India’s Lesser Known Heroes – Bhikaiji Cama

M Venkaiah Naidu

Bhikaiji Cama

Bhikaiji Cama

“This flag is of Indian Independence! Behold, it is born!… I call upon you, gentlemen to rise and salute this flag of Indian Independence.”

With these words, Smt. Bhikaiji Cama unfurled the first-ever version of the Indian flag.

The year was 1907… and the place was Stuttgart in Germany. She was attending the International Socialist Conference. In her speech, Smt. Cama made a clarion call–“In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to support this struggle.”

Today is the 159th birth anniversary of this indomitable freedom fighter. She was an unstoppable woman who dedicated her entire life to free India from British Rule by taking India’s freedom struggle to foreign shores.

Born in an affluent Parsi family, she was drawn towards freedom struggle from an early age. She was married to Rustomji Cama and got fully involved in philanthropic activities and social work.

In 1896, when the bubonic plague hit the city of Bombay, the compassionate Smt. Bhikaiji voluntarily helped people in fighting the epidemic. While helping others, she herself contracted the deadly disease. Although she recovered from it, her health was severely impacted and she had to move to England for better treatment.

In London, Smt. Bhikaji Cama came in contact with nationalists like Dadabhai Naoroji and Shyamji Krishna Varma. She became actively involved in promoting India’s cause for freedom in a distant continent. With her flair for languages, she used to strongly put across India’s case for independence in different languages.

Alarmed by her anti-imperialist activities, the British banned her entry into India. She later moved to France to mobilize opinion towards India’s cause for independence.

In France, she co-founded the Paris Indian Society and played an instrumental role in bringing out two publications: Bande Mataram and Madan’s Talwar, highlighting the Indian freedom struggle. These publications were secretly smuggled into India. She also came up with an innovative initiative of supporting Indian revolutionaries by sending them weapons hidden inside toys.

Smt. Cama also worked towards women’s emancipation. Once while attending a conference abroad, she was shocked to see the absence of women at the event and highlighted the role of women in nation-building and called for equal treatment of women in society.

In her speech, she said – “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.”

After spending three decades in exile, away from her family and friends, a severely ill Smt. Cama was allowed to return to India. Finally, at the age of 74 she was reunited with her beloved motherland. After a few months, she passed away in1936.

Smt. Cama played a significant role in uniting people across Europe and America in support of India’s fight against the colonial rule.

The role played by women like Smt. Bhikaiji Cama in the freedom struggle is immeasurable. We must ensure that their countless sacrifices are remembered and passed on to the future generations.