Bhikaiji Rustom Cama and Eugenia Bosh
Rebellious Daughters of History #14
by Judy Cox
Politics in a time of plague: Bhikaiji Rustom Cama (1861 – 1936)
Bhikaiji Cama was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) into an affluent and influential Parsi family. In 1885, she married Rustom Cama, a wealthy, pro-British lawyer. In October 1896, Mumbai was hit by bubonic plague. Cama volunteered to provide care for the afflicted. She contracted the plague but survived and was sent to Britain for medical care in 1902.
In London, Cama met a circle of radical opponents of British rule in India. She helped to set up the Indian Home Rule Society in 1905. She could not return to India unless she signed a statement promising not to participate in nationalist activities. She refused.
Cama moved to Paris where she co-founded the Paris Indian Society. Cama wrote, published and distributed revolutionary literature for the movement. In Paris, gave shelter to many world revolutionaries, including Lenin.
On 22 August 1907, Cama attended the second Socialist Congress at Stuttgart. Other delegates included Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin. Cama gave a fiery speech, denouncing the effects of the British Raj and demanding equal rights and independence from Britain. She stunned the audience by unfurling an Indian flag:
“Behold, the flag of independent India is born! It has been made sacred by the blood of young Indians who sacrificed their lives in its honour. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to support this struggle.”
Cama's flag, which she co-designed, would one of the templates for the current national flag of India.
In 1909, Cama was involved in aiding the escape of a nationalist being deported to India to stand trial. The British Government requested Cama's extradition, but the French Government refused. The British Government seized Cama's inheritance.
Bhikhaiji Cama actively supported the women’s suffrage movement and was vehement in her support for gender equality. Speaking in Cairo, Egypt in 1910, she declared, "I see here the representatives of only half the population of Egypt. May I ask where is the other half? Sons of Egypt, where are the daughters of Egypt? Where are your mothers and sisters? Your wives and daughters?"
In 1914, France and Britain became allies, Cama and Other activists agitated among Indian troops arriving in Marseilles on their way to the front. Cama was told to leave Marseilles and 1915 she was sent to Vichy, where she was interned. In bad health, she was released in November 1917 and after the war, Cama returned to her home in Paris.
Cama remained exiled in Europe until 1935, when, gravely ill, she petitioned the British government to be allowed to return home. She finally agreed to renounce seditionist activities. She died in Mumbai aged 74 on 13 August 1936.
Bolshevik Warrior: Eugenia Bosh (1875-1925)
Eugenia was born into a affluent Jewish family. At 17, her family tried to force her into an arrange a marriage but she ran off with Peter Bosh and had two daughters.
Eugenia became a revolutionary socialist in 1901 aged 22 and joined the Bolsheviks in 1903. In 1906 she packed up her daughters, left a note for her husband and headed for Kiev, where she became secretary of the Russian Social Democratic Group before she was arrested and exiled to Siberia. She escaped abroad, returning to Russia after the February Revolution. Eugenia became the leading Bolshevik in Ukraine.
In October 1917, Bosh got permission to address a regiment of soldiers stationed in Ukraine. They were known as ‘The Wild Division’ and when she arrived they were armed and had been drinking heavily.
Undaunted, Bosh spoke for two hours, explaining the need to replace the failing Provisional Government with a Soviet government. When she left, their band rushed to find their instruments so that they could see her off in style. A month later the Chief of Staff wrote that ‘Agitators, such as the Jewess Bosh, have contaminated all the units of the regiment’.
Shortly afterwards, another regiment stationed nearby mutinied. Bosh set out to persuade the Wild Division not to obey orders and crush the mutiny. The soldiers stood packed in a square listening to her speak and the next day she lead the company to join the mutineers. After a few days of fighting the town of Vinnitsa fell to Bosh and her rebels.
During the civil war, Bosh brought Ukraine under Bolshevik control, earning Victor Serge’s description of her as one of the most capable military leaders at the time. A few months later Bosh launched the Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, which announced a Soviet Republic and she became temporarily the first woman to lead a national government.
After Lenin’s death, she became a vocal critic of Stalin. She retired from active politics and began to write a history of the Russian Revolution but it was never finished. In January 1925, devastated by the news that Trotsky had been forced out of his position as leader of the Red Army by Stalin, Bosh committed suicide.