Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Contribution of Pandita Ramabai in Maharashtra: Special Reference to Women Upliftment

Contribution of Pandita Ramabai in Maharashtra: Special Reference to Women 

Dr.Shubhangi Dinesh Rathi  (Dept.of Political  Science ,Smt P.K.Kotecha Mahila College Bhusawal)

Upliftment Pandita Ramabai was a social reformer and Indian freedom fighter of Maharash
tra. Her status as a solitary women leader of the movement for women's emancipation in nineteenth century in Maharashtra and her contribution to that cause were eclipsed by the storm over her conversion to Christianity and her consequent neglect by contemporary main stream of Hindu society. In this paper attempts are made to focus on Ramabai’s contribution in upliftment women in Maharashtra.

            Maharashtra has produced numerous social reformers who have played a significant role in making India a more progressive and forward looking country. These social reformers have fought against several social evils such as Sati, widow remarriage, child marriage, castes etc. Women bear almost all responsibility for meeting basic needs of the family, yet are systematically denied the resources, information and freedom of action they need to fulfill this responsibility.
          Pandita Ramabai was born on 23rd April in the forest of Gangamal in Western Maharashtra. Her father Ananta Shastri, was a learned Brahmin and something of a social reformer. He married a girl of nine and decided to educate her. The village Brahmans responded by ostracizing him and he decided to leave the village and built a home in the forest. His wife Lakshmibai, hated the loneliness of the forest, but had perforce to accept it. Soon after Ramabai was born. While she was still young the family started moving from forest to forest and town to town. Wherever he could her father would give lectures on the need for female education. In the 1877 famine both the parents died. During the great famine from 1874-76, Ramabai helplessly watched her parents and sister starve to death. She and her older brother continued to wander throughout India, experiencing extreme physical hardship and hunger before finally reaching Calcutta in 1878. There her exceptional knowledge of Sanskrit texts so astonished scholars that they immediately awarded her two titles: Pandita (a wise person) and Saraswati (goddess of learning).
      Ramabai and her brother decided to carry on their father’s tradition. Ramabai’s fame as a lecturer reached the ears of pandits in Calcutta. They decided to invite her and see for themselves. She was so astounded and pleased by the clearness of her views and her eloquence in presenting them, that they publicly conferred on her the highest title-Sarswati, Goddess of wisdom. After the death of her brother, Ramabai shocked all who knew her by marrying someone of a lower caste. Bapu Bipin Behari Das Medhavi was a lawyer and teacher, and together they studied Western ideas and philosophy. After  considering for a time the views of the reformist group Brahmo Samaj, which sought to integrate the teachings and insights of different religions, Ramabai began to read a Bengali Gospel of Luke given to her husband by a Baptist missionary while they were living in Assam.
After his death Ramabai moved to Poona where she founded Arya Mahila Samaj. When in 1882 a commission was appointed by Government of India to look into education, Ramabai gave evidence before it. She suggested that teachers be trained and women inspectresses of schools be appointed. Further, she said that as in India women’s conditions were such that women could only medically treat them, Indian women should be admitted to medical colleges. Ramabai’s evidence created s great sensation and reached Queen Victoria. It bore fruit later in starting of the Women’s Medical Movement by Lady Dufferin.
       As she was preparing to speak on two resolutions for gender reform, her audience took some time to settle down. She remained silent and still until you could have heard a pin drop and then began with the remarkable words: "It is not strange, my countrymen, that my voice is small, for you have never given a woman the chance to make her voice strong!" From that moment on, she carried her enraptured listeners in the palm of her hand, and the resolutions were passed by a huge majority.And so it was throughout much of India and then America: Audiences were moved to laughter and tears before responding with resounding applause and standing ovations. She knew many of the sacred texts of the Hindu religion by heart and had an ear for the varied cadences of the written and spoken word.
           But she also knew from 20 years of wandering the hard realities of everyday life for Indian women. It was a brave person who ventured to contradict this combination of academic brilliance and personal experience. She was a born leader, held in awe by the rich and famous and trusted by the poor and oppressed.
In 1883, Ramabai was invited to Philadelphia to attend the graduation ceremony of her cousin Anandibai Joshee, India's first female doctor. She became an instant sensation in North America and made several lasting friendships with notable figures such as Frances Willard (one of the leaders of the Women's Movement), and Rachel Bodley (Dean of the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia). She was soon convinced that her life's work in India should be to transform the situation of India's high caste women, especially child widows, by establishing an all-women's residential school modeled on the radical kindergarten system pioneered by Friedrich Froebel.
          Soon after her return to India, Ramabai established her first residential school, the Sharada Sadan (House of Learning), in Bombay. In 1890 the school moved to Pune, the place where she had always intended it should be. But she encountered increasingly fierce criticism from both Christian and Hindu communities when she sought to run her school in an open and tolerant way, making Hindu and Christian texts freely available side by side. Though she was by this time a widely respected and influential figure-it was during this period that she made her famous address to the Indian National Social Conference, the forerunner of the National Congress Party-opposition continued to mount. Finally, after some of her students converted to Christianity and were baptized, there was a massive withdrawal of local support.
          Whereas the Sharada Sadan in Pune, as in Bombay, was intended for the daughters of Brahman families, Mukti was open to all women in need. Soon the place was filled to overflowing with starving child-widows, orphans, victims of famines in central India, and other needy women. At times the Mukti Mission provided for as many as 2000. In addition to housing so many women, it had a kindergarten for young children, schools, a hospital, a refuge for "fallen women," 64 cloth-weaving looms, five printing presses, tailoring and handicrafts, a flourmill, an oil press, a laundry, a farm, orchards, and wells. Ramabai managed to set up this establishment and to sustain and run it with the help of an efficient administrative staff. Among her assistants was her daughter Manorama, who joined her after returning from college in America, and who Ramabai hoped would be her eventual successor.
        Pandita Ramabai championed the cause of women’s education. She never went to school but learnt to read and write at home. She was given the title 'Pandita' because she could read and write Sanskrit, a remarkable achievement as women then were not allowed such knowledge. She set up a Mission in Khedgaon near Pune in 1898, where widows and poor women were encouraged not only to be independent, but were taught a variety of skills – from carpentry to running a printing press - that are not taught to girls even today.
       There her fame as a brilliant scholar and social activist continued to grow, and she devoted herself to alleviating the oppression of women and girls, especially child widows. She was tireless in speaking, testified before the Education Commission (where her eloquence even brought her to the attention of Queen Victoria), started women's reform organizations in Bombay and Pune, and published her first book, Stree Dharma-Niti (Morals for Women). But it was more than this. She had come to the conclusion that the key to India's transformation was Christian women going from village to village sharing their lives and the Bible with their fellow countrywomen. Because she believed that the Bible was a radical instrument of change, she was willing to devote 12 years of her life to this Marathi translation. She completed the revision of the final drafts only hours before she died in April 1922. Her daughter Manorama had died a few months before, and Ramabai knew her mission was complete. Mukti was soundly established and would be run by those whom she knew and trusted. The Marathi Bible would be printed on Mukti presses. And former "Mukti girls" would take the message of freedom in Christ to every part of Maharashtra
         Lastly we conclude that Pandita Ramabai worked for women.She struggled throughout her whole life,faced the callenges and supported to emancipated women the 19 th century. So I want to indicate through this paper at present all women can take spirit and motivation from Pandita Ramabai.While facing challenges of the present era, we all will lead to bright future.

1.     Pandita Ramabai , 1852-1922 (Kumar, Radha: The history of doing : An illustrated account of Movements for Women?s Rights and Feminism in India 1800-1990".?.London, verso. 1993, p.26.)
2.     Pandita Ramabai: Jesus Was Her Guru:By Keith J. White, Christian History Magazine
3.     Saraswati, Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922):Vineeta Sinha Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology Online
4.     Meera Kosambi ; Women,Emancipation and equality Pandita Ramabai’s Contribution to Women Cause:Economic and Political Weekly,
5.     www.freewikipedia.com/pandita_ramabai.html

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