Ramabai Ranade: Women’s Rights Activist Of 19th Century India

When we look back at history, there are many really strong, brave and badass women who led India’s many revolutions. Women have always been a community waiting to be mainstreamed. Among those who worked towards this was Ramabai Ranade, a social worker and activist. At a time when women did not have rights and freedom, Ramabai Ranade worked to liberate women of their shackles.

Why We Should Know Ramabai Ranade

Ramabai Ranade is a pioneer of the modern women’s movement in India. She was the founder and president of the “Seva Sadan”, which is among the most successful of all Indian women’s institutions. In Mumbai, you would find its operations still in place along Pandita Ramabai Road where the Seva Sadan is registered as a women’s shelter. There is also a school for girls along centre of Mumbai on Gamdevi road. Thousands of Indian women have been associated with this institution. Ramabai’s close personal supervision to the growth of the society led to its expansion across India and it continues to serve an important link to women’s history.

Seva Sadan

In cities like Pune and Mumbai you would fine pictures of women playing sport, doing yoga and exercise, running a kitchen to build self help centres or promote women to push boundaries. Although Ramabai Ranade was born in an era that denied her education, she not only rose above personal problems but also tried to help other women.

At a time the traditionally male-dominated Indian society, women from impoverished communities have long suffered gender discrimination, oppression, and abuse, Seva Sadan became the society where women found a safe space. Until today, they share the same message on their website, “The girl child is often neglected and deprived of a normal childhood, including her right to education and a life of equal opportunity.

Seva Sadan Society in Mumbai has been a sanctuary for such marginalised girls for over a century. “We continue to protect, nurture, and empower them with education, skills and opportunities not only to improve their own lives, but also change lives of their families and impact communities.”

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Ramabai Ranade Seva Sadan

Seva Sadan Society, Picture by Society itself

What Makes Her Badass

The idea of a community of women coming together to discuss feminist concepts was unheard of before Ramabai Ranade. However, she started actively getting involved with the Prarthana Samaj. This provided the initial ideological and social set up of liberal ideas to Ranade. She attended meetings and lectures organised for the women in the Samaj. These lectures detailed the importance of education for women. Women were also trained in other skills like public speaking. These gatherings were also a space for their socialisation. Ramabai Ranade included educational activities like seminars, lectures and essay contests. She used these occasions for spreading her liberal ideas to a much wider audience, educating them.

Biggest Battles She Fought

However, Ramabai Ranade did not have an easy life. She was a victim of child marriage.  At the age of 11, her family married her to Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade. Justice Ranade was a distinguished Indian scholar and social reformer. In that era of social inequality, women were not allowed to go to school and become literate. Despite this, Ramabai Ranade, with the help of her husband, pursued the education which her own family had denied to her.

Also Read: Savitribai Phule – Teacher, Activist And Mother Of Indian Feminism

Things She Said

Ramabai Ranade had some very important ideas about motherhood. She was someone who fought for women’s issues. However, she was also conscious of the woman’s position in society. She managed to propagate her reformist and feminist ideas along with the traditional notion that existed in society about womanhood and motherhood in her effort to make the process of change gradual but impactful.

Ranade did not subscribe to the Marxist view of perceiving motherhood as a restriction of women to the household to take care of their husbands and children. For her motherhood was service. And so she struck a fine balance between modern and traditional aspects of the Maharashtrian society that was going through major socio-cultural changes. In this way she contributed majorly to the women’s movement in Maharashtra.

What We Learn From Her

Most institutions only admitted middle-class women during those times. However, Ramabai Ranade’s institution also catered to the education as well as needs of the poor and working class women. This led to a marked increase in the number of female students going from a meagre six in 1909 to over 1000 by the end of 1920. Therefore, her efforts teach us that any person, no matter where they are from, can cause significant societal change. She died on the same date as she was born after sixty years. Ramabai Ranade (25 January 1863 – 25 January 1924).

Also Read: Seven Inspiring Educators Who Worked For Women’s Education

Prapti is an intern at SheThePeople.TV