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Madam Cama or Rustum Munni Bhikaji, freedom fighter
(1861 – 1936)
Madam Bhikaji Cama belongs to History as the lady who hoisted the Indian Flag for the first time in a foreign country. It was in Stuttgart, Germany, and on August 18, 1907 that she staged this bold performance, saying that she was doing it so only to bring the poverty, starvation, oppression and slavery, as also India's thirst for freedom to the attention of the international assembly of socialists there. Madam Cama was 46 when she did this act of patriotism. It was two years earlier that she, in company with another freedom fighter, Vir Savarkar, designed the tri-color flag for a free India. Elegant as a queen, she was a heroic patriot, who left her home to fight for the freedom of India from within and abroad. She helped revolutionaries with money and material as with ideas.
Born in 1861 to Sorabji Frameji Patel, a well-known trader in Bombay, her given name was Rustum (Munni) Bhikaji and she came to be known as Madam Cama after her marriage with K.R. Cama, a lawyer and social worker who supported the British rule (1885). Right from her student days she was interested in the freedom movement. Her husband's pro-British stance and opposition to her anti-British activities created problems in their life and finally she left her home and became a full-time freedom fighter. Those were days of the dreaded plague which killed tens of thousands in India, and Madam Cama volunteered for help. This ate into her health. Sent to Europe for better treatment (1902), she was in Germany and Scotland, and finally reached London where she had a surgical operation. She worked as secretary for some time to Dadabhai Naoroji, the famous Indian leader in London.
She was a powerful speaker and her sharp attacks angered the British, and attempts were made to assassinate her. She moved to France and continued her campaign against the British rule in India. She brought out books and journals from France and Germany on Indian revolutionaries. Her book on India's first war of Independence (1857), was banned even before its publication. But the book came out through underground channels, reprinted and distributed by greats like Subhashchandra Bose and Bhagat Singh. When the First World War broke out, she called upon the soldiers of India not to fight for the British who enslaved the country. She was declared a persona non grata and was ordered to return to India. She defied it and became a heroic model for revolutionaries in various countries like Turkey, Ireland and China.
She wanted to spend her last years in India. And finally she reached Bombay, after 34 years of hectic campaign for India, but she had to move to a hospital straight from the port. The treatment was protracted, and the brave revolutionary breathed her last on August 13, 1936. She was 75.