Madame Cama, the freedom fighter who first raised the Indian flag on foreign soil

The Zorastrian community, which migrated to India from Persia several generations earlier, had members among India’s stellar freedom fighters.

June 20, 2022, 11:34 a.m. IST

Tata, Godrej, Wadia.. These Parsi families have been the titans of Indian industry since pre-independence times. This Zorastrian community, which migrated to India from Persia several generations earlier, had members among the stellar freedom fighters of India.

Among them were Dadabhai Naoroji, one of the first presidents of the Indian National Congress and a great campaigner for Indian independence in London, women like Madame Cama, who raised the Indian flag for the first time on foreign soil and Mittubehn Hormusji who walked with Gandhij in the Dandi March was one of them.

Bhikhaji Rustom Cama, or Madame Cama, was a freedom fighter, women’s rights activist and a staunch socialist. Born in 1861 into a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, Cama was involved in various social activities from an early age. She worked as a volunteer when famine and plague hit Bombay.

Madame Cama also contracted the plague and traveled to London for treatment. In London, she met Naoroji and associated with him in the campaign for Indian independence and the Home Rule Society, alongside Indian nationalists like Har Dayal and Shyamji Krishna Varma. She maintained her nationalist activity even at the cost of her marriage to Rustom Cama, a wealthy pro-British lawyer.

Due to her nationalist activities, the British government banned Madame Cama from returning to India, which forced her to move to Paris. There too, she continued her work for the Indian cause by creating the Paris Indian Society with expatriate Indian nationalists.

She launched a publication called ‘Madan’s Talwar’, named after Madanlal Dhingra, the Indian revolutionary whom Britain executed for assassinating British army official Sir William Wyllie. This prompted Britain to ask France to extradite Cama to India. But France refused and the British government confiscated its assets in India. Lenin invited her to settle in the Soviet Union.

Cama first hoisted the Indian tricolor in a foreign country at the International Conference of Socialists in Stuttgart, Germany in 1907. She was also an active participant in suffragette movements demanding women’s suffrage. Britain and France became allies during World War I, and the latter arrested and exiled Cama from Paris.

She spent many years in various European countries and was allowed to return to India after falling seriously ill. Cama did not live long after arriving in Bombay and died at the age of 74. She has even been called the mother of the Indian revolution.

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Thelma J. Longworth