The 110th Anniversary of Unfurling the First Tricolour Flag of Indian Independence
Speech Delivered By Hemant G Padhya
At Zoroastrian All Party Parliamentary Group, House of Lords
Wednesday 13th September 2017
Lord Karan F Bilimoria, Gareth Thomas MP, members of the Zoroastrian All Party Parliamentary Group, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen!
It gives me great pleasure that we have got together here today under the egis the Zoroastrian APPG and ZTFE to celebrate the 110th anniversary of unfurling the first tricolour flag of Indian Independence by Madame Bhikhaiji R Cama. This historic event happened at the Second International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, Germany in 1907. This was more than ten years before Gandhiji and Nehru appeared on the stage of Indian freedom movement. Madame Cama accompanied by the barrister Mr Sardarsinh Rana attended the conference for the first time as Indian representatives with the help of the well known socialist Mr Henry Mayers Hyndman.
At the Congress, Madame Cama delivered a long historic speech exposing the misrule and the terrible tyranny and injustice under the English capitalists and British Government in India. She explained the cause of poverty and suffering in India was because of the draining of Indian wealth by the British. She asked the socialists of the world to help Indians in their fight for Independence from British imperialism and capitalism. Concluding her speech, Madame Cama unfurled the first tricolour flag of Indian independence on an international platform on 22nd August 1907, which was designed and made by her. Madame Cama wrapped herself in the tricolour and proclaimed;
“This flag is of Indian Independence! Behold, it is born! It is already sanctioned by the blood of martyred Indian youth. I call upon you gentlemen, to rise and salute the flag of Indian Independence. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to cooperate with this flag in freeing one fifth of the human race.”
Madame Cama’s tricolour flag had green on the top, golden saffron and red at the bottom. The eight lotuses lined in the upper register represent the eight provinces of British India. There was a crescent of the moon towards the hoist of the flag and the sun on the other side. The words written in gold in the middle are in Devanagri script and read Vande Mataram “[We] Bow to thee Mother [India]”. This flag unfurled by Madame Cama in Stuttgart was later smuggled into British India by the Gujarati socialist Indulal Yagnik and now displayed at the Kesari Maratha Library in Pune. After Indian independence some commentators have tried to define the tricolour flag of Madame Cama by giving it a communal and religious outlook by mentioning that the green, yellow and red fields representing Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. The crescent and the sun again represent Islam and Hinduism. This is erroneous, because the Islamic symbol always has the crescent of the moon with the star. Furthermore, it is also odd to note that Madame Cama being a devout Zoroastrian did not incorporate into the flag a Zoroastrian symbol, if it is to be assumed that the tricolour was designed on religious and communal themes.
This historic event happened 22 years before the Indian National Congress officially adopted their tricolour flag on 31st December 1929 at their session in Lahore. On this great occasion we must not forget to offer our sincere gratitude and tribute to a great supporter and helper of the cause of Indian freedom, Mr Henry Mayers Hyndman, who was a true friend of India. Hyndman was the first important British Marxist, who strongly influenced, especially in the 1880s, many other leading British Socialists, although his difficult personality antagonized most of them and lessened his political effectiveness. He launched Britain’s first left wing political party, the Democratic Federation, later known as the Social Democratic Federation, in 1881. Hyndman was a British thinker and writer and a freedom activist, whose political influence and personal help made it possible for the entry and participation of the Indian delegates – Madame Cama and SardarSinh Rana at the socialist congress. Madame Cama unfurled the first tricolour flag of Indian Independence at Laden Hall, Stuttgart, in the front of hundreds of socialists from all over the world, including Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Ramsey Macdonald. This historic event made Madame Cama internationally famous in early twentieth century and newspapers took serious notice of the unfurling of the tricolour flag all over the world.
Madame Bhikhaiji Cama played a vital role in the freedom struggle of India. She sacrificed her life for the cause, but sadly she is a forgotten heroine in the history of Indian independence. It is shame that majority of Indian people living in India and in the United Kingdom do not know about her and her tremendous contribution she rendered to the cause of Indian independence. Everybody knows about the contribution of Gandhiji, Dadabhai Naoroji, Pandit Nehru and the Indian National Congress Party, but very few people know about the cardinal contribution rendered by Madame Bhikhaiji Cama, Pandit Shyamaji Krishnavarma, Mr Manchershah Burjorji Godrej, Mr Sardarsinh R Rana and many more who started the freedom movement at least fifteen years before Gandhiji and Nehru entered into the arena of Indian Freedom Movement. These Indian patriots established ‘Indian Home Rule Society’ in 1905, published ‘The Indian Sociologist’ newspaper and opened ‘India House’ hostel for Indian students in London, in 1905, under the leadership of Pandit Shyamaji Krishnavarma to demand and fight for Swarajya – complete freedom of India and to liberate India from the despotism of British Rule. Although they laid firm foundation of Indian independence movement decades before Gandhiji and they had contributed their time, efforts and wealth and rendered a great sacrifice for their life for their motherland, they have been systematically neglected, ignored and deliberately forgotten by the Congress Party, which governed for 50 years after Indian Independence. This is because these Indian freedom fighters and revolutionaries did not belong to the Indian National Congress and they were rightfully and highly critical of congress policy during the era of Independence movement.
Madame Bhikhaiji Cama was born as Bhikhai Sorab Patel on 24th September 1861 (incidentally the same month and year as the ZTFE was established) in Bombay into a large and a very wealthy conservative Zoroastrian Parsi family. Her parents, Sorabji Framji Patel and Jaijibai Sorabji Patel, were well known in the city. Sorabji, was a lawyer by training and a merchant by profession, and an influential member of the Parsi community. She had four brothers and seven sisters. Her grandfather was the well known Framji Nusserwanji Patel, who had built a Kadmi Agairy in 1845 on Gunpowder Road, Mazgaon, Bombay, which was a sought after affluent Parsi locality in the mid nineteenth century. Like many Parsi girls of the time, Bhikhaiji attended Alexandra Native Girl’s English Institution. By all accounts she was a diligent, disciplined child with a flair for languages. On 3rd August 1885, she married the wealthy Rustom K R Cama, the son of the well known Zoroastrian scholar Kharshedji Rustomji Cama. It was not a happy marriage, but Bhikhaiji did not divorce her husband, but instead spent most of her time and energy in philanthropic activities and social work.
Although she was brought up in the westernized culture and educated in an English medium school, she always remained ardent Indian by heart all her life. She lived as a staunch Zoroastrian, always wore the sacred Zoroastrian garments sudreh and kusti, carried her Zoroastrian prayer book ‘Khordeh Avesta’ and practiced the main three commandments of prophet Zarathushtra namely good thoughts, good words and good deeds. She played a noble role serving the victims of plague epidemic in Bombay during 1896. She joined one of the many teams working out of Grant Medical College, later to become Haffkine’s Plague Vaccine Research Centre, in an effort to provide care for the afflicted, and later to inoculate the healthy. Madame Cama subsequently contracted the plague herself, but survived. Severely weakened, she was sent to Britain for medical care.
Like her friend Shapurji D Saklatvala, she too had witnessed inhumane attitude and treatment of British officials toward the Indian victims of the plague. She saw the suppression, atrocity, cruelty and terror of British rule in India which triggered a bitter hatred in her mind against the British rule in India. Her transformation from a typical kind hearted Parsi girl to an ardent, staunch and firebrand nationalist and subsequently to a fiery revolutionary was incidental, circumstantial and accidental. Madame Cama initially started her political career under Dadabhai Naoroji, one of the early leaders of the Indian National Congress, as his secretary. She is photographed seated next to Naoroji, who was then President of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, on the top table at the Parsi Pateti (New Year) Banquet held at the Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly Circus in September 1906. Later she became very much fascinated with the political ideology of Pandit Shyamji Krishna Varma and joined his political crusade in London and was very soon converted to his philosophy and became his disciple and right hand comrade.
Madame Cama was such a brave and progressive lady who opposed the Brutish rule in India openly and agitated vigorously and courageously against British despotism at a time when British women did not have the right to vote. She was the second brave Indian woman of Indian freedom fighters who waged a vicious war against the British after Maharani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Some nationalist historians honoured Madame Cama as the incarnation of Maharani Lakshmibai who returned to fulfil her unfinished business with the British. The British intelligence branded Madame Cama as ‘The Most Dangerous Indian Lady’.
Similar to her guru Pandit Shyamaji, Madame Cama believed in settling the issue of Indian Independence by amicable and peaceful means to start with but later they adopted the option of force and armed revolution to back their cause as the British atrocities in India reached to the extreme level. She worked restlessly to further the cause of Indian Independence in London and later in Paris. She regularly delivered speeches on Indian Independence at Hyde Park Corner and tried to raise awareness and to gather the support for Indian independence from freedom loving British people. She whole heartedly devoted herself to the newly formed ‘Indian Home Rule Society’. She helped Pandit Shyamaji in publishing ‘The Indian Sociologist’, the first Indian Nationalist Newspaper in London, and in managing ‘India House’, the hostel for young Indian Students. She played a vital role in encouraging and transforming those young students into hard core revolutionaries. She soon became very popular as a motherly figure among young students at India House which later bore her the title as the mother of Indian revolutionaries. As Madame Cama came from an affluent family, she was very generous to help them financially whenever someone was short of money.
After the clampdown on the anti British activities of Indian freedom activists in London by the British Government and their secret services, Madame Cama and her group moved their headquarters of anti British activity to Paris and continued their mission from there. Madame Cama created very cordial relationship with the French Socialists, IRA and the Irish freedom fighters and Russian revolutionaries living in exile in Paris and asked their help in her struggle. The growing atrocities on innocent Indians and the imposition of strict laws on Indian people by British enraged Madame Cama and she decided to fight back British with arms. She secretly despatched many consignments of guns and other armaments along with the manuals for manufacturing bombs and revolutionary literatures to Indian Freedom Fighters. She also arranged the training of young Indian revolutionaries in making bombs and handling of armaments with Russian revolutionaries. She strongly believed and propagated that, ‘successful rebellion against foreign rule is patriotism’.
After the unfurling of the tricolour in Stuttgart, Germany, which was deemed a great success, Madame Cama toured USA on her propaganda mission to expose British Oppression in India, and to raise awareness and to gather support from freedom loving American people and the Irish freedom activists and Indian people living in America. She launched her tireless campaign of speeches, interviews and writings in different cities of America. Many leading newspapers like the ‘Gaelic American’ provided special coverage of her visit, lectures and articles in their newspaper. Some sensational newspapers hailed her as a fiery crusader and gave her a title of the Indian Joan of Arc. The Sun newspaper interviewed her and published her speeches in detail. Madame Cama’s visit to America brought fruitful result as the Indo American Society and The Indo American National Association were founded by American lawyer Mr M H Phelps in 1907 to further the cause of Indian independence. Madame Cama launched her own nationalist newspaper called ‘Bande Mataram’ a monthly organ of Indian Independence advocating open rebellion against British on 10th September 1909.
Madam Cama strongly believed in gender equality and she was a pioneer in advocating women’s empowerment in the beginning of twentieth century. She had close relations with the British Fabian Society and London Positivist Society. When she delivered a speech at the National conference in Egypt in 1910 attended by men only, she demanded to know “where is the other half of Egypt?” She retorted, “I see only the representative of one half of Egypt. This assembly is full of only men. Sons of Egypt, where are your mothers? Where are your sisters? Do not forget that the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that shapes the individual that moulds the character. That soft hand is the chief factor in national life. Do not neglect that powerful hand.” This reflects how bold, brave and courageous Madame Cama was. She had guts to tell off the male dominated Islamic Egyptian society to provide equality to women.
Madame Cama’s role and mission as a freedom fighter was not just limited to India only. She was an international figure who inspired freedom fighters of other countries in the world who were enslaved by British rule. Madame Cama was a world class freedom activist in her own right. She was a great inspiration for the young Indian students in London and Paris and played an important role in moulding many students into a famous Indian revolutionaries like Lala Har Dayal, VVS Aiyer, Vinayak Damodar (Veer) Savarkar who later was implicated in the assassination of Gandhiji, MPT Acharya a founder member of the Communist Party of India and Madan Lal Dhingra who assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie in South Kensington on 1st July 1909 and in the process also shot the Parsi doctor Cawas Lalkaka who came between them while he tried to save Wyllie’s life.
Madam Cama was the Mother of Revolution and militant Indian nationalism. She financed and secretly published and distributed Savarkar’s banned book titled, ‘The Indian War of Independence 1857’ in different languages. She played a vital role to get Veer Savarkar released from British captivity and she personally financed the case and took it to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but unfortunately lost the case due to a cunning plot by the British Government.
The British Government was becoming increasing alarmed by Madame Cama’s revolutionary activities and in 1910 petitioned the French Government for her extradition, which was refused. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, France and Britain became allies. Madame Cama, MPT Acharya and Sardarsinh R Rana were briefly arrested in October 1914 when they tried to agitate among Indian troops that had just arrived in Marseilles on their way to the Western Front. They were required to leave Marseilles, and Cama then moved to Bordeaux. In January 1915, the French government deported Rana and his whole family to the Caribbean island of Martinique, and Madame Cama was sent to Vichy, where she was interned. In bad health, she was released in November 1917 and permitted to return to Bordeaux provided that she report weekly to the local police. Following the First World War, Madame Cama returned to her home in Paris.
She remained in exile in Europe until 1935, when, gravely ill and paralysed by a stroke that she had suffered earlier that year, she petitioned the British government through Sir Cowasji Jehangir to be allowed to return to India, because upon her demise she wanted to be interned in the Towers of Silence. But the British refused and humiliated her until she acceded in writing to their demands that she renounced seditionist activities against Great Britain and the Empire, which she did on 24th June 1935. Accompanied by Sir Cowasji Jehangir, she arrived gravely ill in Bombay in November 1935 and was immediately admitted into the B D Petit Parsee General Hospital, where she died nine months later, aged 74, on 13th August 1936. The British intimidated all who tried to visit her, thus the only visitor to the hospital was Sir Cowasji Jehangir.
Madame Cama had a great vision for India. She wanted a free, united and militarily strong India, to be a republic with one language, one script and no barriers of caste, colour or creed. Unfortunately that vision was not fulfilled in her lifetime as she passed away eleven years before India became independent. Madame Cama and her siblings had inherited considerable wealth from their late father, Sorabji Framji Patel, but the British had prevented it being used for the revolutionary activities. At her death her assets totalled nearly Rs.55,000, out of which nearly Rs.15,000 were shares in Tata Hydro Electric Power Supply Company and Tata Power Company, was a fair sum of money in 1936. In her will, she bequeathed most of her personal assets including jewellery, furniture and china glassware to the Avabai Petit Orphanage for Girls in Bandra, Bombay, which established a trust in her name. Her liquid assets were bequeathed to her family’s fire temple, the Framji Nusserwanjee Patel Agiary at Mazgaon, in trust to keep the corpus intact to be invested and apply the income arising from the investments whand apply where she is annually remembered with other members of her illustrious family.
Madame Cama’s inspired freedom lovers with her evergreen slogan, ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God’. This slogan was targeted against British imperialism and despotism. It continues to inspire countless others to serve humanity and seek independence against all adversity. This engraved historic slogan is faintly visible on her chosen tombstone at the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where she had purchased a plot just in case the British refused her to die in India.
In his newspaper in 1905, Pandit Shyamaji advised the British Government to resolve the issue of Indian Independence amicably and depart as friends. This is a unique and memorable event organised today by the Zoroastrian APPG as both Indian and British dignitaries are together celebrating the life of an Indian revolutionary and freedom fighter in the Houses of the British Parliament, as Indo British relations are continually strengthened after the British had to quit India with casualties on both sides.
It is a shame that most historians, the Indian Government and Indian High Commission in London have neglected the vital role played by Madame Bhikhaiji R Cama, her mentor Pandit Shyamaji Krishnvarma and other Indian revolutionaries. The hall of honour in India House, the High Commission of India in London, is illuminating with the numerous and gigantic memorial statues of leaders of the Indian National Congress, but other freedom fighters and revolutionaries like Madame Bhikhaiji Cama and Pandit Shyamaji Krishnavarma who lived and worked tirelessly in London for the freedom of India and sacrificed their life for their motherland have not been given the honourable place or recognition they deserved first and foremost. It would be a great repentance and tribute if appropriate memorials of Madame Cama and her Guru Pandit Shyamaji Krishnvarma are erected by the Government of India in London during the year of 110th anniversary of the historical event of Madame Cama unfurling the first tricolour flag of Indian Independence on foreign soil.
I sincerely thank the Zoroastrian APGG, its co chairs Lord Karan F Bilimoria and Gareth Thomas MP and the President of ZTFE Mr Malcolm M Deboo for inviting me to speak on this occasion.
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