Introduction: ‘Pandita Ramabai’ was a social worker, scholar and a champion of women’s’ rights, freedom and education. ‘Pandita’ was the title bestowed on her excellent command over Sanskrit at a very young age.
She was born on 23rd April, 1858. Her parents were Anant Shastri Dongare and Lakshmibai.
Early life: After the demise of her parents in the jungles of Karnataka, young Ramabai and her brother had to face the hardship of poverty. They had to come to a place of human habitation. On reaching Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1878, she decided to dedicate her life for the cause of distressed women. She lectured on Sanskrit literature and Indian philosophy. She was a big draw at the meetings.
After a while her brother died and the young Ramabai was left in the world all alone. A reformer to the core, she married Bipin Bihari Medhavi, a shudra, M.A. and law graduate. Burt luck seemed to be still unkind to her. Medhavi died on cholera suddenly and she was left with a babe in arms – Manorama.
Her marriage to an untouchable had antagonized all her relatives. They shut the doors of help to her. But she was undeterred. She went to Poona and started writing articles and giving lectures on woman’s education. She met the stalwarts championing this cause like Ranade, Kelkar, Bhandarkar and others.
Arya Mahila Samaj: She founded ‘Arya Mahila Samaj’ to serve the cause of women. She pleaded for improvement in the educational syllabus of Indian women before the English Education Commission. This was referred to Queen Victoria. As a result of this a movement for medical education for women was launched in Lady Dufferin College.
Ramabai went to England in 1883 as a professor to teach Sanskrit. She accepted the Christian faith. Two years later she went to USA to study the educational system there and qualified herself for Kindergarten teaching. Here she wrote a book, ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’. She founded ‘Ramabai Association’, which accepted to pay the expenses for ten years to run a Widow’s Home for upper-class Hindu widows in India.
Sharada Sadan: On return to India in 1889, Ramabai established ‘Sharada Sadan’. The objectives were:
- To prepare women as efficient citizens of the society
- To maintain Indianness instead of copying the West
- To make the Ashram a real HOME for the destitute and
- That nobody should be tempted and persuaded to embrace Christianity.
Ramabai’s daughter, Manorama returned to India on completion of her higher studies in the United States to take up the responsibility as a Principal of the High School under Sharada Sadan management.
Other works: Ramabai went to USA again in 1897 to revive the Ramabai Association. On return she built a new building in ‘Mukti’ complex called ‘Kripa Sadan’. This was to house destitute and rehabilitates them.
Conclusion: Pandita Ramabai expired on April 5, 1922. One has yet to find another Indian woman of so strong a character, so daring, so compassionate, dazzling capacity to organize and with such selfless service and dedication.