Female historic characters in the book
The backdrop to the book is the struggle for India’s independence (called swaraj – or self-rule). This huge political issue had rumbled - and exploded into violence many times – for over 100 years. All the while, of course, women were working to achieve equality, civil rights and supporting independence. In referencing this Indian political and social movement, I wanted to raise awareness of some of the women who were involved. After all, the key male characters are the subject of numerous books, documentaries and films. The same cannot be said of these women.
Bikaji Cama (1861-1936)
Bikaji Cama (who became known as Madam Cama) was born to a wealthy Parsee family in Bombay (now Mumbai). She was a part of the effort to control the bubonic plague mentioned in the book, contracting it herself. She was sent to Britain to recover. There she met many people working for independence and joined the movement where she became very influential. In1907, she attended the second Socialist Congress at Stuttgart, Germany, where she described the devastating effects of a famine. During this speech she revealed the flag of Indian independence, becoming the first person ever to unfurl the new Indian flag on foreign soil.
Regina Guha (died 1919)
Regina Guha was a pioneer activist who died before her dream, that Indian women should be able to practise law, came to fruition. The book gives an accurate representation of her fight. My source was from an paper given to me by a American academic. There is more about her on her Wikipedia page.
Cornelia Sorabji (1866 – 1954)
The book mentions the Sorabji sisters. The Sorabjis were an influential Parsee family who fought for the rights of women and children. Cornelia, as the book says, became the first Indian woman to be called to the Bar in Britain and India and could therefore practise in the two countries.
Susie Sorabji (1868-1931)
Susie Sorabji was another one of the Sorabji sisters (there were seven). She, as the book captures, was a promoter of education for girls. As in the scene where she visits chambers, Susie suffered from ill health and was confined to fundraising rather than teaching.
As the book states the Sorabji family – except Cornelia - opposed an independent India. However, Cornelia changed her mind some years later.
Annie Besant (1847-1933)
Annie Besant was an activist on many fronts, including Indian self-rule and women’s issues. She wrote over 300 books and pamphlets. She is an antecedent of Andrew Castle, the British tennis player and television presenter. A woman of high intelligence, she is often forgotten, although she played an important role in the struggle for independence. In the book, she brings with her a young boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986). Annie had informally adopted him and they had a close mother/son relationship. He went on to become a highly respected philosopher, speaker and writer.
Pandita Ramabai (1858 - 1922)
Ramabai Dongre was a women's right & education activist, a pioneer in the education and emancipation of women in India, and a social reformer. Orphaned by the famine mentioned in the book, she went on to become a respected lecturer and influencer on subjects that particularly affected women, such as education, health and the age of consent. She became the first woman to be awarded the titles Pandita and Sarasvati, titles given to respected scholars.