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India@75: Madam Cama, the freedom fighter who hoisted Indian flag for 1st time on foreign soil

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

Jun 20, 2022, 11:34 AM IST

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

They included Dadabhai Naoroji, one of the earliest Presidents of Indian National Congress and a great campaigner for India’s independence in London, women like Madam Cama, who raised the Indian flag for the first time on foreign soil and Mittubehn Hormusji who walked with Gandhij in the Dandi March were among them.  

Bhikhaji Rustom Cama, or Madam Cama, was a freedom fighter, women’s rights activist and staunch Socialist. Born in 1861 to a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, Cama was involved in various social activities even from a young age. She worked as a volunteer when the famine and plague hit Bombay. 

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

Due to her nationalist activities, the British government disallowed Madam Cama to return to India, which made her move to Paris. There too, she continued her work for the Indian cause setting up with Indian expatriate nationalists the Paris Indian Society. 

She started a publication called “Madan’s Talwar”, named after Madanlal Dhingra, the Indian revolutionary who Britain executed for assassinating British army official Sir William Wyllie. This made Britain request France to extradite Cama to India. But France refused, and the British government confiscated her assets in India. Lenin invited her to settle down in the Soviet Union. 

Cama hoisted the Indian tricolour for the first time in a foreign land at the International Socialists Conference at Stuttgart, Germany, in 1907. She also actively partook in the suffragette movements demanding voting rights for women. Britain and France became allies during the first World War, 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 she was seriously ill. Cama did not live long after she arrived in Bombay and passed away at the age of 74. She was even referred to as the Mother of the Indian Revolution.

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