I am writing about the Qaimkhanis not only because of Fatehyab but also because, as an intruder, I married into their conservative community. Fatehyab’s family were Muslim Rajputs from Rajasthan who traced their ancestry to Prithviraj Chauhan ─ dharti ka veer ─ who ruled over Ajmer and Delhi and was ultimately defeated and killed in battle by Muhammad Ghori in 1247. Notably, one of Chauhan’s descendants, Karamchand also known as Karam Karan Singh (1335-1419), son of Raja Motay Rai Chauhan of Dorayra and his two brothers converted to Islam during the reign of Feroz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388). There are many stories about how this happened but all we know with certainty is that when he became a Muslim, Karamchand took the name of Qaim Khan and the descendants of all three brothers collectively came to be known as Qaimkhanis. They were a warrior clan, much acclaimed and respected for their valour and chivalry.
Qaim Khan was educated by a nobleman in Feroz Shah’s court, joined his army and was appointed governor of Hisar Ferozah. Feroz Shah gave him the title of Khan-e-Jahan. He continued as governor, ruling almost independently over a vast area, under Sultan Muhammad Shah Tughlaq (reigned 1389-1394). He lived through Taimur’s invasion of India but fell out with Khizr Khan (reigned 1414-1421) who established the Sayyid dynasty. It is said, but not with certainty, that Khizr Khan murdered him in 1419 and threw his body into the Ganges River and so the valiant Rajput victor of many battles was deprived of a grave on his beloved land. Although he had converted to Islam, Qaim Khan married Hindu Rajput women and had seven wives. The area which the Qaimkhanis ruled over was called Shekhawati and was bounded by the principalities of the Hindu rajas of Rajasthan. Two centres of Qaimkhani power gained prominence: Fateh Khan grandson, and Muhammad Khan, son of Qaim Khan, established the states of Fatehpur and Jhunjunu respectively.
Fatehpur was the more important nawabi which Fateh Khan established in 1446 in a lush, vast and unpopulated jungle. The foundation of his famous fort was laid in 1451 and was preceded by the founding of a Jain temple which was considered an auspicious act. Although he was a Muslim, like other Qaimkhani rulers, in governance and marriage he did not abandon his Rajput heritage. His commander-in-chief was a Hindu, Bahugan Surkhel Bhati. The Qaimkhani nawabs constructed temples in their palaces and forts where their Hindu Rajput wives could worship according to their faith.
One of the nawabs of Fatehpur, Fidan Khan (d. 1575), won the respect and friendship of Mughal emperor Akbar (see here) and gave his daughter in marriage to the emperor. He was a frequent visitor at Akbar’s court. When he was not at war, the jungles in Fatehpur and Jhunjunu were Akbar’s hunting ground. Another prominent Qaimkhani figure from Fatehpur in the reigns of the Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahangir was Alaf Khan. By a royal decree, Akbar appointed Alaf Khan as the ruler of Fatehpur and later made him a mansabdar. But it was under Jahangir that Alaf Khan distinguished himself as a commander and he was sent by the emperor in all directions to put down numerous rebellions in his empire. So much so that Jahangir bestowed upon him the red seal and patta which guaranteed that the one so honoured will never be removed from his seat of power. He died fighting the rebels in the battle of Kangra in 1626.
Jhunjunu was established in 1445 but the history of its long line of nawabs is not as well recorded as those of Fatehpur. Many of them were mansabdars of the Mughal court. Like the nawabs of Fatehpur they have left behind beautiful structures ─ some now derelict, some preserved ─ in the form of forts, mausoleums, palaces, mosques and step wells. The Qaimkhani fort at Fazilgarh in Jhunjunu is particularly imposing. The Qaimkhani community is mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari as fighters in the Mughal army and with much praise in the memoirs of Jahangir who especially mentions Alaf Khan and acknowledges his services. Throughout, they remained loyal to the Mughal emperors in Agra and Delhi.
The Qaimkhanis ruled over the Shekhawati area for 280 years and their decline can be linked to the decline of the Mughal Empire (1526-1540, 1555-1857). When they lost power, many of them migrated to the Deccan, that land of opportunity, where they acquired status and property, some lived in luxury and received titles from the rulers of Hyderabad. Most of them served in the Nizams’ forces. The British designated the Qaimkhanis as a martial race and recruited them into the British Indian Army. They saw active service during the First World War in France, Mesopotamia and Palestine and lost many lives. The names of their dead and injured have been preserved meticulously by their historians. For their valour and bravery they received many military awards.
When Partition took place, most of the Qaimkhanis migrated to Pakistan and the majority continued to serve in the army, rising to the rank of full general. Like all army personnel, they acquired considerable agricultural property but their lives were influenced also by the process of urbanization in Pakistan. Not known for their learning or liberalism, they remain a relatively tightly-knit community, in spite of being divided into innumerable sub-clans, branches and households. Fatehyab appeared to be a misfit among them. They recognized his fame but were impatient with his moral stance in politics. The Chauhans, the premier Rajput clan, have always considered themselves suraj vansi Rajputs ─ or those who were descended from the sun ─ as opposed to the lesser chandr vansis who were descended from the moon. With his socialist ideas, Fatehyab did not believe in the virtues of lineage but when he was provoked, he would smile and say that he was a suraj vansi.
- I have drawn on two sources for this brief history of the Qaimkhanis : Mehboob Ali Khan, Tarikh-i-Qaimkhani, translated by Mazhar Ali Khan from Hindi (Karachi: 2002) and Ata Muhammad Khan, Waqayat-i-Qaum Qaimkhani (Karachi: 1993).