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UK remembers Indian-origin pioneer of women’s vote

Sophia Duleep Singh was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She campaigned for votes for women in Richmond and Kingston-upon-Thames.

world Updated: Feb 07, 2018 00:02 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Sophia Duleep Singh,Representation of the People Act,Royal Mail stamp
A stamp to honour Sophia Duleep Singh.(Image Courtesy: Royal Mail)

On February 6, 1918, Britain passed the Representation of the People Act, which gave women over the age of 30 and “of property” the right to vote. That right was granted after a prolonged campaign by women activists – collectively called “suffragettes”.

Events are being held across the UK to commemorate the centenary of the passing of the Act. One activist being remembered is Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948), who features in a new Royal Mail stamp.

Her story was little known till a book Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by broadcaster Anita Anand was released in 2015. The book brought her into public limelight, and her contribution was remembered across the media.

The daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh and his first wife Bamba Muller, Sophia Duleep Singh was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She campaigned for votes for women in Richmond and Kingston-upon-Thames.

She was often seen selling the newspaper The Suffragette outside Hampton Court Palace, where she lived — the stamp, which will be released on February 15, has a photo of her selling the newspaper. Her father had been close to Queen Victoria, and the family was given the use of the palace’s apartment rooms.

On November 18, 1910, known as “Black Friday”, she and fellow suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst led a 400-strong demonstration to Parliament. As clashes broke out between the police and protestors, over 150 women were physically assaulted.

She also belonged to the Women’s Tax Resistance League, whose slogan was “No Vote, No Tax”. Her refusal to pay tax led to her prosecution several times and some of her possessions were impounded.

Noted director Gurinder Chadha tweeted she was working on a BBC drama on Sophia Duleep Singh. According to British Library records, she was not the only Indian suffragette — an Indian women’s group took part in the 1911 coronation procession of 60,000 suffragettes.

Other Indian-origin suffragettes honoured include Lolita Roy, who was president of the London Indian Union from 1908. London mayor Sadiq Khan on Tuesday launched an exhibition on suffragettes at Trafalgar Square, which includes a life-size image of Roy.

Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the 100th anniversary of the Act: “Those who fought to establish their right – my right, every woman’s right – to vote in elections, to stand for office and to take their full and rightful place in public life did so in the face of fierce opposition.

“They persevered in spite of all danger and discouragement because they knew their cause was right,” she said in a speech in Manchester, a centre of activism for the suffragette movement and the birthplace and home of Pankhurst.”

Home secretary Amber Rudd said on Tuesday she was looking at the possibility of legal pardons for offences committed by suffragettes during the campaign.

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 19:18 IST