There has been a lively debate about the basis of this distinction between the private and public spheres of Mughal India. Scholars like Rosalind O'Hanlon and Ruby Lal have tried to analyze this division within the context of premodern Mughal consciousness and the social sphere. They draw inspiration from the medieval Perso-Islamic social culture to provide significance (with some exceptions) to masculine public and feminine private sphere that is 'incarcerated.
The issue of this divide can be explored and questioned by looking at the concept of service. This essay attempts to do this by examining the role of eunuchs during the Mughal empire.
The Eunuchs, or Khwajasaras (the Persian name for various men having inactive or non-functional sexual organs), were employed as servants, enslaved people, and administrative officers during the Mughal empire. They have enslaved people as well as enslavers. At times, they were agents in the maintenance of the slavery system.
Their sexual diversity socially placed them in a confusing place in the Mughal set-up. Yet, they were an essential part of the Mughal Harem and the Mughal public realm.
Private and public
Recent studies have highlighted the permeability of the boundary between public and private as the most significant characteristic of the early modern era. The role of eunuchs in maintaining and crossing these boundaries becomes fascinating to study. The essential service they rendered was their crucial function in transferring information.
The eunuchs were the primary and essential source of information of the Harem's cult to the world outside, and the reverse was true. Abul Fazl, the author of Akbarnama, the book that is the most important source of information about Mughal India, tells us that all intrigues and gossips traveled through the system of this class of servants. Francois Bernier, the French traveler who went to the Mughal courts of Aurangzeb during the 17th century, outlines the structure and organization of the Mughal Harem, based on details he obtained from eunuchs.
A quick look at the latest sources shows that eunuchs were employed to fulfill religious, administrative, and other managerial tasks. At times, the character of the duties was like those performed by nobles of high rank.
For instance, Abdullah Khan, an Amir (noble) in the Jahangir era, appointed the Khwajasara "wafadar" (the Loyal Eunuch) to oversee the State of Gujarat that was strategically significant along the western coastline that was part of the subcontinent. Eunuchs, at times, were seen to stand against princes of royal blood. Itibar Khan Khwajasara, who was one of the most trusted friends of Jahangir, was a staunch defender of his city Agra in the face of Shah Jahan, the future Mughal Emperor as well as the Jahangir's rebel prince. A different Itibar Khan servant-of-the-court of Babur was appointed the governor of Delhi under the period of Akbar. Dara Shikoh named a khwajsara as chief of the fortress at Attock near the Indus River. Indus. Khwajasara Khwaja Agah was given the task of the faujdarship (governorship) in Agra. Numerous examples show that the participation of eunuchs in the power-play of the State and the administration that the Empire had was simultaneously recognized.
The eyes of historians have been somewhat muzzled by in the past.
As per their place in the middle of the Empire, Eunuchs' position in the Harem was administrative and managerial. They were responsible for guarding the Harem. The Harem was protected from the entrance of males who were not wanted and objects that had sexual connotations and were utilized by women for sexual pleasure, such as nuts, cucumbers, etc. A proper hierarchy was established in the Royal Harem. There were eunuch in-charges known as nazirs who were supervisors in the majority. Subordinate Khwajasaras supported them.
While protecting the Harem, the eunuchs sometimes acted out with women in the Harem. However, they were at being the victims of harsh treatment, too. One of the most notable examples of this is the demotion of the person in charge of the royal Harem by the Aurangzeb after discovering two younger males were in the Harem. The breach in security was reported to have occurred in the presence of Raushanara Begum; however, the responsibility for the error was shared on behalf of the Emperor.
Harem women also sought sexual assistance from eunuchs. There are some indirect proofs of this. For instance, an observer from the present, Manucci, writes how women from the Harem occasionally were able to get favors from eunuchs that utilized their hands and tongues in the most sexually 'licentious' way. Additionally, at most, one mention of an unlucky eunuch who had an affair with an Asian woman during the reign of Aurangzeb. In this instance, the eunuch was killed for the apparent crime.
Politicians also became a source of conflict. Khwaja Hilali of the Akbar court was forced to abandon his home because a different noble liked the place. Amad Khan, another eunuch with a lot of power under Akbar, was brutally stabbed by an ordinary soldier due to his savage character.