Introduction

70 years of Independence: Contribution of Bhikaji Rustom Cama in India's freedom struggle

The fiery patriot who first unfurled India’s flag at an international assembly. She turned away from a life of luxury and lived an exile to serve her country. And the mighty British Government grew afraid of her.

Morea!

That was the name of the ship. She had the good fortune to carry the brave Savarkar (who inspired people like Madanlal Dhingra) from London towards India. He was fighting fearlessly for the freedom of India. The brave fighter was arrested abroad and was being brought to India for trial.

The Dream of the Release of the Brave Fighter.

It is the first day of July 1910. The ship sailing to India.

Here in Paris, a revolutionary and Rishi are hatching a plot. Somehow Savarkar must be released from custody. The ship should not be allowed to reach India, without an attempt to free Savarkar.

The revolutionary was about fifty years old.

The companion, Rishi, had hardly completed thirty-five. Because he had a luxurious beard and mustaches his nickname was ‘Rishi’ – a sage. His real name was V.V.S. Iyengar.

On the morning of the 8th of July, Savarkar gives the slip to the guards and jumps into the sea from the moving ship. He swims and reaches the shore. All arrangements have been made secretly to ensure his safety. In a vehicle near the beach, the revolutionary and other associates are waiting for his arrival. As Savarkar reaches the shore the lady and Madame Cary her associates take the tired Savarkar carriage and speed away. Savarkar’s release from imprisonment was over. He has become completely free.‘Victory to Freedom’ is the joyous everywhere. But all this was a dream.

The Dream Remained A Dream!

When the revolutionary, Rishi and their companions reached Marseilles harbor, it was too late. The police had deceitfully arrested Savarkar who had jumped from the ship to the sea and swum to the shore; they had dragged him back to the ship. The plans made for weeks had been upset in a moment. It was not Savarkar who was brought home. It was a bundle of disappointment and failure heavier than that warrior.

Hers was one of the well-furnished houses in Paris. It was a beautiful, spacious house. In the living room, the furniture was neatly arranged.

There was a full-length mirror in the corner.

She came directly and stood before the mirror.

The face was pale. The earlier enthusiasm was no more. How could she believe that when she went just a little late, Savarkar had become a prisoner again?

Failures – Steps to Success The reflection gave her courage again:

‘Oh foolish lady, do not lose heart. Do not forget you are Madame Cama. Failures are stepping-stones to success. Forget the past and think of what is to be done.’

She sat down and began to think of other efforts to free Savarkar. She sent a telegram to a famous patriotic advocate of Bombay to examine this subject. Every drop of Madame Cama’s blood was hungry for freedom. Indians were being reduced to a pulp under the heels of the British masters; the firm resolve to free the Indians had entered her every nerve and bone.

The Fire Lit By Oppression

Madame Cama was not a born revolutionary. At first, she was opposed even to any talk of violence. She used to condemn people who rebelled or rioted. But as days passed she came to know the arbitrary administration of the Englishmen.

Hypocrisy had crowned the heartless administration! As she realized the torture the Indians were suffering silently, a spark of revolution appeared in Madame Cama, which in course of time began to spread like wildfire. She is the mother of the revolution who preached non-cooperation to the Indians even when she was abroad.

The Clever Munni

Madame Cama was born on 24th September 1861, in Bombay. Sorabji Framji Patel was well known in Bombay. He was a big merchant and quite rich. He had a large family. He had nine children. Rustom Bhikaiji Cama who was one day to terrify the British Government, was one of them. The father, Sorabji Framji Patel, brought up the child Madame Cama with great affection.

He called her ‘Munni’. While still young she was admitted to the Alexandra Parsee Girls’ School.

Munni was very clever. She stood first in the class in all subjects. She would not eat supper without completing the lessons of the day and the homework. She would not go to bed without writing and finishing lessons to be studied at home. So she scored high marks in all subjects; also, Munni was the favorite of all the teachers.

Even at a young age, Munni wished to attain proficiency in many languages. As a little girl, she had considerable interest in India’s fight for freedom. She used to worship patriots who sacrificed their lives for the good of the country.

She honored those who labored for the country.

Her activities brought a headache to her father. Sorabji Framji Patel wanted to prevent his daughter from fighting for freedom.

To Curb Her Spirit

But how could that be done?

Marriage?

‘Yes, once married she could not be as free as she was’. So the father, at last, found a young man to become his son-in-law and to keep the daughter away from politics! His name was Rustom K.R.

He was a social worker and had made a name in politics. He had faith in British rule. By profession he was a lawyer. It is strange that a man of this sort should have agreed to marry Madame Cama knowing that she was a lioness thirsting for freedom. Truly he was a Rustom – a very bold man!

On 3rd August 1885, the marriage was celebrated with great pomp.

Just for two days, there was a lull in the political activities of Madame Cama; on the third day, they were resumed. The father had bestowed the headache, with his daughter, on the son-in-law.

Two Persons – And Two Parties!

Madame Cama’s husband was quite hand-some. In wealth and intelligence, the husband and wife appeared to be made for each other.

But, about British rule, their opinions differ.

To the husband who thought England was heaven, the Englishman was God Himself. He was of the view that there was no power which could excel or even equal the British rule.

But in Madame Cama’s view, the British were tyrants who were sucking the blood of India; they were the polished deceivers, the unprincipled people who had invaded India to suck blood till the body was just a bag of bones.

As was to be expected, Madame Cama’s husband who bowed blindly to the barren British models became a source of trouble to her. He warned his wife not to take part in the movement for independence. But the husband’s compulsions and restrictions had an effect on Madame Cama. Thus the house was divided into two parties – the wife siding with the Indians and the husband with the British!

When freeing India from subjection became Madame Cama’s sacred goal, Cama’s house became a small battlefield. Married life did not bring happiness. As Saint Meera left her wealthy family and husband for the sake of God Giridhara, so did Madame Cama forget a rich husband and high status in life to devote her life to free Mother India from the rule of the foreigners.

Fight Against Plague

At this time plague broke out in Bombay.

When people began to succumb to that fearful disease Madame Cama ignored the danger to her life and threw herself into the service of the people. She waited upon the patients like a nurse and comforted them like a mother. Because of these efforts thousands of people, who would have died otherwise, were saved. As the thirst of the patients for water was quenched and they got better she created in them the thirst for freedom.

Madame Cama was engaged in serving the sick without caring for sleep or food; plague attacked her, too. But even death was afraid to approach that lion-hearted lady. Although she recovered she did not regain her earlier strength and stamina. Her relatives and friends practically forced her and sent her to Europe in 1902, so that she might recover fully.

In London

It was in 1905 that Madame Cama reached London after spending about a year each in Germany, Scotland, France and other countries.

After an operation, she regained strength and stamina. Dadabhai Naoroji, a highly respected leader of India, was then in London. By the time she had served for a year-and-a-half as his private secretary, Madame Cama had come in contact with many patriots and men of letters.

‘Salute This Flag’

It was the third week of August 1907. She learned that the International Socialist Conference would be held in Stuttgart in Germany. Madame Cama got a golden opportunity to expose to worldview the conditions in enslaved India. A thousand representatives from several countries of the world attended the Conference. When India’s turn came, Madame Cama ascended the rostrum. She was wearing a colorful saree. She had an attractive personality. Dignity shone in the face. The representative’s thought: ‘She is an Indian princess.’

Madame Cama spoke about the sorrows and the poverty of lakhs of Indians who were suffering silently.

‘One-fifth of mankind lives in India. All lovers of freedom should cooperate to free these people from subjection.’

This was the gist of the resolution, she boldly placed before the conference. She condemned the British Government which was looting from India thirty-five million pounds every year. She explained how the Indian economy was growing weaker day by day because of the lawless imperialists sucking the blood of India. At the end of her speech, she unfurled the Indian flag and said:

“This flag is of Indian Independence. Behold it is born! It has been made sacred by the blood of young Indians who sacrificed their lives. I call upon you, gentlemen, to rise and salute this flag of Indian Independence. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to co-operate with this flag.”

Flag Hurled by Madame Cama

As if held by magic, the whole assembly stood up and honored the flag. Madame Cama was the lady who first unfurled the Indian flag, in a foreign land, in the presence of representatives of many countries! “It is my practice to speak under the flag of my country” – she would say and unfurl the flag before she spoke at any function.

That Sacred Flag

Madame Cama, Veer Savarkar, and some other patriots met and designed that tricolor flag in 1905. It was flown first in 1905 in Berlin and next in 1907 in Bengal.

The tricolor flag contained green, saffron, and red stripes. In the green stripe at the top, there were eight blooming lotuses. India was then divided into eight provinces and the flowers represented these provinces. The words ‘Vande Mataram’. written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, in Devanagari script across the central saffron stripe of the flag was a salutation to Mother India. In the red stripe at the bottom, there was a half-moon on the right and the rising sun on the left.

Red represents strength, saffron represents victory; and boldness and enthusiasm are represented by green. “This flag was designed by a distinguished selfless young Indian patriot,” said Madame Cama. She was referring to Veer Savarkar.

In America

After the conference in Germany concluded she came to America. To gain the support of the people there for the sacred cause in which she was engaged she had to start a campaign.

In New York, she explained her objects to press reporters who met her and they were full of praise for her. She told the reporters that lakhs and lakhs of people in India, although illiterate and suffering from hunger, loved their country.

There was confidence and hope in the voice of Madame Cama when she said that Indians would attain independence within a few years and live in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.

It was the 28th of October 1907. The Minerva Club had organized a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The speaker was Madame Cama. In her speech, she said that Indians should be given the political right to vote.

“People here may know of Russia. But they may not know much about conditions in India.

The British Government is adopting the practice of destroying people who are educated and can think or sending them to jail. They are torturing the people and driving them to hospitals in jails. We desire a peaceful atmosphere and not a bloody revolution. By proceeding in a non-violent manner as far as possible we have to overthrow despotic rule” said Madame Cama.

Also, Madame Cama spoke at several places. She may be called Mother India’s representative to the United States of America.

‘March Forward, Friend’

Madame Cama returned to London in 1908; she addressed a meeting at the ‘India House’.

Her speech was published in booklets. Large numbers of them found their way to India. The booklets gave a summary of the core of the principles of revolution.

Non-violence is a great virtue, true. But when somebody unreasonably uses force it should be resisted. Violence must be met with violence.

This should be the attitude towards the tyrannical rule. Anything done on this principle is right.

Patriotism consists of building up a strong revolt against foreign governments.

Said Madame Cama: “The fulfillment of life lies in dedicating oneself to one’s country.” In a message to the youth of the country she gave the following call:

“March forward friend, march forward. Mother India’s children are caught under the heels of the tyranny of the British. They are helplessly sinking to the lowest depths; lead them to the soft bed of Swarajya. March forward. Let this be our motto: We are for India; India is for Indians.”

Whether she was addressing Hindus or Muslims, she proclaimed the message of unity. The question of caste must be brushed aside. We are all Indians. We belong to one family. She wished that the feeling of brotherhood must grow and unity achieved. She would warn everybody not to accept any job, however big, offered by the British. She called upon the people to learn to live by their efforts, to encourage trade, commerce, industry, and arts and to make everything wholly Indian.

To France

Even when she was working as a private secretary to Dadabhai Naoroji she had spoken in many places. She was already famous as an excellent speaker who was fighting for India’s freedom.

The people of London were amazed to see this lady fighting the lion in its own den. The British rulers were afraid that as Madame Cama’s fame spread their troubles would increase. They tried to frighten her so that she would leave London.

Madame Cama resisted the Government’s move.

But when some officials attempted to murder her she escaped secretly, crossed the English Channel and went to France.

The leading French socialists gave Madame Cama a hearty welcome. Indian representatives are heartily welcomed by the people in all corners of the world because of the great culture of India, which has spread far and wide.

Welcome – Do Not Come!

Within a few days, the house in France where Madame Cama was staying became the secret fort where the revolutionaries of different countries met. Besides India’s ‘General Bapat and Hemachandra Das, Lenin, the father of the Russian Revolution, and others visited Madame Cama’s house and exchanged views.

Savarkar, the heroic fighter for freedom, brought her peace of mind and inspiration. The British Government was very much disturbed by her activities in France. It begged her to return to India. The British Government also requested the French Government to send her back to her native land.

But Madame Cama did not agree to return to India. When the French Government also, rejected the British request, the British Government felt insulted. Like the fox which said, ‘The grapes are sour; I do not want them’, the British Government ordered that Madame Cama should not come to India at any time in the future! That was not all; it took over the property belonging to Madame Cama worth over a lakh of rupees and swallowed it all.

Shadowed By Danger

These events added new brightness to Madame Cama’s name. The fame of her courage and adventure spread even in the countries, which she had not visited. It was only after al this that the conference in Stuttgart, mentioned earlier, was held. She then became an international figure. From Germany she went to America; on many platforms, she referred to the miseries of India at the time. She returned to London in 1908. By then, the ‘India House’ in London there had become a furnace in the fight for independence.

Shyamji Krishna Varma, Sardar Singh Rana, and other revolutionaries had fanned the fires of revolution. Even as a child Madame Cama had made up her mind to devote her life to her motherland; she continued her work in London systematically. She was in contact with the nationalists of Ireland, Russia, Egypt, and Germany. Under the pretext of giving them Christmas presents, she was sending them pistols made to look like toys; she gave them money, too.

As the activities of revolutionaries in London increased spies gave them more and more trouble. At last, they had no choice but to leave London. Shyamji Krishna Varma, Sardar Singh Rana, and others came to Paris.

As Madame Cama’s adventures multiplied her name became a household word in London.

The British Government thought that she was a destructive revolutionary who would uproot it and trembled. Spies of the Government followed her like shadows. The situation was such that danger could strike at any time.

Madame Cama decided that it was safer to leave London and go to Paris; she reached Paris on 1st May 1909.

In The World of Journalism

Numerous patriots who were fighting for India’s freedom had been forced to settle down in foreign countries; they began to gather in Paris. Madame Cama also joined their group.

When so many revolutionaries settle at one place something unusual is bound to take place, is it not? A revolutionary magazine was started. The name of the magazine was ‘Vande Mataram’.

An able person was required to take over the editorship of the periodical. It was decided to appoint as editor Lala Hardayal who was a fearless elderly revolutionist. Hardayal gladly agreed to come to France from England. The first sparks of the first issue appeared in September 1909.

Al the 24 hours of the day were not sufficient for Madame Cama who was the publisher of ‘Vande Mataram’ and had also to distribute the copies.

Although engaged in so many activities Madame Cama was feeling that she was not doing enough work. All the strength in every drop of her blood was devoted to Mother India.

In addition to Vande Mataram another magazine ‘Madan’s Talwar’ was started to send forth sparks of revolution. This magazine was started to make deathless the memory of Madanlal Dhingra who had sacrificed his life for the country. Madame Cama was publishing it from Berlin.

Veer Savarkar came to Madame Cama’s house at this time. Because of continuous hard work in London his health had broken down. Savarkar had come to Paris to improve his health to some extent.

The British Government

Confused Madame Cama nursed Savarkar back to health in a short time. He had also the assistance of Shyamji, Rana, Hardayal, Virendranath, and such other friends. He had also some leisure to write articles for ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Madan’s Talwar’.

The work of getting into touch with the Indians there, organizing them and sending arms to India was going on steadily without a pause.

The copies of ‘Vande Mataram’ from January to August 1910 were secretly published from Geneva. So Geneva caught the eye of the British Government. Immediately the place of publication was shifted to Holland.

It was May 1912. All clever efforts to send copies of ‘Vande Mataram’ secretly from Oxford to India failed. Copies of ‘Vande Mataram’ and other leaflets, which were meant to be distributed among the revolutionaries in several parts of India, fell into the hands of the British Government.

It is more difficult to send out secretly copies of such revolutionary writings than to print them. Even in such difficult circumstances, copies of ‘Vande Mataram’ were reaching the Indian fighters for freedom. The British Government was unable to find a way to prevent revolutionary literature from secretly entering the country. British Officers did not know what to do.

On 30th May 1913, the Secretary of State for India in the British Government had received a complaint. It was from the Director of Criminal Investigation, Simla. The Director had suggested complaining to the Government of Holland about the publication of ‘Vande Mataram’ from Holland. The British Government thought over the matter for three weeks. Feeling that the Government of Holland would not take any action against Madame Cama and that there was no point in making a request, the British Government decided not to do anything.

Fighting in Not One, But Ten Ways Though Madame Cama was abroad her influence on the Indian people did not diminish.

Lala Lajpat Rai was a stalwart who was bravely fighting for India’s freedom. In 1907 when he was sent out of India, Madame Cama’s cal made the blood of Indian revolutionaries boil. People rose in revolt everywhere. The number of revolutionaries deported from India in British ships also increased.

She was not satisfied with merely exhorting people. She trained Indian revolutionaries to make bombs. As soon as her cal through the ‘Indian Sociologist’ edited by Shyamji Krishnavarma reached India, bombs exploded in several parts of the country. She sent money and arms secretly to India.

In 1908 Savarkar had arranged a program to mark the golden jubilee of India’s first fight for independence. Madame Cama sent money generously to help the families of those who lost their lives in the 1857 war.

Savarkar wrote a book called ‘The First War of Indian Independence of 1857’. Even before the book was printed, the British Government ordered that it should not be published. At such a time Madame Cama came forward and published the book. She used a secret method of distribution so that copies could reach the right hands.

To the Indian revolutionaries, the book became sacred as the Ramayana (by Valmiki) or the Mahabharatha (by Veda Vyasa).

Madame Cama and M.P.T. Acharya translated it from English into French and published it.

The book was later reprinted by Lala Hardayal, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, and other revolutionaries.

‘Where is the other half of Egypt?’

Madame Cama held the view that in the advancement of the nation women have an important part to play and said that they must share all difficulties and responsibilities.

Speaking at the National Conference (1910) in Egypt she said:

I see here only the representatives of one half of Egypt. The assembly is full of only men. Where is the other half of Egypt?

“Sons of Egypt, where are your mothers?

Where are you sisters? Do not forget that the hand that rocks the cradle shapes the individual.

Do not forget that the role of women is also important in building a nation.”

‘Do Not Take Part In This War’

In 1914, when the First World War began, Madame Cama’s activities to gain the country’s freedom became intense. The leading articles in the press condemning the autocratic rule of the British grew sharper.

To the Indian soldiers fighting for the British, she gave a warning in the following words:

“Children of Mother India, you are being deceived. Do not take part in this war. You are going to fight and die, not for India, but for the British. The British have put shackles on Mother India’s hands; think how they can be removed. If you help the British, you will tighten the shackles.”

She herself would visit army camps in Marseilles. There she would meet Indian soldiers and ask them to keep away from the war. Questioned she: “Are you going to fight for those who have imprisoned your mother?” Return the arms, she would preach.

The French were allies of the British. Therefore the French Government must have been dissatisfied with the propaganda carried on by Madame Cama. The French Government warned Madame Cama that she was carrying on false propaganda against the British.

A License

The British were ashamed of not being able to take action against ordinary women who was living abroad and toying with them. They thought of getting her to India and keeping her under their control.

The British Government forgot the ban it had imposed on Madame Cama’s coming to India and invited her again. But the French Government did not agree to send her. Instead, it imposed certain restrictions on Madame Cama and kept her away from Paris.

After the war started no foreigner was permitted to stay in Paris. If any foreigner had to stay he had to get a license.

In the license issued to Madame Cama, she was described as a citizen under British control.

Madame Cama was surprised. She proclaimed that she was a free citizen of India.

Those who did not get licenses were sent to jail. When Madame Cama found that it would be difficult to get any changes made in the license, she accepted the license that had been issued to her. It was also amusing. What did it matter what the license said? It was enough if she could stay where she was. She would be quite happy if her activities were not obstructed.

The Government communicated its new decision to her that she should stop all her activities until the war ended. Some more restrictions were imposed on Madame Cama on 1st November 1914. She had to report to the police once a week.

Madame Cama tried to get information about the conditions of life of the prisoners of war in Geneva. But the French Government did not allow her. It was a kind of imprisonment for Madame Cama, too, till the war ended. When the war ended the Government removed the restrictions imposed on Madame Cama went back to the house Pads.

Once the restrictions placed on her were removed Madame Cama could breathe freely again. She jumped into political activities as freely as before.

Madame Cama’s fame had spread to many countries and ‘Madame Cama’ had come to be regarded as another name for daring. Everywhere lovers of freedom and revolutionaries held her in great respect. She was the brave lady who was praised by eastern countries like China, by Egyptians, Turks and Persians. The revolutionaries of those countries used to approach her for help and guidance.

Madame Cama’s health began to break down now and then. She never gave any attention to her health, as she was always busy nursing revolution. Even after the First World War came to an end many years were spent in the fight for independence. Her body grew weaker. She was past 70 years by then.

Back To Her Beloved Homeland

She fervently wished to return to India and spend the last few days of her life in the land of her birth. The permission of the British Government was needed to enter India. Sir Cowasji Jahangir made inquiries about it in the Home Department. There was a good deal of discussion. Finally, the British Government agreed.

But the Government imposed one condition: She was to state in writing that she would not participate in the struggle for freedom. She should have nothing to do with revolutionaries.

At first, Madame Cama did not agree. But friends and relatives pressed her and she had to agree. By nature, she opposed any restrictions and conditions imposed on her.

About thirty-four years before, young Madame Cama had left India. Youth and middle age had been dedicated to the service of the motherland and the courageous fight for freedom. The body was now seventy years old but the mind was still throbbing with the desired freedom and the zeal to fight. In this stage, she traveled towards the motherland. Even as she was nearing India she became ill. She was even unable to get up from the bed.

Her Breath One with the Winds of the Land

As soon as Madame Cama came to Bombay, the place of her birth, she was supremely satisfied and happy.

She was taken directly from the Bombay port to the Petit Hospital. For eight months she lay between life and death.

Madame Cama passed away on 13th August 1936. She had fought for India’s freedom. That freedom dawned eleven years after her death.

‘Loss of Freedom Means Loss of Virtue’

In a sense, Madame Cama’s life abroad where she fought for India’s freedom was like living in obscurity. She sacrificed her life for the motherland. Even during the last moments of her life, she urged repeatedly: “To gain freedom from subjection, stand up against all difficulties.” “He who loses freedom will lose virtue. The opposition of tyranny is obedience to God’s command” said Madame Cama; she practiced what she preached.

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