Sultan Muhammad Zahir ud-din better known as well Mirza Mughal (1232 A.H/1817– Tuesday, 2 Safar, 1274 A.H/22 September 1857) was a Mughal prince. He played a significant role during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Mirza Mughal was the fifth son of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the 12th and last Mughal emperor. His mother, Sharif-ul-Mahal Sayyidini, came from an aristocratic Sayyid family that claimed descent from Prophet Muhammad.
Following the death in 1856 of his elder step-brother Mirza Fakhru, Mirza Mughal became the eldest surviving legitimately born son of Bahadur Shah Zafar. However, the British refused to recognize anybody as heir to the throne of Delhi, and indicated that the monarchy would be abolished following Zafar's death.
War of 1857
In May 1857, sepoys of the British Indian army rebelled against their British officers and streamed into Delhi. A few days later, Mirza Mughal and some of his half-brothers petitioned their father to be appointed in charge of the rebel troops. Their plea was initially refused but later granted, and Mirza Mughal was designated commander-in-chief. Mirza Mughal had no training or experience for his new office; however, he energetically sought to organize the troops, make arrangements for their billeting and provisioning, and bring a semblance of order to the edgy city. His inexperience soon became apparent, and he was upstaged a few week later by the arrival, at the head of a large force from Bareilly, of Bakht Khan, a former officer in the British army, who had earned a fine reputation during the Afghan wars. Shortly after his arrival, the emperor appointed Bakht Khan commander-in-chief and left Mirza Mughal in charge of supplies. A few weeks later, following another reshuffle of offices, Mirza Mughal was given charge of administering the city of Delhi.
Following the failure of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Emperor Bahadur Shah II (aged 82) left the Red Fort and took refuge in Humayun’s Tomb, which at that time lay outside Delhi. With him were Mirza Mughal and two other princes (another son, Mirza Khizr Sultan, and a grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr). Their whereabouts was reported by spies to Major Hodson, who sent them a message saying that the party had no hope of escape and should surrender. They refused to surrender.
The next morning, Hodson went to the tomb with one hundred horsemen and demanded the unconditional surrender of the Emperor and princes. The situation became known to people of nearly villages, and a substantial crowd gathered, many of whom were equipped with whatever arms (farm-knives, sickles and axes) they normally kept. Resistance at this point was never the plan of the Emperor, who had come to the tomb of his illustrious forebear to pray and grieve, and perhaps in the hope that the sanctity of the tomb would provide a sanctuary for himself and his surviving family. He therefore sent a message to Hodson offering the surrender of his party on condition that their lives and the lives and the crowd who now surrounded them be spared. Hodson explicitly agreed to this, stipulating only that the princes and the motley crowd of rebels should surrender their arms immediately.
Agreement being reached, the Emperor, trusting to the word of the British army officer, emerged from the tomb and exchanged greetings in person with Hodson. Finding the old man extremely frail with exertion, Hodson bid the Emperor take rest under a shady tree and accept refreshment. He then sent the princes back to Delhi, riding in an bullock-cart, with an escort of ten mounted British troopers. Meanwhile, the remaining ninety troopers collected the arms of the motley rebel crowd, which surrendered their weaponry without dissent at the bidding of their Emperor.
Murder in cold blood
Shortly afterwards, with the Emperor secured but clearly in no condition to be transported to the city, Hodson set out for the city with a small party of troopers. He soon caught up with the party carrying the princes. As they approached the gates of the city, he found that a crowd of townsmen had gathered in the expectation of witnessing the return of the Emperor and the princes. Also, a crowd of curious villagers had followed in the wake of the Princes as they travelled the few miles to the gates of Delhi.
It has been suggested that Hodson lost his nerve upon beholding the crowds. Others have suggested that the presence of the crowds suggested to him that this was a suitable arena in which to send out a clear message to the "natives" and demonstrate the power and ruthlessness of the British. Yet others have suggested that Hodson had made the agreement with the old Emperor in bad faith and that he had never intended to keep his word. In any of these cases (which are not exhaustive), the idea that breaching a solemn agreement (guaranteeing only life), which he had made minutes before, upon his word of honour as a British army officer, to an old man much respected by these crowds, would serve to blacken the reputation of the British rather than enhance it, was clearly beyond his ken.
At the city gate, Hodson ordered the three princes to get off the cart. They were then stripped of their upper garments. The bare-chested princes were lined up in clear sight of the crowd. Hodson then took out his gun and himself shot the three unarmed and half-naked princes in cold blood and at point-blank range. After killing the prince, Hodson personally stripped their bodies of jewellery, this being the signet rings, turquoise arm-bands and bejewelled swords worn by the three princes. He pocketed these valuables as trophies of war, although they had been obtained by killing disarmed prisoners of war under dubious circumstances. The bodies of the three princes were thrown back into the bullock-cart, taken to a kotwali (police-station) within the city, thrown on the ground in front of that building and left exposed there to be seen by all.
The memory of this act still lives in public memory. From then onwards, the gate near which the executions were performed became known as Khooni Darwaza meaning "Bloody Gate" or "Murder Gate."
- William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 published by Penguin, 2006