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Nawab Begum of Bhopal: First woman chancellor of a university

– Anwarulhaq Baig

Little do people know that Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum also known as the Nawab Begum of Bhopal, served as the founding Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) from 1920 until her death in 1930. She holds the distinction of being the first woman Chancellor of any Indian University. As of now, she is the only woman to have served as the Chancellor of AMU.

Sultan Jahan Begum’s tenure as Chancellor marked a turning point in AMU’s history

She played a significant role in the establishment of AMU and was a pivotal figure in the Aligarh Movement, which aimed to promote modern education in India. Sultan Jahan Begum’s tenure as Chancellor marked a turning point in AMU’s history. She was a staunch advocate for modern education and played a pivotal role in shaping the university’s early years.

Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum was not only a patron of education but also a philanthropist, prolific writer, and public health reformer.

She was the last female ruler of the second largest Muslim princely state of Bhopal. The longest known matrilineal reign of the world, started in 1819 when Qudsia Begum succeeded her husband Nazar Mohammad Khan as the ruler of Bhopal. It was lasted till 1926, when Sultan Jahan Begum abdicated the throne in favour of her only surviving son, Nawab Hamidullah Khan. The four Muslim women rulers have left lasting impact on the capital city of Madhya Pradesh – Bhopal, also known as the ‘city of lakes’.

Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, Sultan Jahan initiated various public welfare works, particularly establishing numerous educational institutions in Bhopal, introducing free and compulsory primary education in 1918. Focusing female education, she played a significant role in expanding technical institutes and schools and increasing the number of qualified teachers during her reign.

Besides education, Nawab Begum made significant contributions to public health, improving water supply systems, and raising standards of hygiene and sanitation. She also wrote several books on education, health, and other topics. Her legacy continues to inspire generations.

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