Sophia Duleep Singh was an Indian princess, goddaughter of Queen Victoria, socialite, suffragette, fighter for the rights of Indian soldiers and all in all an interesting subject whose story has been told for the first time by BBC radio and TV presenter Anita Anand in this splendid new biography.
Indian princess Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Emmeline Pankhurst’s right-hand women, has been airbrushed out of history.
Despite leading the Black Friday march on parliament in 1910, throwing herself at the PM’s car, fighting with police and refusing to pay her taxes, the diehard
suffragette has never been given the recognition she deserves.
As the daughter of the last Maharajah of the Punjab and the goddaughter of Queen Victoria, the British government refused to jail her and tried their best to cover up her “embarrassing” exploits.
Now, more than six decades after her death, broadcaster Anita Anand has written Sophia’s astonishing life story in a bid to give the princess, who often sought refuge in Scotland, her rightful place in history.
Sophia Dalip Singh’s conversion to the cause of Indian nationalism is detailed in a new book about the Punjabi princess who discovered and embraced her heritage more than a decade after her father’s death. Princess Sophia was the fifth child of Maharaja Dalip Singh, last ruler of independent Punjab who was forced to give up the fabled Kohinoor diamond to the British, and a goddaughter of Queen Victoria. Born in 1876 in England, she was only 17 when her father died in a Paris hotel room. Until recently, not much attention has been paid to Sophia, first a shy introvert, then a dazzling debutante at the English royal court and finally a militant in the suffragette movement…
…a new book by broadcast journalist Anita Anand, entitled, “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary”, argues that this daughter of Dalip Singh was a revolutionary through and through and has been unjustly overlooked by historians. In an exclusive interview with The Tribune, Anand explains that until 1903 Sophia was a classic Victorian society woman who made her debut at Buckingham Palace where she had to curtsy, bend and kiss her godmother, the Queen.
Abandoned by her father as a child, she grew up on the uncertain mercies of the queen not knowing any world but the one of gay parties and high fashion of British high society. Her life changed when she came to India, and learnt, for the first time, the depths of British perfidy that had deprived her father of his kingdom and India of its freedom and self-respect. That disenchantment, shows former Anita Anand, BBC radio and TV presenter writing her debut novel, bred revolutionary sympathies in her with Indian nationalists and the women’s suffragettes, who demanded the vote for women.
…Anita Anand traces what she calls the ‘roots of rebellion’ to Sophia’s father. Duleep Singh had been proclaimed maharajah of the Punjab at the age of six, after his path to the throne of his putative father, Ranjit Singh, had been cleared rather in the manner of Kind Hearts and Coronets. He inherited a vast Sikh kingdom, a huge fortune, and the Koh-i-noor diamond, all of which he was forced to sign away at the age of 11 when the British annexed the Punjab…
Anita Anand writes about the whole family, but keeps Sophia at the heart of the book and makes excellent use of letters and diaries to trace her subject’s evolution from frivolous socialite to militant suffragist.
Sophia, Anand’s literary debut, recounts the forgotten tale of one woman’s extraordinary life, set against a sweeping historical backdrop.
It takes us from the foundations of the Sikh faith in the 15th century to the fight for Indian independence, which was finally secured in 1947.
But at its heart is the role Queen Victoria’s goddaughter played at the vanguard of the suffragette movement, fighting alongside more celebrated heroines like Emmeline Pankhurst to secure votes for women.
Part of a biographer’s job is to rescue forgotten figures, and in “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary” Anita Anand has salvaged an extraordinary one. Sophia Duleep Singh was a Punjabi princess and Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, a bucktoothed “docile little thing” who went on to become a celebrated London fashion plate and then a steely suffragist…
As subject matter goes, the life of Sophia Duleep Singh offers the potential for about a dozen biographies rather than just one…
This is an unforgettable, vivid tale, sweeping in scale, made all the more extraordinary when one considers it is based entirely on real life.
Sophia is so well researched that this is likely to remain a definitive account.
It also sheds light on its period and has new things to say about 19th and 20th century Anglo–Indian relations.
Anand’s passion shines through.
In “Sophia” Ms. Anand tells her subject’s story with verve and on a broad canvas, an accomplishment because so few of the princess’s own writings remain. This book’s most vivid moments come from the diary Sophia kept on her visit in India and from interviews Ms. Anand conducted with the princess’s own goddaughter and the evacuees she sheltered during the World War II. Ms. Anand tries to fill in the spaces of her subject’s inner life, but Sophia’s ambivalence—about the British, about India, and maybe about her own family—was her most interesting but also most elusive trait.