by Dr. Jyotsna Kamat
Page Last updated on : April 04, 2014
"This flag is of Indian Independence! Behold, it is born!
It has been made sacred by the blood of young Indians who sacrificed their
lives. I call upon you, gentlemen to rise and salute this flag of Indian
Independence. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all
over the world to support this flag." -- B. Cama , Stuttgart,
Madame Bhikaji Cama (1861-1936)
These were the emotional words of a frail Indian lady, with fire inside
and indomitable confidence and patriotic feeling for motherland,
India. The year was 1907 and the time, 3rd week of August. The Indian
independence was 40 years away, and the world was not fully aware of the
burning patriotism of hundreds and thousands of young Indians who were
ready to lay down their lives for the sake of freedom for their country.
The British were trying their best to put down the revolutionaries by
bringing in ordinances, bans and arrests for life on the basis of treason.
Treason was the greatest "crime" of the Indian
which ensured a minimum of six years of black waters (kalapani)
or deportation to Andaman and harsh punishment.
It was hence, no mean achievement of Madam Cama, when she unfurled the
first National Flag at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart
(Germany) in 1907. A thousand representatives from several countries were
attending. An Indian lady in a colorful sari was a rare phenomena in those
days and her majestic appearance and brave and clear words made everybody
think that she was a Maharani or at least a princess from a native state.
She excelled many Maharanis (queens) of her time in her poise and
demeanor. She fought for freedom till the last in her own way, and helped
innumerable revolutionaries with money and materials across the sea as she
has settled down in London/Paris at the beginning of this century. Her
life and mission make a fascinating reading, showing the important role
she played in the early years of freedom struggle.
Madam Cama was born on 24th September, 1861 of rich Parsi parents. Her
father was Sorabji Framji Patel, a famous merchant and man of means, had a
large family. Parsis by then were in the forefront of business, education,
and industry (when permitted by British) and no less in philanthropy.
Young Bhikaji received good English education, but from the beginning she
was a rebel, and a nationalist. She had good flair to learn languages and
became proficient in arguing her country's cause in different circles at a
She was married to Rustom K. R. Cama, a rich handsome social worker and
lawyer. But ideologically they were poles apart. Mr. Cama adored British,
loved their culture and thought they had done a lot of good to India.
Madame Bhikaji, now a full fledged nationalist, always believed that
British had fleeced India, and practiced worst form of imperialism. She
had thousand and one reasons to present how India was kept in abject
poverty by the British to help themselves to become the most powerful
country in the world of that period.
Their marriage proved to incompatible. Madam Cama meanwhile plunged in
several social activities. Plague broke out in Bombay Presidency at that
time and she was in the forefront of voluntary team which strive to save
plague victims. in the end she herself caught the deadly disease, but was
save miraculously. She was left very weak and was advised to go to Europe
for rest and recuperation. She left in 1902 for London which was to become
her home for the rest of life.
She served as private secretary to Dadabhai Navaroji, a great Indian
leader in the forefront of national movement. she came in contact with
several patriots students and European Intellectuals who were sympathetic
to Indian cause during this brief period. Later she herself played a
dominant part in promoting freedom struggle.
tricolor-flag Madam Cama unfurled had green, saffron, and red stripes. Red
represented strength, saffron victory, and green stood for boldness and
enthusiasm. there were eight lotuses representing the eight provinces and flowers
represented princely states. "Vande Mataram" in Devanagari
adorned central saffron stripe which meant "salutation to Mother
India." The sun and the moon indicated Hindu and Muslim faiths. The
flag was designed by Veer Savarkar with the help of other revolutionaries.
After Stuttgart, Madam went to United States. She traveled a lot and
informed Americans about Indians struggling for Independence. She told
about British efforts to smother the voice of educated Indians who
protested against tyranny and despotism of British who always boasted
themselves as "mother of parliamentary democracy" over the
world! She could be called "Mother India's first cultural
representative to USA."
Where is the Flag Now?
The flag was smuggled into India by Indulal
Yagnik, the socialist leader of Gujarat. It is now on public display
at the Maratha and Kesari Library in Pune.
After returning to London she started publishing booklets on patriotic
literature. Though believer in nonviolence she urged to resist unjustified
violence. Tyrannical foreign rule was unjustified and she stood for Swaraj
or self-rule. "March forward! We are for India. India is for
Indians!" She declared. She fought for unity of Hindus and Muslims.
She continued financing revolutionaries in and out of India. British were
not happy with her activities and there was a plot to finish her off.
Getting the wind she sailed for France.
Her Paris-home became a shelter for world revolutionaries. Even Lenin,
the father of Russian revolution visited her house and exchanged views.
Savarkar got all encouragement in writing the history of 1st Indian War of
Independence from Cama. She helped its printing in Holland as no English
publisher came forward to publish it. It was banned book but found its was
to India. Smuggled ingeniously with "Don Quixote" covers! She
became publisher of "Vande Mataram" a revolutionary magazine and
was a distributor as well, an extremely difficult task in the days of
British Espionage. Another magazine "Madan's Talwar" was also
started in memory of Madanlal Dhingra who had laid down his life for the
country. Both the magazines were outlawed in India and England. Madam Cama
somehow found ways to send them to Indian revolution going and for
Madam Cama also fought for the cause of women. Speaking at National
Conference at Cairo, Egypt in 1910, she asked, "Where is the other
half of Egypt? I see only men who represent half the country!" She
stressed the role of women in building a nation.
Her attempts to save Savarkar who jumped into the ocean from the ship
"Morena" near Marseilles are well known. A few minutes delay saw
the famous revolutionary back into chains, a fact which Madam Cama, came
to regret for life.
When First World War broke out in 1914, Madam Cama took anti-British
stand and tried her best to bring in awareness among Indians about the
harm brought in by fighting imperialist forces.
The British had banned her entry in India being afraid of her
revolutionary past and confirmed nationalistic outlook. But the lioness
was getting old and 35 years fighting on foreign land and taken its toll.
She decided to return to motherland but was very ill. After reaching
Bombay, she was hospitalized and died on the 13th of August 1936. A
fearless woman, she brought in awareness of Indian struggle for
independence in Europe and America and was instrumental in helping several
revolutionaries, with finances and publishing.