A debate over whether the remains of the last King of Punjab should stay buried in England or be exhumed and taken to India has been reignited following the release of a new film.
Maharajah Duleep Singh inherited the throne to the Sikh kingdom at the age of five but was removed as ruler in 1849 when British India annexed Punjab. After being separated from his mother he was taken to the UK, went on to befriend Queen Victoria and was involved in a failed attempt to reclaim his throne with the assistance of Irish revolutionaries. The maharajah died in Paris in 1893 at the age of 55 and was laid to rest at St Andrew and St Patrick’s Church in the village of Elveden, Suffolk.
His poignant life story is now the subject of a new international film biopic, The Black Prince, starring Satinder Sartaaj. The film was released on July 21 and entered the UK box office chart at number nine. As well as covering Maharajah Duleep Singh’s lifelong struggle to reclaim his rightful kingdom, the film details his relationship with Queen Victoria who was godmother to his children.
According to a report by The Times, Lord Rana, India’s honorary consul in Northern Ireland, wants to see the maharajah’s remains exhumed and taken to India for last rites in accordance with Sikh and Hindu customs. He’s due to raise the matter in October at a meeting of the UK’s Indo-British all-party parliamentary group.
He told the paper: “I have no doubt that members will support a move [to return the maharajah’s remains to Punjab].”
Lord Rana believes the decision to return Duleep Singh’s body to England was political. “If they took his ashes or his body back for a Hindu Sikh funeral ritual, there would have been riots in India,” he said.
Lord Rana added: “He wanted to return to Punjab and claim his heritage. Even if he didn’t get the throne, he wanted to spend the rest of his life in Punjab.”
The issue has split the Sikh community with opinions divided on what should happen to the maharajah’s remains.
Historian Peter Bance, who is Sikh, said that the maharajah wanted to be buried in England with his family. Speaking to The Times, he described the campaign to exhume the maharajah’s remains as politically motivated.
“The maharajah wasn’t even from India. He was from Lahore, which is in Pakistan. His kingdom was carved into present day Pakistan in 1947. Should you separate him from his wife and children?
“Duleep Singh was used throughout his life by the British and other organisations. Now he’s dead his body is being used by Sikhs — his own people. It’s so sad.”