Bhikaji Cama, No other woman has shown so much of valor and revolutionary spirit in the realm of Indian History as Bhikaji Cama has, and no other woman has been considered as just a woman but treated at par with other revolutionaries of her age both by the government and her contemporaries.
Bhikaji Cama Daughter Of India
The sex factor was never a bar in her achievements. Even though there have been many great women warriors in the past. They vary as they all belong to the royal families and fought for their own states while Bhikaji fought for the independence of the whole country.
Bhikaji husband was not on par with her views and they disagreed each other violently. At last, they separated. Bhikaji’s love for the nation is so intense that she sacrificed her comfortable married life for the purpose.
Mahatma Gandhi was later on called Father of the nation. But Madam Cama was often known as the ‘Mother of Indian Revolution’. She was born in a very rich Parsi family of Bombay on September 24, 1861, four years after the first war of Independence.
The rumbling of the 1857 war was yet fresh. It was rather a tumultuous period in Indian History. The British of course had crushed of independence in 1857. But a new class of revolutionaries belonging to the middle educated class was emerging.
It was influenced by the Western ideas and/had taken inspiration from the revolution in France and the Irish rumblings in Great Britain itself. Abraham Lincoln had stood as a symbol of national unity for them. Bhikaji father had never even once thought that in spite of having all the luxuries, one of his daughters would sacrifice them only for the cause of the nation.
Bhikaji Cama Education
It was the time when girls were generally not educated. But as Parsis were a progressive community.Alexandria Girl’s School in Bombay was educated in the same way as boys are. She studied at the Alexandria Girl’s School in Bombay.
The advantage that she reaped during her studies was that she learned to speak many foreign languages freely and fluently. It helped her much in her activities during her exile in France and the USA.
For centuries together the common man in India was in a deep slumber. He had forgotten even his past glory. The efforts put forth by Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayanand, Ram Krishna Paramhans and other great Saints of the South had surely ensured to bring the glory back.
Political resurgence followed especially in Maharashtra and Bengal where Tilak and Aravinda Ghose organized secret nationalist parties which resulted in violent protests. Bhikaji took inspiration from Tilak and started taking interest in national politics.
She found herself in the midst of great events. 1885 was important for her. It was the year when the first session of Indian National Congress took place invigorating emotions in her. It was also the year when she got married to Rustomji Cama, son of the well-known reformer and scholar K.R. Cama.
In 1885, when Bhikaji Cama was just 24 she was overwhelmed to hear the first session of the Indian National Congress. She had two motives before her. The first and the foremost was to get her country freed from the foreign yoke.
Her second motive was psychological. She wanted women to achieve freedom of work and expression by working with men for the national cause. She turned active eleven years later when Bombay suffered from plague epidemic in 1896.
Although she belonged to a very rich family she nursed patients in a public hospital. She was rather an Indian version of Florence Nightingale and Sister Nivedita the disciple of Swami Vivekananda. She discarded conventionalism and worked freely with men.
The harsh and unsympathetic measures adopted by the British strengthened her decision to work for the country. She was also impressed by the valor of Chapekar Brothers of Poona who shot dead Rand the British Plague Commissioner and Mr. Ayrest for celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee lavishly when hundreds of people were dying of plague.
Bhikaji Cama Sphere Of Work
Bhikaji Cama decided to expand her sphere of work and started working with Pherozeshah Mehta for the Bombay Chronicle. This journalistic career helped her a lot later on.
In 1902 Bhikaji Career took a great turn. She had to leave for London for medical treatment hardly knowing that she would return to her dear motherland only a few days before she breathed her last. It was rather the beginning of a self-exile for her.
She came in contact with Dadabhai Naoroji the ‘Grand old man of India’. She worked with him for Indian National Congress. But when she found him too moderates to be with she moved away from him. Meanwhile, she came in contact with Sardar Singh Rana and also Shyamji Krishna Verma.
The revolutionaries were gaining ground in England. But there was no place where they could frequently meet. An effort was made by Lala Har Dayal, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, S.S. Rana and Vir Savarkar. Finally, in 1905 on July 1, Shyamji Krishna Verma initiated India House in London.
It was to be the central meeting place and headquarter of the Indian Revolutionary movement. Bhikaji Cama, due to her exceptional organizing skills emerged as a source of inspiration to many young revolutionaries.
The duo Cama and Savarkar believed in positive action rather than theoretical ideas. To bring forth strong methods of fighting Lady Bhikaji Cama took inspiration from Italian revolutionaries like Mazzini and Garibaldi.
She was of course influenced by the Russian revolutionaries like Lenin and Gorky. Besides maintaining close contact with the revolutionaries, she impulsed many by giving fiery speeches and maintaining criticisms on the British atrocities in India.
In 1905 Shyamji Krishna Verma had started a magazine Indian Sociologist. She wrote articles regularly for the paper and also got Savarkar’s The History of the War of Independence translated into French.
In August 1907 an important event took place. A session of International Socialist Congress was held in Stuttgart. Delegates from twenty-five nations of Asia, Africa, and Europe participated in it. Savarkar sent Madam Cama and Rana to the conference.
It was a gathering of revolutionaries from different countries of the world. Madam Cama made a passionate speech in the Congress for the cause of India’s freedom.
Bhikaji Cama Designed National Flag
Before Madam Cama left for Stuttgart Savarkar she designed a national flag for India. It had three colours green, golden and red. Green was the sacred colour of Muslims, Golden was sacred both to Sikhs and Buddhists while red was pious for Hindus.
Just like the USA flag it employed eight stars constituting the eight provinces. On the middle band were the words Vande Mataram which became popular during the whole period of movements against the British.
At the end of the speech held at Stuttgart Cama, she unfurled the Indian national flag. The whole gathering stood and saluted the flag. The event had so great an impact that it was reported in Leipziger Zeitung the most popular newspaper.
Later on, the flag was smuggled to India the flag that was unfurled 22 years before it was unfurled in a but different shade and a different interpretation in the 1929 session of Indian National Congress. The flag designed by Bhikaji Cama is now displayed in the Library Hall of the Kesari and the Mahratta in Pune.
After the Socialist Conference, Bhikaji landed in the USA where she spoke intensely against the British misconduct. At this time she believed in the concept of passive resistance that was so successfully used by Mahatma Gandhi.
In two of her speeches, she said, “We are a peaceable people and unarmed. We could not rise and battle if we would. We are preparing our people for concentrated resistance”. “We are peaceful, we do not want a bloody revolution, but we do want to teach people their rights and to throw off despotism”.
But what Gandhi could do at the fag end of his political career when he gave the call of do or die in 1942 i.e. twenty-two years after his first movement that he withdrew because of the Chauri Chaura violence Madam Cama realized within three years.
She knew about the solid culture of India. India gains inspiration from sacred books Mahabharat and Ramayan. All know these books do not teach passive resistance.
Speech That Inspired
In 1908, after returning to Europe, she arrived at Paris to meet Bipin Chandra Pal. Her famous speech there had been printed and circulated as a leaflet named Vande Mataram. It gives a true glimpse of the revolutionary spirit of Madam Cama.
She said. “What is life without Freedom? What is Existence without principles? For the time being, let us put aside all doubts, fears, and hindrances. ‘Let us end asserting with people and do not heed them. If people appear degraded, it is an added reason to endeavour at all risks to make them better’.
Show self-respect, Indians and set to work. Do silent but solid work, A handful of foreigners, have declared war on us. Who can wonder if we millions accept the challenge and declare war on them? The price of Liberty must be paid.
Which nation has got it without paying for it? Fortunate that our people have learnt that it is sin to tolerate despotism. They are now aware to combat without pause; they have rather able to die fearless than perish with fear.
We are awakened in the name of our glorious country, we defy our oppressors. We want back our own country. No English oak is wanted in India. We have our own noble banyan tree and our amazing lotus flowers. We do not want to imitate British civilization. We will have our own which is higher and nobler”.
After the speech, she unfurled the flag. No other person contemporary to her had delivered a forceful speech with such a clear vision.
Due to her efforts, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s ‘Vande Mataram’, was embraced as the National Hymn by the revolutionaries. The whole fight for freedom was fought only under this Hymn.
In 1908 an event took place in London that put a question on anymore stay of Madam Cama in London. On December 29 Savarkar arranged a meeting at Caxton Hall, Westminster to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh the last Guru of Sikhs who had sacrificed his four sons at the altar of the motherland.
His father was also assassinated by the Muslim rulers. His intimate friend Banda Bairagi and his daughter too were killed by the rulers. Savarkar and Bhikaji Cama delivered fiery speeches declaring Guru Gobind Singh as the symbol of resistance to foreign domination.
As a respect for the Guru, all wore turbans and unfurled the Sikh flag together with the national flag. Madam Cama had organized the function. Thus there was every possibility that she might be arrested. She left for Paris which became her headquarter for her self-exiled life.
There was a great change in the views of Madam Cma. She had left the call of passive resistance and had started recommending violent methods to achieve independence.
It was a battle. She said it was a sin to tolerate tyranny. “Struggle for Freedom calls for exceptional measures”. As she believed in positive action she started to send literature to India through Pondicherry and also started the activities of Abhinav Bharat Society in Europe anew.
Start Of Bande Mataram from Calcutta
Aravinda Ghose and Bipin Chandra Pal had started publishing Bande Mataram from Calcutta. The British government banned it in 1908. However, due to the efforts put by Lala Har Dayal and Madam Cama, it has been re-published in September 1909.
Later on, Bhikaji Cama started publishing the Talwar an organ of Indian Independence. It was edited by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. It was printed in Berlin and was sent to him in London. Then it was smuggled to India.
These were the efforts of the revolutionaries to give a setback to the efforts of the British to crush their activities in India. Both the papers spoke boldly against the British rule in India and asked the people to adopt strong methods to put an end to the colonial rule. By strong methods they actually meant violence.
1909 was also the year when so many other events took place. Damodar Savarkar was implicated in the Nasik Conspiracy case and was sent to the Andamans.
This created a great furor among the revolutionaries in England. Instigated, as they were Madanlal Dhingra assassinated Sir William Curzon the political aide-de-camp of the India office in London.
In India, Kanhere killed A.M.T. Jackson, the Collector of Nasik. S.S. Rana and Shyamji were also accused in these cases. But Savarkar was considered the real man behind all that was going on.
Madam Cama was so passionately disturbed that she went to the British Consulate in Paris and made a signed statement taking all the blame of sending revolver to India on her. But her efforts could not save Savarkar.
He was arrested in France and deported to India to face a trial for the charge of sedition in which he was given fifty years of imprisonment in the Andamans.
As is well known Savarkar tried to escape at Marseilles. But he was seen by a French Gendarme and was taken beck to the ship to remain in strong chains till he reached India.
As Savarkar was a political prisoner he had the right to asylum. Madam Cama resolved to save him. With her efforts, the case was sent by the French Government to the International Court at The Hague. Because of British influence, Savarkar was not released.
The revolutionary cause both in England and India faced as set back because of the imprisonment of Savarkar. Many revolutionaries including Bhikaji Cama felt depressed. She had spent a lot on Savarkar’s defense.
Eventually, she patched up differences among the revolutionaries in England and remained in contact with Savarkar and his brother Ganesh. She regularly sent money to Savarkar’s family.
During this period Madam Cama came in contact with Russian revolutionaries. She met and befriended Mikhail Pavlovich who had shown great interest in the release of Savarkar.
She was influenced by Maxim Gorky The Russian writer. She sent him a copy of The History of the War of Indian Independence. She also remained in touch with Irish and Egyptian revolutionaries as also the French socialists.
Because of these wide contacts, British Intelligence reported to the government that “Indian Nationalism is not a wide enough field for her energies. Her war cry is, ‘The orient for the Orientals”.
Even during the fag end of her life, Cama’s vision was of a free India a republic with Hindi as the common language and Devanagari common script.
She firmly believed, as no other woman of her times did in the idea of ‘One nation, one language, one people’; Her motto was ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God’.
Thus she was fighting a holy war. She believed in single-mindedness of purpose. Of course, to fight for her comrades she was reckless too. She was a mother to all the revolutionaries.
During the times of Gandhi & Nehru, the movement of revolutionaries was not given its due share in the struggle for freedom. As their movements were generally secret not much is known about their activities.
It is hardly known to the common man how much the part was played by Madam Cama. It is in the later years that some research has been done in the activities of revolutionaries of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, and Maharashtra.
It is now known what important part was played by Madam Cama to knit them in one string. It is only in recent years that a commercial complex in Delhi is named after her. A street in Bombay was named after her and a postage stamp in her honor was issued in 1962.
The most remarkable thing about her is that she worked during a period when women were more than suppressed than now and the rural ones were just serfs.
During the first world war, Madam Cama was interned for three years. She had also to give an undertaking that she would stop her revolutionary activities during the period.
Her health deteriorated still she did not leave the hope of seeing her country in her lifetime. In 1935 when she was hardly able to move she was allowed to return to the motherland after 30 years stay in Paris.
It was after thirty-four years of self-exile that she came back to Bombay to go straight to the Parsi Hospital where she met the Almighty when her tenure in this world after seventy-five years was over. Let her revolutionary spirit revive.
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