By Anita Anand (Guest Contributor)
I am often asked how I found Sophia but honestly, she found me. I was on maternity leave in 2010 when one morning, a local magazine landed on my mat. As I turned the pages I became transfixed by a single image – a brown-skinned woman dressed as an Edwardian lady, selling copies of a militant suffragette newspaper. She looked Indian.
I am a political journalist of Indian origin, so naturally found myself drawn. I tugged on a thread and an avalanche of a story fell. Princess Sophia Duleep Singh would take me on one of the greatest journalistic adventures of my life.
Princess Sophia Jindan Alexandrovna Duleep Singh was a dispossessed Princess of one of the greatest and most defiant empires of the Indian subcontinent. Her grandfather was a one eyed warrior King who united northern India and terrified the British.
After his death in 1843, Sophia’s father, Maharajah Duleep Singh took the throne aged just 5. Sensing the chance for a land grab, the British befriended the boy and then betrayed him. Duleep was exiled, and ended up in Britain, where he enjoyed great favour from Queen Victoria. She adored him and gladly became Sophia’s godmother when she was born in 1876.
The relationship turned toxic however, when the Maharajah tried and failed to take back his Kingdom. His obsession caused him to discard Sophia and her mother. Queen Victoria appointed guardians who cared for the little girl, left crippled by the insecurity of her abandonment. Together, they and the Queen rebuilt her. Sophia was given a home at Hampton Court Palace, and filled newspapers with her trend setting fashion sense. She became quite the girl about town.
From Girl About Town to Suffragette
A prohibited trip to Punjab at the turn of the century, however, changed everything. She came to understand just how much had been taken from her family and from India. With a burning sense of injustice, Sophia sailed back to Britain and found an outlet for her rage.
Sophia became an ardent and committed member of Emmeline Pankhurst’s army. She drove carts of Suffragette newspapers through London, embarrassing former friends at Buckingham palace. She fought with police, battling in the midst of violent riots, even throwing herself at the Prime Ministers car. She refused to pay her taxes, daring the authorities to arrest her, longing to go on hunger strike like her sister suffragettes.
The one-time darling of the establishment was now denounced from the highest orders. This is the story of her life and transformation.
Anita Anand has been a radio and television journalist for almost twenty years. She is the presenter of Any Answers on BBC Radio 4. During her career, she has also presented Drive, Doubletake and the Anita Anand Show on Radio 5 Live, and Saturday Live, The Westminster Hour, Beyond Westminster, Midweek and Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. On BBC television she has presented The Daily Politics, The Sunday Politics and Newsnight. She lives in west London. This is her first book.