12 September 2023
Seminar: Pilgrimages of the Sovereign Begums: Begums of Bhopal and the Politics of Mobility
Annie Teresa Joseph (University of Kerala)
The ability to travel on one’s own volition is an important feature of the cartesian subject. Colonialism is a transnational phenomenon dominated by voluntary travels from the west to the east. Journeys from the east in that era of subjugation were mostly tied to interests and imperatives of the imperial center. Colonialism and colonial history are not spatially located in the colony. But often, it is history in motion built on the possibility and ability to travel since its inception. The intrinsic connection between travel and history remains an under-studied motif in colonial/ postcolonial/ decolonial studies. It is in this context that this paper tries to understand the political significance of the pilgrimages of two Muslim queens in colonial Bhopal who swore her eternal fealty to an infidel Empress in England. Travel literature often lay bare the politics of representation of the other by the traveller-narrator cum author. But Muslim pilgrimages to the heartland of Islam where a sense of Muslim unity envelops one, problematises the spectre of the other. Bhopal was a princely state in central India with a unique and fascinating history of four female rulers ruling the state consecutively for 107 years, i.e., from 1820 to 1926. Nawab Sikander Begum of Bhopal was the second Begum of Bhopal who ruled as a regent from 1844 to 1860 and a regnant Begum from 1860-68 and Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum (1901-1926) was Bhopal's fourth and last Begum. This paper will critically analyse the pilgrim narrative by Nawab Sikander Begum (A Princess's Pilgrimage: Nawab Sikandar Begum's a Pilgrimage to Mecca) and one by Nawab Sultan Jahan Begam (The story of a pilgrimage to Hijaz) to delineate how the pilgrimages undertook by the grandmother and the granddaughter, decades apart, exhibit different motives and politics shaping their travels and the ensuing travelogues. By incorporating trans-disciplinary methodologies of gender and historiography, travel literature, decolonial and Islamic studies this paper tries to look at how pilgrimages are pregnant with politics and how travel objectives help shape the identity of travellers.
17:00 – 17:10: Introduction (Chair)
17:10 – 17:55: Presentations
17:55 – 18:15: Q&A
Annie Treesa Joseph is a Ph.D. scholar pursuing her doctoral research in English Language and Literature from the Institute of English, University of Kerala, India. She is interested in the Colonial Indian period and how that era of subjugation shaped representations of female authority and its lasting impact on modern-day perceptions of women in power. Annie’s research focuses on how different axioms of knowledge, like colonialism and nationalism, redefined queenship traditions in Princely India. Her research interests include Queenship studies, Postcolonial studies, Decolonial studies, Gender studies, and Historiography. She is the recipient of the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship, has presented eleven papers at various national and international conferences, and has four publications.