Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 15:25 UK

Job for Indian royal descendant

Madhu (right) with her mother Sultana Begum
The descendant of the emperor currently ekes out a living by running a tea stall with her mother

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

A descendant of India's last Mughal emperor has been rescued from a life of penury in Calcutta by getting a job with the state-run Coal India.

Madhu is the illiterate great-great-granddaughter of emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and has been employed to run errands in Coal India's offices.

A letter of employment will be formally handed over to her by the coal minister at a function in Calcutta next month.

She and her mother currently run a tea stall in the slums of Calcutta.


"It will be great to have Madhu working for us. Actually, it will be a great tribute to the last Mughal emperor who played a key role during the first war of independence in 1857," Coal India Chairman Partha Bhattacharyya said.

Bahadur Shah Zafar
Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last of a long line of Mughal emperors

The move by Coal India follows sustained efforts by a Delhi-based journalist Shivnath Jha, who launched a campaign to rescue her from poverty.

Madhu's cause was one of several highlighted by Mr Jha and his wife Neena in an initiative to rehabilitate descendants of the forgotten heroes of India's independence wars.

Mr Jha told the BBC that he first hit upon this idea when he tried to raise funds for one of India's greatest classical musicians, Bismillah Khan, earlier in the decade.

"We published a pictorial biography of Bismillah Khan and raised some funds. After his death, we institutionalised this movement," Mr Jha said.

Last year, he persuaded India's former Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav to help the descendants of Tantia Tope, one of the leaders of the 1857 mutiny which many Indians say was in fact the country's first war of independence.

'Barely survive'

"Two of his great granddaughters were given employment by the Container Corporation of India on Mr Yadav's intervention," Mr Jha said.

Bus in Calcutta
The pair live in poverty in one of the most crowded cities in the world

In 2009 Mr Jha began promoting the cause of Sultana Begum, the poverty-stricken widow of Muhammad Bedar Bakht - a direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar - who died in 1980.

Sultana Begum has five daughters - all are married except for Madhu, her youngest daughter.

"My other daughters and their husbands are poor people, they barely survive, so they cannot help us," she said. "We have been living, but God knows how."

The tea shop run by Sultana and her daughter earns the pair a subsistence income.

Mr Jha said that he hoped to provide the pair with more funds by donating money raised from the sale of a book about Indian prime ministers.

Another industrialist-philanthropist, Madhusudan Aggrawal, owner of Ajanta Pharmaceuticals has also offered help.

"Mr Aggrawal has promised a house for Sultana and a small job for her in a school run by his company," Mr Jha said.

If all works out, Sultana Begum and her daughter can surely look forward to moving out of the slums of Howrah, a decrepit industrial area.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was placed on the throne in 1837. He was the last of a line of Mughal emperors who ruled India for three centuries.

In 1857, when Indian soldiers mutinied against their British masters, Bahadur Shah Zafar was declared their commander-in-chief.

Mr Zafar was exiled to Rangoon after the British crushed the mutiny in 1858, where he lived for five years until his death at at the age of 87.

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