A Clever and Enlightened Potentate - The Best Governed State in India - "Our Mother" - A
Native Tribute - An Interesting Interview - A Pilgrimage to Mecca - Her Highnesses Views on
Aland of quaint customs and strange beliefs; where superstition is rife, and the fanatic sways the multitude; where native rulers hold the power of life and death, and the people worship a hundred and one different gods. Small wonder that the average European regards Indian potentates as individuals living entirely in a world of their own, possessing ideas and sympathies entirely foreign to our ways and teachings.
Not a few people, however, fall into the error of thinking that the native ruler of India is an Oriental despot, with crude ideas of governing, and possessing certain savage instincts which are only held in check by the fact that he is responsible to the British Government for the orderliness and the welfare of his State. As a matter of fact, the rulers of the various States in our Indian dependency are rapidly imbibing our ideas and methods. They send their sons to English universities to be educated, and they invite experts from this country to take up their residence in India, and teach their subjects manners and methods which will add to their prosperity and happiness.
There is no more striking illustration of this desire on the part of these native rulers for knowledge which will benefit their subjects than that afforded by the character and personality of her Highness, the Begum of Bhopal, the only woman ruler in India, who landed on our shores at the. beginning of May for the purpose of attending King George's Coronation - the first time that any Begum of Bhopal has ever come to England.
Bhopal is one of the most important Mohammedan States in India, with an area of close - upon 7,000 square miles (a little smaller than Wales), and a population
- mainly composed of Hindoos, Mohammedans, and an aboriginal tribe, the Gonds - of over a million. It might very naturally be thought that a woman ruler could scarcely hope to meet with success in governing Indian natives of a more or less turbulent character; but those who are fighting for the franchise of women can, in answer to those who assert that woman is incapable of governing, point with pride to the fact that Bhopal, although for three generations its ruler has been a woman, has the reputation of being the best governed native State in India. The Begum and her mother, the Shah Jahan Begum, whom she succeeded in 1901, have, as heads of the State, displayed the highest capacity for administration, a remark which also applies to the Sikandon Begum, grandmother of the present Begum, who became ruler of the State in 1844.
Her Highness, the Begum of Bhopal, leaving her London hotel for Redhili. The Begum is the only woman ruler in India, and is the first Begum of Bhopal who has ever come to England. For three generations Bhopal has had a woman as its ruler, and it is the best governed native State in India Photo, L.n.a.
The Royal palace, Bhopal, built by the Begum in memory of her husband, and known as the Ahmedabab Palace. Her
As an illustration of the devotion of the Begum to her people, it might be mentioned that when the plague appeared in Bhopal, some years ago, she courageously set an example by allowing herself to be inoculated; and after that inoculation was so fashionable that the pestilence never got a firm hold in this part of India.
Bhopal, it might be mentioned, is said to be the only State in the world in which the ruler is always a woman - a feminine domination the more strange because Bhopal is a strictly Mohammedan State, and it is not generally supposed that the Prophet ever contemplated the possibility of a female ruler.
Fear, rather than admiration or affection, is in many cases the chief spur to the loyalty of the Indian native towards his ruler; but not so in Bhopal. The Begum is loved and esteemed by the natives. In fact, she is something like a goddess in the minds of her people.
"She is our mother," they say; "who heals our wounds and drives the darkness from our homes. We kiss the ground she walks upon, for her goodness is to us a dazzling light." A tribute which, although it may seem a little fulsome, is none the less sincere in spite of the flowery language in which it is couched.
A Veiled Sovereign
The Begum takes the deepest personal interest in her subjects. It is true that she is what is known as a Purdah woman, and never appears unveiled in public. She is never seen by any of her subjects who are not of the highest rank, but she always devotes close personal attention to the government of her principality. She hears and decides all appeals, criminal and civil. She supervises the work of all the departments, and is especially interested in education, particularly in regard to women. Indeed, her views on this point seem almost incredible in one who lives always behind a purdah - a curtain or screen used in Eastern countries to seclude women of rank from the gaze of men.
But although the Begum cannot permit mere man to gaze upon her features, she talks with delightful freedom regarding her country and her plans for its welfare. The writer had the privilege of a chat with her Highness at Patterson Court, Nuffield, near Redhill, where the Begum took up her temporary residence when she arrived in this country. It was only after considerable trouble that this interview was procured, for the Begum prefers to remain, as far as possible, in the strictest seclusion. Fixed to all the entrances of the Court were notices : "No admittance, except by appointment. Trespassers will be prosecuted !" Notices which the writer learned were strictly enforced.