Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922)

Pandita Ramabai trained for no profession in particular. Her learning was in an unconventional manner within the premises of her home.  Her background, life choices, her personality and career, her beliefs, captured her into the public gaze, making her the most “controversial” Indian woman of her times.

Ramabai argued that the caste-based difference coupled with gender-based difference deeply affected Indian women. The Arya Mahila Sabha was regarded as an institution set up to do away with the domination of men. Ramabai argued that according to social practices women had to obey men, or be treated like their slaves. It was believed that Ramabai only exhorted women to free themselves from the tyranny of men at these meetings in the Arya Mahila Sabhas, causing horror to the orthodox community, both men and women.

Ramabai understood that the patriarchal ideology of the society placed women in the domestic sphere restricting her to sexual reproductive and home-making roles. Her book, ‘The High caste Hindu Women’, previewed the treatment given to the Hindu women throughout life and is regarded as the first feminist manifesto with an agenda of women’s emancipation and women’s empowerment.

Women were not allowed to receive education and were completely dependent on their male supporters. Widow Remarriage was prohibited in society and women were forced to live a solitary life. While women were forced to commit for lifetime but the males were allowed to practice bigamy or polygamy. Furthermore, Huge age gaps between partners were a common norm and various types of physical and sexual violence was committed against women and were not even recognized by society.

She represents her views over religion which according to her had two distinct nature of law- the masculine and the feminine. Both had their own peculiar duties, privileges and honor. She criticized Manu severely and argued that the manu-smritis account of women’s nature and character depicted was largely responsible for their seclusion and suppression. It was Manu’s law which deprived women of all their freedom. She argued that the chief needs for Hindu women are self-reliance, education, and native women teachers and doctors. She gave the proposal for female inspectors for girls’ schools as she observed that male inspectors would intimidate the women.

Pandita Ramabai supported the concept of professional education to be imparted to women in the country. It was not only their right but also the need of the society. She was particularly focused for women to attain education in medicine. She demanded civic rights for women widows, deserted wives and sexually assaulted wives, after coming in contact with women like Lucy Stene, Elisabeth Standon, Suzanne Anthony and the women of US in general, Ramabai argued it’s important for women to realize their own worth and strength. Ramabai stressed on the need of a homogeneous society for any kind of successful movement. Her stay in America made her realize the importance of having a civil and educated society. For her, American model of liberal democracy was the real model that needed to be followed socially, practically and economically. Ramabai was indeed a champion of women’s rights.

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