Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, a scholar, feminist and educator, broke nearly every rule and tradition that confined the life of an upper-caste Hindu woman in 19th-century India. She was a truly remarkable woman who pioneered women’s education and rebelliously championed for women’s rights and empowerment.
On Ramabai’s death anniversary, let’s look at her struggle and travails while fighting for women’s rights in India.
Ramabai’s journey that started from forests
Born on April 23, 1858, in the forest of Ganamal in Maharashtra, Ramabai spent her childhood that embarked on several continuous journeys to holy places across India, managing to survive by reciting sacred stories in order to gain religious merit and thus a living.
Ramabai was born to Lakshmibai and a High caste Hindu Brahmin named Anant Shastri, who was a social reformer and was interested in educating girls. Ramabai’s parents passed away in the year 1877 due to famine. Her sister too died during the same time.
Ramabai had impeccable command over the Sanskrit vernacular by then. Her exceptional knowledge of Sanskrit texts astonished the scholars and she was awarded with the highest titles of Pandita and Sarasvati, which means ‘A wise person’ and ‘goddess of learning/wisdom’ respectively.
She got married to Bipen Behan Das Medhavi who was a Shudra by caste, a lawyer and a teacher by profession. Unfortunately, her husband died of cholera after only sixteen months, leaving her alone with an infant daughter, Manorama.
Ramabai as social reformer, freedom fighter & educationist
Her travels in India and now her present circumstances sensitized her to the bleak plight of widows and orphans. She was one of the first to rebel against the inhuman condition to which widows were subjected.
She set out to do something about this social problem, establishing centers for widows and orphans in Poona (now Pune) and later Bombay, where the women were given basic education and training in marketable skills.
Soon Ramabai had become the leading advocate for the rights and welfare of women in India. In 1887, she wrote ‘The High Caste Hindu Women’ in which she highlighted the deplorable conditions of Hindu widows.
Pandita also became the first to introduce Braille for blind girls, subsequently opening a Blind school in Mukti.
In 1896, during a severe famine in Maharashtra, Ramabai rescued thousands of outcast children, child widows, orphans, and other destitute women. They were given shelter in Mukti and Sharada Sadan.
Pandita Ramabai also participated in the freedom movement. In 1889, she was one of the 10 women delegates in the Congress.
Ramabai’s tragic end
In 1920, Ramabai’s health began deteriorating. She passed on her daughter Manorama the mantle to take over the ministry of Mukti Mission. In a sad twist of fate, Manorama died in 1921. Her death came as a rude shock to Ramabai.
After barely nine months, Ramabai, who was already suffering from septic bronchitis; breathed her last on 5th April 1922, almost a fortnight ahead of her 64th birthday.