of Delhi, Iltutmish passed on qualities he possessed to all his sons and his only daughter.

They were all educated, trained in archery, martial arts, and administration. A brave, intelligent, and excellent conductor is what made Razia a great queen.

One day Illtutmish had to leave for Gwalior, leaving Razia in charge of the kingdom. In return, he heard what a remarkable job she did and made her the heir to the throne. She was the best of her brothers, and had military support, giving her immense power to establish dictatorial rule over Delhi. 

Poets emphasized how Razia dropped her veil and showed an exceptional amount of power like a lioness. She sat in open durbars, dressed like a man, and fearlessly rode horses in battles. Razia refused to be called a Sultana because it had the connotation of being a king’s wife. Being a leader was in her blood, and her gender could not determine her strength.

Despite fighting patriarchy, Razia’s primary duty was the welfare of her people.

She conquered new territories and strengthened all Delhi’s land. Besides establishing schools, research centers, and public libraries Razia contributed to the field of culture by upholding scholars, painters, and craftsmen. She built roads, dug wells, encouraged trade, and dispensed justice.

Razia’s innate nature was fearless and headstrong. She also abolished the Jaziah- a tax imposed on all non-Muslims of Delhi. Her courtiers believed that the Jaziah was useful as it forced many to convert to Islam but Razia believed they embraced Islam out of fear.

She wanted all her subjects to be affectionate and loyal towards the throne, making it a reason for the abolishment. Razia’s popularity and success reached a higher notch because of her administrative abilities, something her subjects idolized her for. 

On the other hand, today's feminist world has recognized Razia because she was a female. Had Razia been a male, she would have been an accomplished ruler but not a well-known one. From Iltutmish to Bahram Shah, nearly every sultan of Delhi ruled successfully yet was not famed.

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If Razia were a man she would have the same fate as her predecessor rulers. Right after her father’s death, Razia had to face numerous struggles. Muslim nobles refused to accept a female ruler and hence made her brother, Prince Rukhnuddin the ruler.

Had Razia been a man, not only would she have the support of nobles but also would have more time to spend on her kingdom’s welfare than proving herself a worthy ruler. 

Unfortunately, her reign didn’t last long. Soon, Turkish governors revolted against her. Razia was defeated and imprisoned trying to crush it. She and her husband, Altunia were robbed and killed by Hindu jats.

Once again, Razia could have ruled over Delhi for more than a mere 3 years if she were a man. 

Razia’s relevance in today's world goes unnoticeable. Like Razia was the first queen of Delhi ever, the same way Indira Gandhi was the first woman to rule a democratic India.

Like Razia, several women like Rani Lakshmi bai, Shakuntala Devi, Arti Saha and Indira Nooyi took the courage to jump into an arena dominated by men and succeed. 

The queen of all times, a woman of morals and ideals far ahead her time, dauntlessly held her ground in a society that was patriarchal and suppressed any power shift. Her story and quest will never be forgotten.


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