Women Status in Harem – Mughal Period Part II

The practice of dowry was widely prevalent than even among muslims. Hence a girl child became a burden and undesirable even in muslims.

Dowry was a big menace of the time that led to female infanticide. When Man Bai married Prince Salim her father Bhagwan das provided 100 elephants, several horses, utensils of Gold and silver that was too huge to be accounted for in monetary terms and male and female slaves of Indian, Abyssinian and Circassian origin. This practice of dowry in Muslims only remained among royalty initially but later on percolated down to commoners.

The menace of dowry crossed all limits between 13th – 15th century so much that Royals and Kings had to sponsor dowry to marry off girls of less privileged. Firoz Shah Tughlaq created a department Diwan i Khairiat to look into genuine cases and sponsor marriages of underprivileged girl children, Nur Jahan too sponsored many dowry of under privileged girls every year

Divorce was very rare among Indians, almost unthinkable in hindu society. Muslims did divorce but it was too few and far. Like Babur’s wife Ayesha divorced him and left him at a young age, Kanzada Begum too divorced her second husband after Shibani Khan, Misri Begum daughter of Asaf Jah divorced son of Asaf Khan. Sometimes a man was forced to divorce his wife like Abul Wasi was forced to divorce his wife Daulat Shad as Akbar fell for her.

Divorce was a taboo in society and only the very rich or royals could afford it. The parents and brothers would refuse to care for a divorced daughter and her children and she could not obviously go out and fend for herself leading the woman to bear abuse and neglect in husbands house quietly.

The men had it easier, neither religious or society sanctions constrained their desires. Men married often and to much younger ladies. The concept of Muta marriage or temporary marriage was introduced by Akbar when clerics objected to marrying more than 4 women. This concept percolated to the commoners too. Royals and nobels kept cocubbines, women from lower strata of society without formal marriage to fulfil their desires. Shibani Khan, the war lord wanted to marry Baburs elder sister Kanzada Begum and hence divorced his wife Mihir Nigar Chatagi her maternal aunt.

Remarriage was permitted and was common in muslim royalty. Akbars sister Bakshi Bau was married to Mirza Ibrahim and upon his death to Mirza Sharifuddin. Faruk un nisa begum the daughter of Humayun first was married to Shah Abul Maali and after his death to Khwaja Hassan Naqshbandi. Akbar himself married Salima  Sultan after death of her husband Bairam Khan and Jehangir married Nur Jahan after her husband death. Humayuns widow was married to Mirza Qasim Haider. When Daniyal Mirza died his entire harem of more than 400-500 women was transferred under care of Prince Salim. Prince Salim sent for them and asked them that if anyone wants to remarry they should inform him the name of the person so he can arrange for same. Even when Akbar died Prince Salim called a meeting of all the younger wives of Akbar and asked them if anyone wanted to remarry. Women who were elder were exempted from remarriage. But usually wives of the great and rich men refrained from marrying again.

Elderly women and sisters were respected most in mughals. Akbar had great respect for Hamida Bano his mother and even carried her palanquin across the river on one occasion. The ambassadors in Jehangir court like Thomas Roe and Hawking tell of his great respect for his mother. Once when his mother came to the fort, Jehangir performed her sajdah(kneeling and touching ones forehead to the ground or feet of the person) and salutations to her. This was when he was in his mid 40s after he became an emperor. He would even carried her palanquin on his shoulders when she would go to visit religious places when he was with her.  Aurangzebs love for sisters Roshanara and Jahanara is well recorded.

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