Bhikaiji Cama was an Indian revolutionary freedom fighter. She is best known for unfurling the Indian National Flag at Stuttgart, Germany on 22 August 1907.
Bhikaiji Cama was born on Tuesday, 24 September 1861 (age 74 years; at the time of death) in Navsari, Bombay Presidency, British India. Her zodiac sign was Libra. Bhikhaiji Cama attended Alexandra Girls’ English Institution for her studies. Free Press Journal
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Bhikaiji Cama belonged to a Parsi Zoroastrian family. The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva, and Beyond
Parents & Siblings
Her father’s name was Sorabji Framji Patel. He was a lawyer and a merchant. Her mother’s name was Jaijibai Sorabji Patel. They were well-known members of the Parsi community in Bombay (now renamed as Mumbai)
Husband & Children
She got married to Rustom Cama on 3 August 1885. Rustom was the son of K. R. Cama who was a Parsi scholar and a reformer from Bombay. Rustom belonged to a wealthy family. He was a British lawyer.
Involvement in Freedom Fighting Movements
Bhikaiji Cama was actively involved in helping and serving the bubonic plague patients in 1896 that broke out in Bombay. During this voluntary service, she too caught the disease, and soon, recovered from it. However, the disease left her in physical weakness. The doctors advised her to go to Europe for better treatment and recover from the deadly disease. In 1902, she left for London intending to live there forever. In London, she met Dadabhai Naoroji who was fighting against colonial rule. At that time, he was the president of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. Soon, she also joined Indian National Congress and secretly worked as a private secretary for Dadabhai Naoroji. As a Congress Party member, she addressed several speeches at London’s Hyde Park along with the prominent Indian freedom fighters named Lala Har Dayal, and Shyamji Krishna Varma.
In February 1905, Bhikaiji Cama, along with Naoroji and Singh Rewabhai Rana, actively joined Varma’s Indian Home Rule Society. Later, the Britishers ordered her to leave London due to her active involvement in anti-British activities. She was given a chance by the Britishers to stay in England on the promise that she would not participate in any nationalist activities. However, she refused and left London and went to Paris. Soon, Cama, along with S. R. Rana and Munchershah Burjorji Godrej, established the Paris Indian Society in Paris, France. During her exile period, she wrote, published, and distributed revolutionary literature for the Indian freedom fighting movement. Bande Mataram and Madan Talwar were the names of the books published by her in the Netherlands and Switzerland. The French colony of Pondicherry secretly exported and circulated these books in India under the leadership of Bhikaiji Cama. Bhikaiji Cama also helped the Indian revolutionaries to circulate these books with all money, material or ideas. On 22 August 1907, Bhikaiji Cama narrated the disastrous effects of a famine that affected the Indian subcontinent at the second Socialist Congress at Stuttgart, Germany, and she appealed for equal human rights and autonomy to poor Indian people from Great Britain. During the conference, she also hoisted a flag that she called the ‘Flag of Indian Independence.’
This flag resembled the Calcutta flag as it was modified by her along with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Later, this flag served as a sample for the actual Indian flag. In 1909, the renowned Indian freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was arrested in Great Britain by William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, the Secretary of State for India. In the following year, he was deported to India on a ship. During the transit, he jumped into the sea through a porthole window at the Marseilles harbour, a city in France and escaped the police arrest. At the shore, he did not find Cama and others who were told to expect him there as they were late. Soon, he was captured by the French police. In the custody, he was unable to communicate with the French authorities in that difficult situation without the help of Cama, and thus, again sent to British custody. Thereafter, the British government assured the surrender of Cama to the French government, but the latter refused to cooperate. Later, the British government seized all the properties of Bhikaiji Cama in England at the request of the French government. When she was deported from France, Vladimir Lenin invited her to reside in the Soviet Union. However, she refused the offer. During that time, Bhikaiji Cama was inspired by Christabel Pankhurst and the Suffragette movements that motivated her to fight for gender equality issues. In 1910, she spoke at Cairo, Egypt in the general public meeting and asked,
I see here the representatives of only half the population of Egypt. May I ask where is the other half? Sons of Egypt, where are the daughters of Egypt? Where are your mothers and sisters? Your wives and daughters?”
In 1914, during the First World War, France and Britain started supporting each other. During that time, the revolutionaries of the Paris India Society left France except for Cama and Singh Rewabhai Rana. She was advised by a fellow missionary named Jean Longuet to go to Spain with M.P. Tirumal Acharya. Cama sheltered at Rana’s wife’s house in Arcachon, near Bordeaux when she was told to leave France by the French government. However, in October 1914, she was arrested along with Rana during an agitation in which they participated with the Punjab Regiment troops who were in Marseilles at that time for some agitation activities. In January 1915, Rana and his family were deported by the French government to the Caribbean island of Martinique. Soon, Bhikaiji Cama was arrested by the French government. In November 1917, she was released due to her deteriorating health in jail, but she was ordered to report weekly in the nearby police station. Till 1935, her exile in Europe continued where she suffered paralysis and severe illness. On 24 June 1935, she wrote a letter from Paris to the British government through Sir Cowasji Jehangir and affirmed to the British government that she was no longer involved in any sedition activities and wanted to return to India. In November 1935, she returned to India. On 13 August 1936, she died at the age of 74 at Parsi General Hospital, Mumbai.
The personal assets of Bhikaiji Cama were handed over to the Avabai Petit Orphanage for girls. This orphanage is now transformed into a school named Bai Avabai Framji Petit Girls’ High School, Mumbai. An amount of Rs. 54,000 were handed over to her family. Several renowned streets and places were named after Madame Cama. An Indian postal stamp of 15 Paise was issued in her name to honour her on India’s 11th republic Day on 26 January 1962 by the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department.
A vessel named “Priyadarshini-class fast patrol vessel ICGS Bikhaiji Cama” was named after Bhikaiji Cama in 1997 by the Indian Coast Guard commission. In South Delhi, an office complex in the high-class location is named after Bhikaiji Cama that accommodates the big Indian governmental offices and companies including EPFO (www.epfindia.gov.in), Jindal Group, SAIL, GAIL, and EIL.
- Bhikaiji was a nationalist by heart and was active in sociopolitical activities that led to the differences between Bhikaiji and her husband. Rustom was a British follower. He had the perception that the Britishers had done a lot for the upliftment of India; however, Bhikaiji believed that Britishers ruthlessly exploited India for their benefit and motives. Bhikaiji Cama was involved in philanthropic activities and social work as her married life was not a happy one.
- Various African American writers and intellectuals wrote several novels and books on Bhikaiji Cama retaining the moment of unfurling of the Indian Flag at Stuttgart, Germany as an inspiration. For instance, in 1928, W. E. B. Du Bois composed his novel titled Dark Princess.
- On 22 August 1907, she designed and unfurled the “Flag of Indian Independence” at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. This flag was designed as a copy of the Calcutta flag that represented in the green, yellow, and red colours. The green colour represented the Islam religion, Yellow depicted Hindu religion, and Red pointed the Buddhism in India. The eight lotuses represented the eight provinces of British India. Vande Mataram was written in the middle in Devanagri script that meant “[We] Bow to thee Mother [India].” Vande Mataram was the slogan of the Indian National Congress. The sun and the moon in the last row represented the Islam and Hinduism religions of India. In 1914, this design of the Indian flag was accepted by the Berlin Committee which was later renamed the Indian Independence Committee. The original flag that was raised by Bhikaiji Cama was declared a historical masterpiece and was displayed at the Maratha and Kesari Library in Pune for the general public.
- Bhikaiji Cama was remembered as the ‘Mother of the Indian Revolution’ in Indian history.