Celebrating a British Indian role model for today’s schoolgirls

Celebrating a British Indian role model for today’s schoolgirls
Author image courtesy Asif Patel Photography

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the granddaughter of the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, was a tireless campaigner for women’s right to vote.

As a young woman in the early 1900s, Sophia was introduced to the Women’s Social and Political Union and threw herself into efforts to campaign for women’s right to vote, using her position as a princess to bring publicity to the suffragette cause.

Now, British Indian author Sufiya Ahmed has turned this inspiring story into a children’s book to complement Britain’s school curriculum for nine to 13-year-olds. ‘My Story: Princess Sophia Duleep Singh’ released this month and here the author shares some insights.

Q

What made you select Princess Sophia Duleep Singh for My Story?

A

Because the granddaughter of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab is a role model. I run a Girls' Rights workshop in British schools and Sophia features in the slide show of role models. I hated that very few teachers had heard of her and definitely no children. I wanted to change that and so I wrote her story for children.

Sophia’s story is inspirational because she puts the cause she believes in ahead of herself. Sophia believed in a woman’s right to vote. She stood up for what she believed in and played a role in a defining historical event of the 20th century.

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Q

Are there other Indian-origin heroines that you are or would like to be writing about?

A

I’ve already written a book about another British Indian princess, Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan, who was a World War II heroine and Winston Churchill’s spy. She was a spy who was sent to occupied France to gather information against the Nazis and transmit it back to London HQ.

Noor also features in my Girls’ Rights workshop.

The Spy and the Suffragette, two British Indian Princesses, two role models that all children should know about.

There are so many women from Indian history that we need to celebrate. I would love to write a book on Queen Laxmi of Jhansi, Razia Sultan, Nur Jahan. All wonderfully empowered women whose stories should be more widely known widely.

Q

Why is it important for young British Indian girls to have such role models?

A

To add to their sense of belonging in Britain. When I first heard about Princess Sophia, I was sad for that younger me who was always interested in women’s rights and who always felt like I was looking into someone else’s history. When really, it was my history too. Sophia was a woman who looked like me in the suffragette movement and knowing about her when I was a schoolgirl would have made a huge difference to my sense of belonging in this country.

These are role models who contributed to Britain. Noor-U-Nissa Inayat Khan was one who sacrificed her life for the freedom of this country. They should be honoured and remembered.

But it's just as important for ALL children, regardless of race, to have pride in these women role models as they contributed to British historical events.

Q

What does India mean to you as a London-based author?

A

My heritage is from Surat, Gujarat. I was actually born in India and moved with my mother to the UK as a baby. We still have family there and visit when we can.

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Q

What’s coming up next, another children’s story?

A

My new book is releasing soon. It is fiction entitled ‘Rosie Raja – Churchill’s Spy’ and published by Bloomsbury Publishing.

It is a thrilling and empowering WWII adventure about the French resistance and their British allies, with a determined, mixed-race heroine. It’s July 1941. Rosina Raja is half-Indian and half-English. She has always lived in India, so when her mother passes away and she moves to England (where it rains all the time) she is miserable and doesn't have any friends. Life changes dramatically for Rosie when she discovers that her army captain father is actually a spy for the British government. She can't bear to be left behind, so she stows away in his plane.

Finding herself in occupied France, Rosie is soon drawn into the struggle against the Nazis. With new allies and new enemies at every turn, she must help her father complete his mission, and more importantly… make sure they both get home alive.

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