Indian princess Sophia Deuleep Singh, who was a leader of the Suffragette, was recently honoured with a blue heritage plaque in London. She was the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh – the last ruler of the Sikh empire – and the goddaughter of Queen Victoria.
British-Asian actor Anjli Mohindra (The Lazarus Project, The Suspect) has been developing a TV series around the feminist icon, and is in the process of offering scripts to potential broadcasters, hoping to introduce the world to Duleep Singh’s incredible story. After reading Anita Anand’s biography on the princess – Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary – Mohindra became enamoured by her story. “I read this book and just couldn’t believe that Sophia’s story hadn’t been told,” she tells HUNGER.
Duleep Singh was born in Elveden Hall in Suffolk in 1876, following her father’s exile from Punjab. “Her Dad had his empire taken away from him when he was six years old. He basically signed away his entire kingdom thinking it was a treaty,” explains Mohindra. As a result of that incident, Duleep Singh and her siblings were abandoned by their father. “He tried to stage a coup to restore his empire, and then when that didn’t work, he ran away to his mistress in Paris.”
Instead of trying to regain the empire, Duleep Singh decided to take the little she had and made it her duty to fight for the underdog, leading her into the Suffragette movement. However, she, luckily, could never get arrested due to her affiliation with the British royal family. “Queen Victoria took her and her older brother in as godchildren. She had a lot of ethnic godchildren from fallen kings and queens whose kingdoms they’d been disposed of,” continues Mohindra.
She was also a member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, whose slogan was “No Vote. No Tax.” And could often be seen selling The Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court Palace and was an extremely committed campaigner and fundraiser for all women’s rights.
Duleep Singh wasn’t just concerned with women’s rights, though; she actively did as much as she could to help all of those in the community around her, especially those from marginalised backgrounds. “She worked in a hospital that treated Indian soldiers in World War I; millions of them turned up to fight for Britain, and she wanted to help them all. She’s been such a major player in the UK.”
The activist could have sat back with her privilege of being a part of the royal family, but instead, she gambled it all to help those who needed it most. “I think she was an incredibly noble woman and it feels as close to pure altruism as you can get,” comments Mohindra. With her family having understandable chips on their shoulders due to their lost kingdom, the fact she set all that aside and said, ‘I just want to help women,’ is remarkable.”
After being labelled as a “dangerous woman” by Winston Churchill, Duleep Singh has now, rather poetically, joined the former Prime Minister as a recipient of a blue plaque in London – a result of her greatly beneficial impact on her society at the time and its everlasting effect in Britain today.