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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A FIREBRAND WOMAN REVOLUTIONARY

V SUNDARAM I.A.S.

13th August 2011 happens to be the 78th SMRITIDIN of the firebrand revolutionary Madam Bhikaji Cama. She was an unsurpassed patriot who first unfurled India's flag at an international assembly. 


MADAM BHIKAJI CAMA (1861-1936)
Courtesy: Timescontent.com


From the early years of the 20th century, groups of Indians established centres for revolutionary activities in Europe, America and Asia. They carried on propaganda for India's independence among Indians living abroad and mobilized them for revolutionary activities. Aglow with the lamp of liberty and aflame with the fire of freedom, they maintained contacts with revolutionary groups in India and supplied them with revolutionary literature and even firearms. During 1907 and 1914, Paris became the most important centre of Indian revolutionaries in Europe. One of the greatest revolutionaries of this period in Europe from India was Madame Bhikaji Cama. She brought out the Journal BANDE MATARAM. She and colleague S R Rana, another great freedom fighter, were in touch with other great revolutionaries like Shyamaji Krishnavarma, Veer Savarkar, V V S Iyer, Bhai Paramanand, Ajith Singh, Chambakaraman Pillai and others.

Madame Cama was born on September 24, 1861 in a well-to-do Parsi family in Bombay. Her father was Framji Sorabji Patel, a businessman of Bombay. She studied at the Alexandra Parsee Girl's school in Bombay and was married to Shri K. R. Cama, a leading solicitor. From an early age she took keen interest in social and political work. One of Madame Cama's first great opportunities for doing public work was during Bombay's great plague in 1897. Without any concern for her life, Madame Cama tirelessly nursed the people stricken with deathly bubonic plague back to health, and gained the esteem and appreciation of the common people. Under the inspiration of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, she succeeded in converting many common people to fight for the cause of Indian independence. Her tireless exertions in plague relief work resulted in her falling sick herself. Taking note of her rapidly declining health, her friends and family sent her to London in 1902 for recuperation. 

Madame Cama's brief but meteoric political career started in London in 1902. There, she became Dadabhai Naoroji's private secretary. He was an important Indian dignitary at that time, having been the first Indian to get elected to the British House of Commons. Through his influence, Madame Cama allied herself with many fiery patriots like Shyamaji Krishnavarma, and Veer Savarkar and began her revolutionary political career by speaking against the atrocities of British Rule in India.

Madame Cama became so famous and influential, that the British Government concocted an assassination or murder plot against her! When Madame Cama caught wind of this plot, she secretly escaped across the English Channel to France! She turned her French home into a secret hideaway for revolutionaries worldwide. She made friends by sending pistols disguised as Christmas gifts to Irish and Russian nationalists. As the British saw her influence abroad increase, they begged France to send her back to India. When the French government refused, the English exiled her from her motherland and seized her inheritance.


MADAME BHIKAJI CAMA WITH THE FLAG
The portrait was donated by the Parsi Pragati Mandal, Surat.
The portrait of Madame Cama was unveiled by the then Vice-President of India, Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma on 2 August 1989.

An outstanding lady of great courage, fearlessness, integrity and passion for freedom, Madame Bhikhaji Cama was a pioneer amongst those who worked for the freedom of the country from abroad.  Madame Cama's intense love for the nation made her sacrifice her family life and work tirelessly for the cause of liberty, equality and fraternity.  Right from her early years, she cultivated a well-defined social outlook and clear political vision.  It was her motto to serve humanity with utmost love and affection and to raise her voice against any exploitation of fellow beings.


India 1907 National Flag
designed by Madame Gama.


Naturally, despite all British attempts to disillusion Madame Cama, she continued championing the cause of India's freedom in an absolutely fearless manner. IN 1905, MADAME CAMA WITH OTHER PATRIOTS, DESIGNED INDIA'S FIRST TRICOLOUR FLAG. THE FLAG HAD GREEN, SAFFRON, AND RED STRIPES. THE TOP, GREEN STRIPE HAD EIGHT BLOOMING LOTUSES REPRESENTING INDIA'S THEN EIGHT PROVINCES. 'BANDE MATARAM' WAS WRITTEN ACROSS THE CENTRAL, SAFFRON STRIPE IN HINDI. ON THE BOTTOM, RED STRIPE, A HALF MOON WAS ON THE RIGHT AND THE RISING SUN ON THE LEFT. IN SPITE OF HER ENGLISH EDUCATION AND HER 35 YEAR STAY IN EUROPE, SHE ADVOCATED THE INTRODUCTION OF HINDI IN THE DEVANAGARI SCRIPT AS AN UNIFORM LANGUAGE IN INDIA.

Madame Cama and other freedom fighters in Europe also established contacts with socialists in France, Germany, England and America. Madame Cama participated in the CONGRESS OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL at Stuttgart in 1907. At this international socialist conference, Madame Cama unfurled the tricolor National Flag of India which she and her friends had designed in 1905 bearing the immortal words of Bankim Chandra Chaterjee, BANDE MATARAM. It was thus no mean achievement of Madam Cama, when she unfurled the first National Flag at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907. A thousand representatives from several countries were attending. An Indian lady in a colourful sari was arare phenomena in those days and Madame Cama's majestic appearance and brave and clear words made everybody think that she was a Maharani or at least a princess from a native state. There, she held up the flag and declared in a bold voice, “This flag is of Indian Independence. Behold, it is born!...I call upon you, gentle men, to rise.. .I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to cooperate with this flag. Hail Bande Mataram !. Hail Bande Mataram!!”
Front page of the first issue (October 1, 1876) of Vorwärts

Madame Cama’s passionate speech made against the British tyranny in India at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907 was published at the end of August in the German Socialist paper Vorwärts.



Front page of the first issue (October 1, 1876) of Vorwärts


Madame Cama’s passionate speech made against the British tyranny in India at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907 was published at the end of August in the German Socialist paper Vorwärts.



Madan Lal Dhingra (1887 - 1909), a 22 year old engineering student studying in England, assassinated Sir Curzan Wyllie, political Aide-de-Camp to the Secretary of State for India, Lord Morley in London in 1909. He was hanged at Pentonville Prison, London, on 17 August, 1909. Before going to the gallows on that day, Madan Lal Dhingra, spoke the following inspiring words: 'I believe that a nation held down by foreign bayonets is in a perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise. Since guns were denied to me I drew forth my pistol and fired. Poor in health and intellect, a son like myself has nothing else to offer to the mother but his own blood. And so I have sacrificed the same on her altar. The only lesson required in India at present is to learn how to die, and the only way to teach it is by dying ourselves. My only prayer to God is that I may be re-born of the same mother and I may re-die in the same sacred cause till the cause is successful. Hail Bande Matram! Hail Bande Matram!' Madan lal Dingra was greatly inspired by the indomitable courage and saga of self sacrifice of Madame Cama.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Madame Cama and S R Rana were interned in France, Indian revolutionaries like Cama, Rana and Shyamaji Krishnavarma tired to secure the help of Turkey and Germany, Britain's enemies in that war, for overthrowing the British rule from India. Berlin became their most important centre in Europe. After 1909 Madame Cama started 2 journals in Geneva, namely VANDE MATARAM and MADAN’S TELWAR. Both these journals were edited by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya.

Madame Cama had borrowed the name, Vande Mataram, from Bengal, where a magazine by the same name started by Aurobindo Ghosh was suppressed by the Government. Look at the irony. What was permissible in England was suppressed by the British rulers in their own colony. Freedom of expression was a reality in England. To prove it further, she was allowed to publish another magazine with impunity. It was called Madan's Talwar to commemorate the name of the first Indian martyr Madan Lal Dhingra on British soil. Her two magazines found their way even to India through Mandayam Sriniwas Chari, Editor of The India Magazine in Pondicherry, which was a French possession and, therefore, safer than British India.

These two journals were smuggled into India through Pondicherry. Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, who was editing MADAN’S TALWAR, was joined by Bhupendranath Dutt, Barkatulla, Champakaraman Pillai and others. They formed what is called the BERLIN COMMITTEE. Simultaneously, across the Atlantic, a powerful organization of Indian revolutionaries called the Ghadar Party had come into existence in North America. The Ghadar Movement in America was started by Lala Hardayal, another great Punjabi leader. This Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee, taking advantage of the I World War, organized anti-British uprisings in India during the First World War. All these revolutionaries were proud of singing the song of BANDE MATARAM, quite unlike the mean, petty, sordid, treacherous and politically anti-national men in the disgraceful UPA Government today.

According to the History Sheet of the Criminal Intelligence Office of the Home Department (Political) of the Government of India in 1913, 'Madame Cama was at that time one of the recognised leaders of the revolutionary movement in Paris, and was said to be regarded by the Hindus as a reincarnation of some deity, presumably Kali'. The truth of this assertion aside, she was sympathetic to the most radical expressions of the Indian national movement.

In 1910 the British Government requested France for Madam Cama’s extradition. When this was refused, her property in India was confiscated. Several Parsi women came under her influence and were kept under political surveillance. With the outbreak of World War I, she was interred in a camp in France, and her political activities came to an end. Madame Cama's battle cry on her heroic march to freedom was: 'MARCH FORWARD! WE ARE FOR INDIA. INDIA IS FOR INDIANS! HAIL AND SING BANDE MATARAM!!'

Madame Cama was a powerful orator who travelled all over the world, including the US, speaking on behalf of India's freedom under the flag and banner of Bande Mataram. She rallied foreign support for the cause of our freedom from many nations. In my view, another great achievement was that she taught Indians to make bombs, and also sent weapons secretly to India for being deployed against the alien rulers. Whatever might be thought of her extremism it had the effect of putting across the Indian message with a force and clarity it had never had before. Conviction, courage, and integrity were her foremost characteristics which won for her the respect and admiration of a widening circle of people and beyond this the attention the Indian cause so desperately needed at that time. All who came into contact with her felt the impact of her unquenchable spirit of Independence from British rule.

Madame Cama returned to Bombay in 1931 when she was 70. She passed away in Bombay on August 13, 1936, eleven years before the birth of our freedom. A lifetime of unparalleled adventure and influence for a woman, Madame Cama demonstrated a woman's true place in a man's world. As she, herself, declared, 'Do not forget the role of women which is also important in building a nation.'


Government of India issued a Postage Stamp in her honour on Republic Day in 1962 (26-1-1962). I am presenting below the copy of the First Day Cover and Postage Stamp below.




1 comment:

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