The Nawabs of Awadh were known for their lavish lifestyles, their ‘nawabiyat’ culture of magnanimity and generosity. Generations later, the descendants of the Nawabs, who were once the rulers of the region, have now been reduced to accept meager sums of money as part of the ‘Wasika’ or the royal pension, now left just as a matter of ancestral pride for these ‘wasikedars’.
Once the rulers of the entire region, the descendants of the Nawabs of Awadh have now been reduced to accept trivial sums of money as the ‘royal pension’ or ‘Wasika‘. The pension, which started from the times of the British, is now a matter of ancestral pride for the fading royalty of Lucknow. These aristocrats of the city can often be found on the creaking steps of the Hussainabad Picture Gallery, a grand old brick building, whose walls are coated with the memories of the grandeur of the Nawabs of Awadh. These ‘wasikedars‘ are the descendants of the Nawabs, their ministers and officers, and are linked to the past by this royal pension.
Wasika is a Persian word, which means a document that has drawn its sanctity from its written nature, granting a pension drawn from the interest on the principal sums, or on wealth in the form of property and jewels, given by the Nawabs to the British at the various times, or interest accruing from investments made in promissory notes. The ‘wasika’ system is a unique formulation of Awadh’s Nawabs, often painted in unflattering brush strokes by historians. Such an arrangement for perpetual generosity is found nowhere else in the world.
According to history, King Mohammad Ali Shah had loaned Rs. 2 crores to the English East India Company, while they were at war and needed money. The present system of ‘Wasika‘ was started in 1816, by Bahu Begum, the mother of Nawab Asaf ud Daula, for the help of their relatives and others. This system was continued by the English East India Company and after independence, its has been continued by the Home Ministry of the Government of India.
Presently, there are approximately 1500 wasikedars, who collect their pensions in a dilapidated office next to the Hussainabad picture gallery. Their wasikas vary from Rs. 1 to Rs. 600 for a month, money that is even less than the amount spent on the journey to the office. Many of the wasikedars are now prosperous and have settled abroad, but still come back from places like the UK and USA, spending thousands of rupees, to collect sums as meager as Rs. 5 only. Many wasikedars are poor and uneducated; but for all of these recipients, the wasika is a pleasure that far outstrips it’s monetary value.
For a long time, the descendants of the nawabs of Awadh have been demanding an increase in their wasika pension. For many of them, the pension amount does not matter but is certainly humiliating for their prestige, as these are not “alms”. Wasika was originally paid to its recipients in the form of silver coins, which had much more value than the currency notes they are paid in now.
Besides an increase in the pension amount, the wasikedars also want a dearness allowance from the government. They state that the value of the treasures that the Nawabs had given over to the British would have increased multiple times since the wasika system was introduced. They also want the government to do away with a system of commutation under which, if a wasikedar takes an advance payment of 20 years of their wasika, their wasika is deemed to be over. Apart from this, the wasikedars also want recognition of their ancestors and the role played by them in the freedom struggle. Increasing the pension amount is more a matter of honour than anything else. It is unlikely that the ‘Wasikedars of Awadh’ will let go of their connection with the past, so easily; because for them, more than a pension, it is something which establishes their connection with the royal family of the Nawabs of Awadh.
The wasika is an affair of honour and sentiment for its recipients and a constant reminder that royal blood flows somewhere in their veins. It is a legacy of their ancestry. They hold the wasikas as the finest example of the Nawabi culture of open-handedness, generosity and secularism. It is not something which can be bought, and has been conferred to the people by virtue of their ancestry and thus a matter of pride.
Ishan Kalhans is a student pursuing History at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Varda Ahmad
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.