Pandita Ramabai Saraswati was a female feminist, women’s rights and education activist. Ramabai was a pioneer in women’s education and liberation in India and as a social reformer. Ramabai earned the title of Pandita as a Sanskrit scholar and Saraswati after examination by the faculty of the University of Calcutta.
Pandita Ramabai Saraswati was born on 23 April 1858 in a Marathi-speaking Brahmin family as Rama Dongre. Later she turned to Christianity in England. During the Great Famine of 1876–78, at the age of 16, the orphan, Dongre, and his brother Srinivas traveled to India reciting Sanskrit texts.
After Ramabai’s brother, Srinivas died in 1880, she married Bipin Behari Medhvi, a Bengali lawyer. The groom was a Bengali Kayastha, and the marriage was inter-caste and inter-regional and hence viewed unsuitable for that age. They were married in a civil ceremony on 13 November 1880. The couple had a daughter, whom they named Manorama. After the death of Medhvi in 1882, Ramabai, who was only 23 years old, went to Pune and founded an organization to encourage women’s education.
Pandita Ramabai’s father Anant Shastri Dongre was a Sanskrit scholar. He taught her Sanskrit. Pandita Ramabai had memorized 20 thousand verses at the age of 12. She learned Marathi, Kannada, Hindi, and Bangla languages. She achieved the title of Pandita and Saraswati at the age of 18 for the knowledge of Sanskrit. To become a poet and writer, she traveled a lot in life. Ramabai transcribed the Bible into Marathi.
In 1882, after Madhavi’s death, Ramabai moved to Pune where she established Arya Mahila Samaj (Arya Women’s Society). Its mission was to encourage the cause of women’s education and freedom from the cruelty of child marriage. Ramabai gave evidence before the commission, appointed by the Government of India in 1882.
In an address to Lord Ripon’s Education Commission, she told with enthusiasm, “In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the educated men of this country are opposed to female education and the proper position of women. If they observe the slightest fault, they magnify the grain of mustard-seed into a mountain, and try to ruin the character of a woman.”
She said that the condition of women in India was such that women could only treat them medically. Indian women should be admitted to medical colleges. The evidence of Ramabai caused a great sensation and reached Queen Victoria. It was later reaped by Lord Dufferin at the beginning of the women’s medical movement
In 1883, she went to Britain to start medical training. Due to increasing deafness, she as rejected. During her visit, she converted to Christianity. In 1886, she moved from Britain to the United States to attend the graduation of her relative and first female Indian Doctor, Anandibai Joshi, staying for two years.
During this time she transcribed textbooks and gave speeches throughout the United States and Canada. She published the first book that she wrote in English, The High-Caste Hindu Woman. She dedicated this book to Dr. Joshi, a Brahmin woman which revealed the darkest aspects of the life of Hindu women, including child brides and child widows, tried to show the abuse of women in Hindu-dominated British India.
During the harsh famine in 1896, she toured the villages of Maharashtra by a caravan of bullock carts also rescued thousands of rejected children, child widows, orphans, and other poor women and took them to the shelter of Mukti and Sharada Sadan.
By 1900 there were 1,500 residents and over a hundred cattle in the Mukti mission and she was also involved in establishing a Church at Mukti. The Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission is still active today, giving housing, schooling, vocational training, etc. to many poor groups including widows, orphans, and the blind.
In 1920 Ramabai’s body began to flag. She nominated his daughter to command the Mukti Mission. However, Manorama died in 1921. His death was a shock to Ramabai. Nine months later, Ramabai, suffering from septic bronchitis, died on 5 April 1922, a few weeks before his 64th birthday.