by LAUREN CODLING
‘OVERLOOKED’ Indian suffragettes were praised by senior peers and academics at a House of Lords event last Thursday (6).
The celebration of Indian women’s contributions for the British Suffrage movement was held in Westminster, marking 100 years since women were legally allowed to vote.
Conservative Muslim peers Lord Sheikh and Lady Sheikh hosted the event alongside former police woman Purnima Raval, who was one of the first Asian women recruited into the Metropolitan Police Service.
Labour politician Tan Dhesi, Britain’s first-turbaned Sikh MP, also attended.
Figures such as Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who played a prominent role as a suffragette with fellow campaigners Emeline Pankhurst and Emeline Petwick Lawrence, were praised for their “valuable contributions” to the cause.
Lord Sheikh, a Conservative peer since 2006, expressed his delight at being able to pay tribute to the women who fought for equal rights to vote.
“I am very proud of my Indian heritage,” Lord Sheikh began, “so we must promote and let the world know about the contributions of the Indians during the First World War and the contribution of Indian women for their right to obtain votes for women in this country.”
Born in Suffolk in 1876, Princess Sophia was the daughter of Maharajah Duleep Singh, who is generally recognised as the last Sikh king.
She became an active campaigner between 1909 and 1914, funding many suffrage groups, and was an active member in the tax resistance league.
However, her role in the suffragette movement was widely overlooked until author and journalist Anita Anand pursued her story and published a book, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary.
The Royal Mail issued a stamp in February, honouring the Indian princess on the 100th anniversary of the granting of votes for women.
In paying tribute to the women who “made huge sacrifices and fought with great determination,” Raval noted it was unfortunate Indian suffrages such as Princess Sophia have gone unrecognised.
“These figures actively campaigned and led from the front, but they have been overlooked and not enough people are aware,” Raval said. “We pay tribute to our sisters today and we celebrate those who stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with the other suffragettes.”
Dr Sumita Mukherjee, a senior lecturer of history at Bristol University, gave a talk on Princess Sophia’s life and activism within the suffragette movement.
Dr Mukherjee, who has written widely on the history of south Asian in Britain, said it was a “wonderful” moment to able to celebrate Princess Sophia and her fellow suffragettes in the Houses of Parliament.