The Indian Army has requested the Rampur royal family to consider donating some of the rare antique guns, rifles, swords and knives that have been kept in the recently opened armoury at Khasbagh Kothi in Rampur.
Last month, the armoury was opened for the first time in decades for evaluation as a part of an ongoing legal process with regards to a property dispute between different branches of the family. Inside the armoury, which had been handed over to the Indian government by the last Nawab soon after Rampur’s merger with India, were found hundreds of carved vintage guns, gem studded swords and knives with handles made from precious stones.
“I have received proposals from the Indian Army to donate some of these arms to them to be kept in Army museums,”said Kazim Ali Khan, one of the Nawab’s grandsons who now lives in Noor Mahal in Rampur. Kazim said he has been approached by both the Army headquarters in Lucknow as well as the Jammu and Kashmir and Rajpur regiments.
In his letter to Kazim, Lt General N S Raja Subramani, GOC North India, has written, “These unique firearms and weapons made centuries ago are of particular interest to the Armed Forces and I believe they would be best preserved by being displayed in museums and army messes.”
Khan however said that before the arms can be handed over, the legal case will have to be resolved, and all members of the extended family will have to be consulted.
In 1949, Nawab Raza Ali Khan merged Rampur with India. In return, the Indian government bestowed two key rights to the Nawab – he was granted full ownership of the properties and guaranteed succession to the gaddi or rulership of the state based on the customary law, which gave exclusive property rights to the eldest son.
When Raza Ali Khan died in 1966, he had three wives, three sons and six daughters. His eldest son Murtaza Ali Khan succeeded him as head of the state, as per custom. The government recognised him as the sole inheritor of all his father’s private properties and issued a certificate to this effect. But his brother challenged this in civil court, leading to a 47-year-old property dispute.
Pursuant to a Supreme Court order last year, which ordered that all members of the Rampur royal family – not just the children of the Nawab’s eldest son – should get an equal share of the royal property as per Shariat law, the district court at Rampur has undertaken the work of evaluating the royal inheritance. The armoury and a strongroom at Khasbagh Kothi, the Nawab’s summer residence, were a part of this evaluation.
On Saturday, the strongroom – the center of much speculation among the locals and the media – was opened. There were rumours of its being filled with gold and jewels, crowns and tiaras, but in a great anticlimax, the strongroom was found to be entirely empty. What the members of the family as well as the evaluators did find were two large 8×4 feet lockers and 11 trunks, all of which were empty.
The strongroom has been breached once before – in 1980 – in a theft that the UP CID had at the time called “the biggest ever robbery in India”. Nawab Murtaza Ali Khan’s daughter Shahzadi Naghat Abedi said that most of the strongroom’s contents were stolen at the time. “In any case, these stories of jewels being there is just not true. At the most, there would have been gold and jewel studded alams which are used in Muharram processions and other religious items. The jewels were either distributed to family members or shifted to banks by my grandfather,” she said.
But the opening of the strongroom has led to further allegations by Kazim. “I knew we would not find anything inside. This is because most items were being siphoned off by my aunt (Abedi’s mother), some were sold off by employees and some stolen. When the doors of the strongroom were cut, we found that it wasn’t locked, it had just been rusted and was stuck. Why was it unlocked – that meant that there were no valuables inside, he said, adding that he believes the strongroom had once crowns, necklaces, gem studded bells, gem studded sashes, caps and women’s gowns studded with rubies and emeralds.
“Rampur had the largest collection of Basra pearls in India, and they are all gone now. Basra pearls are no longer available anywhere in the world,” he said, adding that his branch of the family has submitted a list of 5,000 items to the Supreme Court. “Whatever is found missing, the value of that will be taken out of our cousins’ share,” he said.
But Abedi said the list is based on items in the royal household in 1947, before the accession to India. “My grandfather was the Nawab and he gave away many things. Even to family, for instance to us at our weddings. These were his things to do with as he pleased. My family has never laid hand on any of these items,” she said.
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