Many women who championed the cause of the oppressed and fought against traditions have been left out of mainstream history books. One such woman is Pandita Ramabai, who denounced patriarchy and rallied for women’s right to education, however, not many know of her. Pandita Ramabai Saraswati was a scholar, feminist and educator, who broke barriers and expectations as a woman living in the 19th-century India.
At the age of 29, Pandita Ramabai wrote the book The High Caste Hindu Woman where she denounced patriarchy and the treatment meted out to widows by society.
Why We Should Know Pandita Ramabai
Ramabai was an outspoken advocate of women’s education and their rights. As a highly educated woman, she gave lectures on women’s rights across the world. She studied in not only Britain but also America. Pandita Ramabai also gave lectures in Japan and Australia as well as taught Sanskrit and her mother tongue, Marathi. On the personal front, Ramabai took patriarchy head-on when she chose to marry a lower caste man. Widowed merely two years after her marriage, she lived with her head held high, becoming a source of strength and inspiration for other women in her position.
What Makes Her Badass
At the age of 29, Pandita Ramabai wrote the book The High Caste Hindu Woman where she denounced patriarchy and the treatment meted out to widows by society. Her text especially explored patriarchal culture as it was in Maharastra. It is not a small feat for a woman to call out the negative aspects of her religion and caste in late 19th century, so openly. With the funds that she gathered from her book, she opened a residential school for Hindu widows. She provided education to widowed women who were shunned by society. It was the first organisation to provide widows with formal and regular school education and vocational training. This not only assured economic safety for women, but gave them the confidence to navigate their lives on their own.
Also Read: How Widows Of Maharashtra Are Living In Low Social Security
Biggest Battles She Fought
Pandita Ramabai’s father was shunned from his village for teaching Sanskrit to his wife. As a result, he lived in a forest with his family. They traveled from forest to forest. During a famine in 1877, her parents passed away, as well as her sister. Ramabai later married a man from a lower caste but she soon lost her husband as well, leaving her to raise their young daughter all by herself. Despite being widowed at 23, with a baby girl to care for, Ramabai was determined to attain higher education. She left for England to study medicine, but couldn’t finish it. She then enrolled in a teaching program at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, where she taught Marathi and Sanskrit.
Things She Said
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! – Pandita Ramabai
Pandita Ramabai advocated for the presence of women in medicine. Today, the practice of having female doctors present for female patients is common. However, Ramabai first addressed this. She also demanded that there should be more women in the medical field for some treatments for women required the presence of other women. Such was the impact of her argument that it even reached Queen Victoria.
She gave brilliant speeches about gender reform. On one occasion, she at first choose to remain silent until there was pin-drop silence in her audience and then went on to say, “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!” It is said that people responded to her speeches with applause and standing ovations.
Life Lessons We Can Learn From Her
Pandita Ramabai was a truly remarkable woman who pioneered women’s education and championed women’s rights and empowerment, leading by example. As an upper-caste woman, she used her privilege to spread education. She denounced the caste system and caste-based discrimination. She helped uplift the downtrodden sections of society. By 1900, the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission had more than 1,500 residents and more than 100 cattle. It is active even to this day. It provides housing, education, vocational training and medical services, for widows, orphans, blinds and many needy groups.
Also Read: Ramabai Ranade, Women’s Rights Activist Of 19th Century India
Prapti is an intern at SheThePeople.TV