Everyone knows about the guts, glory and grandeur of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Punjab. People also know about the life of his son Maharaja Duleep Singh, who lived in obscurity after he was exiled to Britain at the age of 15 and died alone in Paris at 55.
However, not much was known about Duleep Singh’s children, especially his sixth child, Sophia, until Anita Anand, a broadcast journalist in London, happened to come across a photograph of a suffragette selling newspapers outside Hampton Court in a local magazine that completely took her by surprise.
Struck by the photo, she decided to go into the detail about the woman who had a similar ancestry as hers and the result was the biography of Sophia Duleep Singh, a princess-in-exile, whose causes were the struggle for Indian independence, the welfare of Indian soldiers in World War 1 and the fight for female suffrage. The book tells about the ‘goddaughter of Queen Victoria’ who turned from a scruffy little child to a socialite to a suffragette.
The book tells about the transformation in Sophia’s attitude after her India visits – first in 1903 and later in 1907 where she was much influenced by the views of Congress leader and freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai.
The arrest and deportation of Lajpat Rai to Mandalay, Burma, without trial in May 1907 further radicalised the princess. Back in England, Sophia found the suffragettes fighting with similar aims as the nationalists in India and decided to join them. Thereafter, she fought for them as her own.
Sophia died in England in 1948.
Anand’s book, which is a result of four years of hard work, including three years of rigorous research, was released recently.
Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, by Anita Anand, Bloomsbury RRP£20/ $30, 432 pages