An Indian princess whose pivotal role remains largely forgotten in history, had great influence in the Women's Suffrage Movement, which led to British women acquiring the right to vote. Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was the daughter of Duleep Singh and granddaughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Born in the summer of 1876, she spent the early part of her life in the English Countryside and only first visited India in 1903. This was a turning point in her life as she was alarmed by the treatment of her fellow citizens under an autocratic colonial regime.
The princess was enamoured by the work of many Indian revolutionaries and was especially intrigued by the work of Lala Lajpat Rai who was imprisoned on sedition charges. This discovery first moved Sophia to turn against the British Raj and she returned to England looking for a fight. She actively got engaged in WSPU (Women’s Social & Political Union) and inadvertently became a significant part of the Suffrage Movement.
As part of the Women's Tax Resistance League, they led rallies with the slogan “No taxation without representation” and "No Vote, No Tax". Known as the most vilified women in England, they garnered a special dislike amongst royals. In November 1910, on the day later known as ‘Black Friday’, Sophia and Emmeline (woman who organised the Suffrage Movement) led a protest with suffragettes marching towards the House of Commons. As noted by the Quint, they were passionate with the hopes of convincing then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s government to pass a limited suffrage bill.
However, they were attacked by the police and the princess soon got arrested. This only fueled her fire as she started selling ‘The Suffragette’ newspaper outside the elite area of Hampton Court Palace. She also subverted the census and claimed that if women do not count then they should not be counted either. The rebellious princess threw herself at the prime minister's car, all while screaming slogans and holding onto a banner that read “Give Women the Vote”.
The suffrage sisters were continuously imprisoned and were brutally fed to put a stop on their hunger strikes. Sophia noted the crown’s ruthless antics that only seemed to get worse at home and in their acquired colonies. At last, her efforts came to fruition when the Representation of the People Act of 1918 was passed which gave women over 30 the right to vote. This further led to women over 21 acquiring the right to vote in 1928.
The princess turned activist spent the majority of her life in public protests and fighting against the establishment. During the First World War she took to the bedside of wounded Indian soldiers known as ‘Lascars’. Through all her efforts she only ever worked for the upliftment of those who were forgotten by a powerful regime, becoming a part of the most integral movement in human history. Finally being recognised for her bravery, the princess is to be honoured with a commemorative Blue Plaque by English Heritage in London.
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