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25 January 1863|
Devarashtre, Satara, Bombay Presidency, British India
|Died||25 January 1924 (aged 60–61)|
|Known for||Women's education and self-reliance|
|Spouse(s)||Mahadev Govind Ranade|
Ramabai Ranade (25 January 1863 – 1924) was an Indian social worker and one of the first women's rights activists in the 19th century. She was born in Kurlekar family in 1863. At the age of 11, she was married to Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, who 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. Ramabai, soon after her marriage, started to learn reading and writing with strong support and encouragement from Mahadev Govind Ranade. Starting with her native language Marathi, Ramabai strove hard to master English and Bengali.
Inspired by her husband, Ramabai started 'Hindu Ladies Social Club' in Mumbai to develop public speaking among women. Ramabai was also a founder and President of 'Seva Sadan Society' in Pune. Ramabai devoted her life to the improvement of women's lives. Ramabai Ranade with her husband and other colleagues established in 1886 the first girls' high school in Pune, the renowned Huzurpaga.
Ramabai Ranade was a pioneer of the modern women's movement in India and outside. She was the founder and president of the "Seva Sadan", which is the most successful of all Indian women's institution and is attended by thousands of women. The immense popularity of the institution was due to the fact that it was under Ramabai's close personal supervision.
Early life and background
Ramabai Ranade was born on 25 January 1863 in Kurlekar family, living in a small village, Devrashtre of Sangli District, Maharashtra. As educating girls was a taboo in those days, her father did not educate her. In 1873, she was married to Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, a pioneer of India's social reform movement. He devoted his time to educate her in face of opposition of the women in the house and helped her to become an ideal wife and a worthy helpmate in social and educational reform. With his strong support and sharing his visionary path, Ramabai spent all her life making women self-reliant and economically independent.
She was barely 11 years old when she was married to Mahadev Govind Ranade, who was a scholar, idealist and a revolutionary social activist. Ramabai was illiterate when she was married as she lived in a time when considered a sin for a girl to read or write. On the contrary, her husband, addressed as the "Prince of Graduates", was a graduate of Bombay University with first class honours. He not only worked as the Professor of English and Economics at the Elphinstone College in Bombay, but was also as an oriental translator and a social reformer. He worked rigorously against evils that existed in the society. He was against untouchability, child marriage and Sati. He took over the Sarvajanik Sabha and led a number of movements for social development. He had won the praise of the whole of Maharashtra by the time he was in his early thirties. His overarching thinking, dynamic vision, passionate and devoted social commitment strongly inspired Ramabai and illuminated her path for future social work.
Ramabai made it a mission to educate herself, so that she could be an equal partner in the active life led by her husband. In her efforts she faced obstruction and hostility from other women in her extended family. Justice Ranade gave regular lessons to young Ramabai in writing and reading Marathi, History, Geography, Mathematics and English. He used to make her read all newspapers and discuss current affairs with him. She became his devoted disciple and slowly became his Secretary and his trusted friend. Ramabai's important literary contribution is her autobiography Amachya Ayushyatil Athavani in Marathi in which she gives a detailed account of her married life. She also published a collection of Justice Ranade's lectures on Religion. She was very fond of English literature.
Ramabai made her first public appearance at Nasik High School as the Chief Guest. Justice Ranade wrote her maiden speech. She soon mastered the art of public speaking, both in English and Marathi. Her speeches were always simple and heart-touching. She began working for Prarthana Samaj in Bombay. She established a branch of Arya Mahila Samaj in the city. From 1893 to 1901 Ramabai was at the peak of her popularity in her social activities. She established the Hindu Ladies Social and Literary Club in Bombay and started a number of classes to train women in languages, general knowledge, tailoring and handwork.
At the age of thirty-eight, upon the death of Justice Ranade in 1901, she left Bombay and came to Pune and stayed at their old ancestral house near Phule Market. For one year, she led an isolated life. Finally, she came out of her self-imposed isolation to organise the first Bharat Mahila Parishad in Bombay. Ramabai lived 24 years after her husband's death – a life full of activity for social awakening, redressal of grievances and established social institutions like Seva Sadan for rehabilitation of distressed women. Ramabai vigorously worked for the next 25 years for women's education, legal rights, equal status, and general awakening. She encouraged them to enter the nursing profession. At that time, this profession was not looked up on as service-oriented and was so considered forbidden for women. To encourage women to come forward, she always asserted, "Don't we nurse our father or brother when they fall ill? All male patients are our brothers and nursing them is our sacred duty. Thus more and more women came forward to learn nursing." Ramabai's pioneering work in the field of nursing through Seva Sadan deserves special praise. The first Indian nurse was the product of Seva Sadan and Ramabai took great pain to win orthodox opinion in favour of nursing as a career for women and to encourage young girls and widows to join the nursing course in Seva Sadan.
Work for society
Ramabai made her entry into public in the 1870s, but it was after Justice Ranade's death in 1901 that she wholly identified herself with the cause of women in India. She became a regular visitor to the Central Prison, especially the women's wing, to kindle self-esteem amongst prison inmates. She paid her visit to boys in the reformatory school, spoke to them and distributed sweets to them on festive occasions. She regularly visited patients in local hospitals, distributing fruits, flowers and books. She also went out to Gujarat and Kathiawar in 1913 to organise relief for famine-stricken people. Even in the final years of her life, she went to Alandi at the time of Ashadhi and Kartiki fairs, with volunteers from the Seva Sadan, to render help to women pilgrims visiting the shrine of Sant Dnyaneshwar. In taking up this activity, she laid foundations for a new type of social service for women. At the urging of Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar and Mr. Bhajekar, Ramabai chaired the first session of India Women Conference held in Bombay in 1904.
Work for women
In 1908 parsee social reformer, B. M. Malbari and Dayaram Gidumal came up with the idea of founding home for women and training Indian women to be Nurses. They then turned to Ramabai, for her guidance and help for starting a Society and thus Seva Sadan (Bombay) came into being. In 1915 the Pune Seva Sadan was registered as a society under her guidance. The society expanded its old educational departments and also started new ones. It developed a Women's Training College, three hostels, one of them for Medical students and other for probationer nurses.
In 1924, when Smt. Ranade died, the Pune Seva Sadan was training more than one thousand women in different departments. It was largely owing to Smt. Ranade's initiatives, guidance and exertions that Seva Sadan found a footing and grew so rapidly in spite of prevailing prejudices. The last two outstanding contribution which Smt. Ranade made were – the organisation of agitation for extending compulsory and pre-primary education to girls; and secondly organisation of Women's Suffrage Movement in Bombay presidency in 1921–22. The singular position, which Smt. Ranade assumed at the end of her life deserved Mahatma Gandhi's tribute to her as quoted: "The death of Ramabai Ranade is a great national loss. She was the embodiment of all that a Hindu widow could be. She was a true friend and helpmate of her illustrious husband in his lifetime."
"After his death she chose her husband's reform activities as her life's aim. Justice Ranade was a reformer and deeply concerned about the uplifting of Indian womanhood. Ramabai put her heart and soul into Seva Sadan. She devoted her whole energy to it. The result is that Seva Sadan has become an institution with no second of its kind throughout India."
In those days mostly widows took the nursing course sponsored by Seva Sadan. Once there was an occasion of the annual social gathering of Seva Sadan. One of the highlights of the function was the prize distribution ceremony. Among the prize winners was a widow. She was dressed in the traditional dress of the widows of those days, a simple dark red sari with the Pallu tightly drawn over her clean-shaven head. As the widow stepped on the stage, the student crowding the galleries started hooting and shouting. This outburst of misbehavior hurt Ramabai's feelings deeply. As she stood upon the stage towards the end of the function to give a brief thanksgiving speech, she was so provoked that she could not help chastising the student crowd with all the severity at her command: "You are college students and yet how can you be regarded as educated? How can those be considered as educated who not only do not extend sympathy to their unfortunate sisters who have fallen victims to cruel fate and merciless social customs, but find it fit to heap ridicule on them. Every one of you probably has some unfortunate widow sheltered under your roof, may be your sister, cousin or aunt or even your own mother. If you had kept this in mind you would not have misbehaved the way you did." These were sharp, stinging words striking the students like a whiplash. There was pin drop silence. It was a triumph of Ramabai's powerful and spellbinding personality. She worked relentlessly against the system of child marriage. All these efforts took shape in establishing the Seva Sadan Society in Bombay, which substituted as a home for a number of distressed women. She started Pune Seva Sadan Society in her own ancestral house. This later developed into an institution offering a number of facilities like hostels, training colleges, vocational centres, selling centres, etc. Ramabai's name became synonymous with Seva Sadan. This was her greatest contribution to the welfare of middle class women. Ramabai participated in the War Conference and spoke to the Governor on behalf of Indian women. She also fought for the cause of Indian labour in Fiji and Kenya. She even worked for women's right to franchise. Everyone adored her, but she was modest to call herself a shadow of her husband.
In popular culture
In her honour, the Indo-Australian Post issued a Postage stamp picturing Ramabai on 14 August 1962, in her birth centenary year for her great contribution towards the Indian society.
A television series on Zee Marathi named Unch Maaza Zoka (roughly translated as 'my swing flies high', with an implication of 'Dream big in life and strive for it') based on Ramabai's life and her development as a 'women's rights' activist was telecasted in March 2012. This series was critically acclaimed and celebrated throughout Maharashtra.
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