She changed the course of women in Britain, but went unsung. British TV journalist Anita Anand documents the life of Maharaja Duleep Singh’s daughter who played a pivotal role in the British suffragette movement alongside political activist Emmeline Pankhurst but was swept aside by history.
“An embarrassment to the Empire for her ‘antics’ and her connection with Indian revolutionaries, Sophia was the quintessential Sikh, who stood up for the weakest,” says Anand, who pays a tribute to her in ‘Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary’.
Speaking at the British Council in Chandigarh on Thursday, Anita recalls how she was struck by a 1913 picture of Sophia selling ‘The Suffragette’.
Sophia was not only her father’s favourite but also found favour with Queen Victoria, her godmother.
“Born in 1876, daughter of Duleep and an Abyssinian slave Bamba Mueller, Sophia’s story is unique. The family’s “easy child” came out in English society aged 17 to tremendous reviews,” says Anand.
A woman of substance
The turning point in her life came when she attended the Delhi Durbar in 1903 where the Empire was being handed over to her father’s best friend Edward VII.
Sophia realised she and her family had lost to the very people she called friends. She was transformed. Moved by leader of the Swadeshi
Movement, Lala Lajpat Rai, and other revolutionaries, Sophia returned to England a changed woman.
Pankhurst took it as an opportunity to deliver a blow to the monarchy.
Champion of a cause
Sophia was among those Pankhurst selected to march on Parliament after women above 30 who had property were granted voting rights. “All hell broke loose as police roughed up women. This was the first time the British took note of the suffragette movement.”
After that, the princess refused to pay taxes. She was asked to appear in court but was never arrested.
“She was an extraordinary woman. Her siblings hated the British. But she chose to fight for British women which counts as an amazing example of not living with bitterness,” says Anand.