Anita Anand’s “Sophia” tells the story of the youngest Princess of the royal ruling family of the Punjab. Yet this biography opens, not in India, but at a suffragette meeting in Caxton Hall, Westminster, on Friday 18th November 1910.
On the platform in the crowded hall sit the leading suffragettes: Emmeline Pankhurst, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Christabel Pankhurst and more. At the back of the stage was a small, dark-skinned figure dressed in Parisian couture. That small, fierce face belonged to Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, activist and suffragette.
Who was Sophia, and what was a young Indian woman doing there anyway?
The meeting ended with a march to the gates of Westminster, the mother of Parliaments. All that the women wanted was the right to vote but many thought that an irrational demand. The marchers – Sophia among them – were brutally attacked, groped and beaten by uniformed and undercover police as well as crowds of jeering onlookers. Sophia, witnessing a vicious beating, took down the constable’s number and wrote so many letters of complaint that Winston Churchill refused to reply any more. That was his only way of stopping the Princess. Sophia, the admirable subject of this book, was never one to step back when someone needed her help.
“Sophia” is a book that covers a span of history as much as it covers a single life. Born in 1876, Sophia had Queen Victoria as a godparent. By the time of Sophia’s…