Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 March 2012
In 1912, the government of Bombay decided to send Mohabat Khan, the twelve-year-old Nawab of Junagadh, to school in England for a year and a half. The decision set off a small firestorm of criticism in India as well as in England. The boy's mother, Asha Bibi, had not been consulted in the decision. In a series of petitions to British authorities at every level — the political agent, the Governor of Bombay, the Viceroy, the Secretary of State for India and the King — Asha Bibi demanded that her son be returned to her. Sections of the English press took up her cause; the Nation called the episode ‘kidnapping by order’. Nevertheless, the decision stood. The Nation's editors were dismissed by old India hands as naïve about the realities of imperial government and colonial society, and Asha Bibi was labelled a hysterical woman who did not understand her son's best interests.
The Mohabat Khan affair was emblematic of the larger conflict over the upbringing of the children of the princes. The new child-rearing schemes were welcomed by many Indians, including the princes themselves. The latter, in particular, recognized that this education increased their ability to move vertically and horizontally within the empire at a time when they were in some danger of becoming irrelevant. They embraced the ideological goals of colonial education, and the opportunities it provided for the reinvention of the Indian prince.