‘That’ Indian Suffragettes Photo

A suffrage procession in London took place on June 17th 1911. Mrs Roy, Mrs Mukerjea and Mrs Bhola Nauth all marched in the Empire Pageant section of the procession along with representatives from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies.

Historian Sumita Mukherjee writes in her blog about the image: “This photo is often tweeted and retweeted, and shared on other forms of social media…people continue to use and discuss this photo as evidence of the large contribution that Indian women made to the British suffrage movement. These are women who are part of a procession that celebrates the imperial reach of Britain and were used by imperial feminists; they were elite, well-connected middle-class Indian women who were co-opted for involvement in one procession on one day.

This image of Indian women is symptomatic of one of the arguments that British suffragists and suffragettes put forward for the female vote. The British Empire was at its height at this time and the Parliament governed the colonies as well as Britain. The issue of Indian women (or other racialised women) who might vote in Britain was not being raised. They were not there to represent the campaign for votes in India either. They were being used to show support for the British, largely ‘white’ campaign, and to represent the size of the empire, rather than to reflect in any way on the diversity of the British population at the time. British women had asked for them to be there to support the argument that white British women should be granted the vote so they could have a say over imperial matters in parliament.

Britain has been racially diverse for centuries and it is important to keep on emphasising this and to ensure that histories of minorities are not separated from ‘mainstream’ British social or political histories as they are taught – and so actually a story like suffrage is a great example of the ways in which a large-scale politically radical movement had the potential to celebrate ‘diversity’. The photo is evidence that Indian women were present in Britain and interacted with British suffrage campaigners.”

You can read Sumita Mukherjee’s full blog at https://sumitamukherjee.wordpress.com/

For further reading see Sumita’s book ‘Indian Suffragettes: Female Identities and Transnational Networks’, published by Oxford University Press.

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