Women are usually vulnerable in wars. The siege of Delhi was not different from others. We mentioned an account from different sources in our previous posts, how misfortunes descended upon the women of Shahjahanabad (Delhi), which they suffered by the British East India company army. Here we are mentioning the most authentic source; an account provided by the most popular poet of Delhi of that time, Mirza Asadullah Ghalib in his many letters to his friends and students.
‘Alas my dear boy ‘wrote Ghalib to a friend in January 1862. ‘This is not the Delhi in which you were born, not the Delhi in which you got your schooling, not the Delhi in which you used to come to your lesion with me, not the Delhi in which I passed 51 years of my life’. It is a camp. The only Muslims here are artisans or servants of the British authorities. All the rest are Hindus. The male descendents of the deposed King-such as survived the sword-draw allowances of five rupees a month. The female descendants, if old, are bawds; if young, are prostitutes.
What Ghalib did not say was that many of the Delhi begums were set on the path to prostitution by the mass rapes that followed the fall of the city. Believing that the British women in Delhi had been sexually assaulted at the outbreak-a rumour that subsequently proved quite false, as full inquiry commissioned by Saunders later proved-British officers did little to stop their men from raping the women of Delhi.
The fate of the women of the royal family was clearly something that deeply shocked Ghalib, and he returns to it again and again in his letters: ‘Had you been here,’ he told to his friend Mirza Tafta, ‘you would have seen the ladies of the Fort moving about the city, their faces as fair as the moon and their clothes dirty, their paijama legs torn, and their slippers falling to pieces. This is no exaggeration.
The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple. Page 462-463.
Below is a painting by British painter Abraham Solomon, ‘The flight from Lucknow, 1858. (This painting shows suffering of English women during The Indian Mutiny) from Journal, The British Empire series 23, The Indian Mutiny-Shock revolt Savage reprisals.