“This daughter of mine is better than many sons”, said Iltutmish for his beloved daughter Razia, who had the distinction of being the only woman to sit on the throne of Delhi…until Sushma Swaraj.
Recognizing her ability at a young age, Iltutmish appointed Razia as the heir to the throne instead of his sons. After the king’s death his son Ruknuddin usurped the throne and threatened to kill Razia if she did not let go of her claim on the throne.
The lady however, was not to be bogged down. On a Friday afternoon, dressed as an aggrieved pilgrim, she went to the mosque and appealed the populace of Delhi in the name of her father for help to get back what was rightfully hers. The stirring speech moved her audience to a frenzy, and with the support of the masses behind her, she took her rightful place on the throne of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the world.
Razia refused to be called ‘Sultana’ as that would mean a king’s daughter or wife, choosing instead the title of ‘Sultan’ or the sovereign for herself. The mullahs, true to their character, could not digest the “humiliation” of being ruled and ordered around by a woman. Along with court nobles, they plotted her downfall and encouraged rebellions across the empire, Razia Sultan continued to crush the rebellions with an iron fist until she lost to Malik Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda. But shrewd and diplomatic as ever, Razia married Malik Altunia. In the meanwhile, the greedy and ambitious nobles crowned one of her brothers as the titular king. Accompanied by her husband, Razia Sultan marched to Delhi to reclaim her throne. She was however defeated and killed at Kaithal near Delhi in 1240. Her body along with that of her husband was brought to Delhi and buried.
As a sovereign, Razia Sultan was a patron of arts and learning, dedicated to the study of ancient Indian texts and civilizations. She proved herself more able and successful as a ruler than all of her successors in the slave dynasty.
Most of the information available about Razia Sultan is recorded in the chronicles of Ibn Batuta, a traveller from Northern Africa who visited Delhi around 1335 almost 100 years after Razia’s death. Through his writings we come to know about how Razia was venerated as a saint by the populace of Delhi a century after she died and how her reign was considered the golden era of the Mamluk dynasty.