Time check: Women in medieval India

Published October 30, 2010

During the sultanate period, social status of a woman, both in Hindu and Muslim communities was very low. She was regarded as the property of men. Females belonging to the nobility observed purdah and were rarely allowed to go outside the house. Firuz Shah Tughluq, (1309-1388) prohibited women from even visiting holy shrines. It was believed that if women went out, they might get involve in immoral activities.

As a custom, rulers and nobles married many women and kept slave girls in a place called harem. Their women, while not always getting a very good treatment from them, were considered as their honour. The Rajputs, especially after being defeated in wars, killed their wives and slave girls in order to save their honour. Whenever a war took place, the defeated enemy's wealth and all their belongings were distributed equally among the triumphant army, and even the women folk of the enemy were treated as war booty.

Women had no freedom and were suppressed. Peasant women had to work at home as well as in the fields. Their life was very hard and without love and respect. Among the Hindus, the custom of 'sati' was common in which a widowed woman had to immolate herself on her husband's funeral pyre. However, women belonging to the nobility had some privileges; they could get education at home and enjoyed some freedom. However, there have been women who got the opportunity to play important roles in politics and the administration.

Razia Sultana

During the Sultanate period, Razia Sultana became the successor of her father, Iltutmish (1211-1236). She was the first Muslim woman to sit on the throne as a ruler. Razia was talented, wise and excellent as an administrator. She received trainings in fighting, leading armies, administration, etc.

Gradually, she took some bold steps, such as abandoning purdah and dressing like a man and appearing in public without any hesitation. According to Minhaj Siraj (born 1193), a historian of that era, while appearing at public places, people could see her clearly and while she sat on her throne in the court, she was guarded by armed women.

The Turkish nobility had no intention to further comply with the Iltutmish's appointment of a woman as his heir; they disliked Razia because her policies supported non-Turks more than they did the Turks;, therefore they disapproved of Rizia's bold behaviour and started rebelling against her.

One of the Turk nobles, Malik Altunia, revolted against her. In desperation, and to escape death, she agreed to marry him. While she was in Bhatinda, in north-western India, her brother, Muizuddin Bahram Shah, with the help of 40 chiefs declared himself king. Both Razia and her husband Altunia tried to regain the throne but they were defeated and executed by her brother.

Thus ended a brief period of a woman's rule on the throne of Delhi.



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