Bhikaiji Rustom Cama was a prominent figure in the Indian Independence Struggle. She is famous for hosting the precursor to the Indian National Flag on foreign soil.
For this act, she came to be known as the ‘Mother of the Indian Revolution’.
This article will give details about Madam Bhikaiji Cama (also spelt Bhikaji Cama) within the context of the Civil Services Examination.
Background of Bhikaiji Cama
Bhikaiji Cama was born on September 24, 1861, to Sorabji Framji Patel and his wife Jaijibai Sorabai Patel. Her father was a merchant by profession though he had been trained in law as well as being an influential member of the Parsi community.
She attended the Alexandra Girl’s English Institution and was reportedly a diligent student. On 3 August 1885, she married Rustom Cama. Bhikaiji Cama at this point spent most of her time in social work.
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Role in the Freedom Struggle
During her visit to London, Bhikaiji Cama came into contact with Shyamji Krishna Varma, Indian nationalist known fro his speeches he gave in Hyde Park. She met Dadabhai Naoroji. The president of the British committee of the Indian National Congress (founded on December 28, 1885).
Bhikaiji Cama moved to Paris where she founded the Paris Indian Society. Munchershah Burjorji Godrej and S.R. Rana were the co-founders of this society. Joining hands with the Indian diaspora fighting for independence while in exile, she wrote and distributed literature for the freedom movement. One of the works she distributed included copies of the Bade Mataram which was banned by the British government in India. The literature she created found its way to India via the French colony at Pondicherry.
Bhikaiji Cama spoke at length about the devastating effects of British Colonialism at Stuttgart, Germany in 1907. These effects included constant famine and crippling taxes that had ripped the Indian economy to shreds. It was during this event when she unfurled the “Flag of Independence”. The flag was designed by Bhikaiji Cama and fellow activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The flag of independence would be the precursor to the current national flag of India
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Following the assassination of William Hutt Curzon Wyllie in 1909, the authorities in London began cracking down on Indian nationalists living there. Bhikaji Cama was in Paris at the time and the British did request her to be extradited by the French but they refused. Vladimir Lenin reportedly invited her to reside in the Soviet Union years later but she declined.
The situation began to take a complicated turn when France and Britain became allies upon the outbreak of World War I. The French, seeking to prevent anything that might spoil this new alliance, restricted the activities of the India freedom fighters. Many left France, while Bhikaiji Cama stayed on. She was arrested along with Rewabhai Rana while trying to incite Indian troops at Bordeaux on their way to the front. Rana was exiled to the Caribbean while Bikhaiji Cama was sent to Southern France in 1915. On account of her failing health, she was allowed to return to her residence at Bordeaux provided she reported on a weekly basis to the local police station.
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Bhikaiji Cama’s exile in Europe continued till 1935. She was paralysed by a stroke during this time which became the reason for her to petition the British government to allow her to return home. The British agreed on the condition that she promised not to undertake any independence-related activities. She arrived in Bombay, accompanied by Sir Cowaji Jehangir, who had petitioned on her behalf, on November 1935. She would pass away at the Parsi General Hospital on 13 August 1936. She was 74 at the time.
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Legacy of Bhikaiji Cama
Bhikaji Cama has the distinction of being first Indian to unfurl a precursor of the Indian National Flag. The flag which had designed originally would be a blueprint upon which other variants of the Indian national flag would be based on. Along with being an ardent independence activist, she was also an advocate for woman’s rights and the universal suffrage.
The flag which she unfurled at Stuttgart was smuggled into India by other independence activists. It is displayed at the Maratha and Kesari Library in Pune to this day.
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