In Memory of Bhikaiji Cama: First to Hoist India’s Flag Abroad

Madam Bhikaiji Cama became the first person to hoist the Indian flag in foreign land on 22 August 1907.

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(This story was first published on 25 September 2017. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the birth anniversary of Bhikaiji Cama.)

Madam Bhikaiji Cama, a forgotten name in India’s fight for freedom against the British, is a woman of conviction and integrity. Also known as the mother of Indian Revolution, let us take a look at her contribution to India’s freedom struggle, on her birth anniversary.

Who was Bhikaiji Cama?

Born on 24 September 1861 to an affluent Parsi family, Bhikaiji Patel was drawn to politics from a very early age. In 1885, she was married to Rustomji Cama, a famous lawyer with whom she didn’t share a cordial relationship because of their differences in ideologies. While Rustomji favoured the British, she was staunchly against the usurpation carried on by the British.

During the bubonic plague in Bombay in the 1890s, Madam Cama volunteered to help the victims. Unfortunately, she too fell prey to the disease and had to be sent to London for recovery.


Cama’s Tryst with Revolution

While in London, Bhikaiji met Dadabhai Naoroji, a prominent figure in India’s freedom struggle. She joined the Indian National Congress in London and along with other leaders like Lala Har Dayal and Shyamji Krishna Varma, she addressed several meetings in London to arouse nationalist sentiments in them.

The British banned her from entering India lest she signed an agreement to not be a hindrance to the British Government in India. Having refused to sign the agreement, she remained in exile and relocated to Paris in the same year. Along with Singh Rewabhai Rana and Munchershah Burjorji Godrej, Madam Cama co-founded the Paris Indian Society.

She continued to motivate nationalists with literature, material and ideas. She started two revolutionary magazines – Bande Mataram was founded to protest the ban on the patriotic song and Madan’s Talvar which was started in response to the hanging of Madan Lal Dhingra.

First Person to Unfurl the Indian Flag Abroad

Madam Bhikaiji Cama became the first person to hoist the Indian flag in foreign land on 22 August 1907. While unfurling the flag at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany, she appealed for equality and autonomy from the British which had taken over the Indian sub-continent.

Behold, the flag of independent India is born! It has been made sacred by the blood of young Indians who sacrificed their lives in its honour. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to support this struggle.
Bhikaiji Cama at International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany

The flag was co-designed by her and Shaymji Krishna Varma. The tricolor of green, saffron and red stripes flaunted ‘Vande Mataram’ with pride in the centre.


Cama’s Fight For Women

After the dramatic incident in Stuttgart, Cama travelled across the USA educating them about the ongoing revolution in India. During her travel, Cama fought extensively for women’s rights and their role in nation building.

Where is the other half of Egypt? I see only men who represent half the country! Where are the mothers? Where are the sisters? You must not forget that the hands that rock cradles also build persons.
Cama at National Conference , Cairo, 1910

Cama’s Revolt During World War 1

Cama continued her struggle for freedom with unshaken spirit. During World War 1, 1914, she tried to dissuade everyone who fought for the British.

Are you going to fight for the people who have chained your motherland?
Cama to Indian forces in Marseilles

Despite facing opposition from both the English and the French governments for revolting, she remained in touch with Indian, Irish, French and Russian revolutionaries.

Last Days of Cama

After living in exile in Europe till 1935, she wanted to return home. Not seeing her as a danger, British allowed her to relocate to India. Only six months later, she breathed her last in her motherland on 13 August 1936 at the age of 74. Her name is written in the golden pages of India’s history. On India's 11th Republic Day, a stamp was issued in her honour. Indian Coast Guard also commissioned a priyadarshini-class fast patrol vessel in her name.

Though she didn't live to see the eve of Independence, Cama continues to be a living figure of undaunted courage and indomitable spirit.

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