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The legacy of Madam Bhikaiji Cama: The ‘mother of revolutionaries’ who fought for Indian independence

When Veer Savarkar’s book ‘First War of Indian Independence’ was banned by the English authorities before it could even release, it was Madam Cama who somehow got it smuggled to India and translated it into French.

Madam Bhikaiji Cama was born in a wealthy Parsi family of Bombay on 24 September 1861. She completed her secondary education at Alexandra Girl Education Institution. It was considered the best women school in the country at that time. Among nine of her brothers and sisters, she was the brightest and learnt several languages in her childhood. She married a wealthy, young and smart Parsi man ‘Rustam Cama’. However, her husband’s family always praised Britishers and had very little interest in public life. Slowly while following the freedom movement, Madam Cama grew conscious about the atrocities done by Britishers in the country due to which differences arose between her and Rustom Cama. 

When the plague broke out in 1896, Madam Cama gave up all the comfort and luxury lifestyle, devoted herself completely to the service of people wearing a white apron. She was so courageous that even while knowing that there has been no vaccine discovered for plague, yet she kept on working selflessly for the patients. A young, wealthy and beautiful lady could be seen in the role of a nurse and mother taking care of people affected by the. After a point of time she was infected with plague, therefore doctors advised her to go abroad for treatment. Subsequently, she left for London. 

After recovering from the illness she came in contact with a few revolutionaries Shyamji Krishna Verma and S.S. Rana. Dissatisfied with the stance of the British Committee of Indian National Congress, they started opposing the policies adopted by Congress leaders. Soon they realised that peaceful protests were not enough for dismantling the British rule. Madam Cama along with other revolutionaries started delivering speeches at Hyde Park. These fiery speeches started to attract native Indians staying abroad and foreign media. Madam Cama started working with Dada Bhai Naoroji and learnt about politics and expanded her network. She started to write in Indian Sociologist regularly.

Association with Veer Savarkar and Activism at India House

Shyamji Verma established the India House in London which became the centre for Indian revolutionaries staying abroad. It was a kind of hostel which was used to accommodate Indian students studying in London. The India House was established on 1st July 1905. The inauguration ceremony was attended by revolutionaries like Lala Lajpat Rai and Dada Bhai Naoroji. It was at India House that Madam Cama along with other revolutionaries like Veer Savarkar and Senapati Bapat used to formulate strategies to overthrow the British establishment. However, the ‘father of our nation’ never liked this group of revolutionaries working at The India House and considered them as ‘Violent Team’. 

When India House was celebrating the Golden Jubilee of India’s first war of Independence, Lala Lajpat Rai was arrested in India. At this time Madam Cama wrote fiercely in The Indian Sociologist and appealed to follow non-cooperation. She realised that the best way to dismantle Britishers in India is by stopping cooperating with them and this way their system would collapse in no time.   

As Veer Savarkar became the leader of The India House with the support of Madam Cama, he formed a group named – ‘ Abhinav Bharat’. This group used to celebrate the birthdays of Indian Freedom fighters.

When Veer Savarkar’s book ‘First War of Indian Independence’ was banned by the English authorities before it could even release, it was Madam Cama who somehow got it smuggled to India and translated it into French. Indian revolutionaries used to consider this book as their Geeta. Madam Cama always took care of Savarkar as her mother. When Savarkar was being chased by British Police, it was Madam Cama who gave him refuge at her place in Paris.

Thereafter when he was arrested in London, Madam Cama was the one under whose leadership an escape plan was formulated. When he was taken to India for trial, Madam Cama along with Lala Hardayal started a movement in France with the help of Jarvis a socialist leader, so that Savarkar’s release could be initiated. The French Govt. wanted the British Govt. to return Savarkar to them. It was after Madam Cama and Lala Hardayal wrote to various International Media Houses, ICJ took the case into its hand.

She kept on helping Savarkar’s family when he was awarded imprisonment for life. When she realised no option is left to save Savarkar, she walked straight into the office of the British Council in Paris and took all the responsibility for the crime for which Savarkar was being punished in Kala Paani. This clearly shows how bold and fearless she was.  

Designing and hoisting of the National Flag 

After Sister Nivedita first talked about the concept of the National Flag, Madam Cama and Savarkar started working on it. This flag consisted of three stripes of different colours. The first one was Green which represented the Muslim community of our country, the second one was of Saffron colour which is considered sacred by Hindus, Third was of red colour which was envisaged to give respect to the brave freedom fighters who lost their lives in the freedom movement.

Vande Mataram was also written in the middle of this flag. Finally, the day came on 22 August 1907 in the International Socialist Convention in Stuttgart, Germany, in which India was represented by Dada Bhai Naoroji.

As described by Author Rachna Yamini in her book ‘The life and times of Madam Bhikaiji Cama’: “When people saw Madam Cama, adorned in a Parsi saree with a full-sleeved blouse, sitting with a glorious face, people started to whisper in low voices. Her head was covered with an end of her saree, which displayed her courtesy, but when the same courteous and well-cultured Indian woman rose to speak in a fluent style, it appeared as if the entire assembly had been put on fire. When the Union Jack was about to be hoisted as a mark of the national flag of India, she opposed it and took out a small tricolour from her bag and waved it in her hands. With this Madam, Cama became the first Indian to hoist the National Flag on foreign soil. This drew a lot of international attention.”

End of a 35-year long journey          

Madam Cama spent a major part of her life in exile, in foreign countries. She travelled in Europe and America to gather resources and support for her countrymen who were fighting for the country. It should be observed that she proved to be quite successful in her mission. It won’t be wrong if we say that she was the first Non-Government ambassador of India. American press used to call her – ‘Indian Zone of Arch’. When Madam Cama came back to India after 35 years, she grew old and poor. After spending almost 8 months in hospital she finally gave up her life on 16 August, 1936.


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Searched termsBhikaiji Cama
Shubham Goyal
Shubham Goyal is a graduate from SRCC and currently a final year LLB student at Faculty of Law, DU

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