KOLKATA, India (AFP) – A impoverished Indian woman claims to be the heir to the family that constructed the Taj Mahal and has requested possession of a majestic castle that previously housed Mughal emperors.

Sultana Begum survives on a little pension in a small two-room home tucked amid a slum on the outskirts of Kolkata.

Records of her marriage to Mirza Mohammad Bedar Bakht, rumoured to be the great-grandson of India’s last Mughal ruler, are among her meagre possessions.

After his death in 1980, she struggled to subsist, and she has spent the last decade asking authorities to recognise her royal title and compensate her appropriately.

“Can you imagine a descendant of the emperors who built the Taj Mahal now living in abject poverty?” the 68-year-old asked AFP.

Begum has filed a court action claiming ownership of the towering 17th-century Red Fort, a huge and pockmarked stronghold in New Delhi that was once the centre of Mughal rule.

“I am confident that the government will provide me with justice,” she stated. “When something belongs to someone, it should be restored to that person.”

Her cause, which has the support of sympathetic activists, is based on her assertion that her late husband’s ancestry can be traced back to Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last monarch to reign.

By the time of Zafar’s coronation in 1837, the Mughal empire had shrunk to the capital’s borders, following the conquest of India by the East India Company, a commercial enterprise of British merchants.

Mutinous soldiers declared the now frail 82-year-old as the leader of their insurgency two decades later, which is now regarded as India’s first war of independence.

Within a month, British soldiers encircled Delhi and brutally suppressed the insurrection, murdering all ten of Zafar’s surviving sons despite the royal family’s submission.

Zafar was banished to neighbouring Myanmar, travelling on a bullock cart under surveillance, and died impoverished in captivity five years later.

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