(Last Updated on : 02/08/2010)
Mahadev Govind Ranade, hailing from Mumbai
, was one of the most ardent supporters of women's rights and liberation. Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade graduated from Elphinstone College in Mumbai and became a teacher and journalist. Like so many other young men of his generation, he questioned the customs and beliefs of his society. In 1869 Ranade joined the Widow Marriage Association, and in 1870 the Prarthana Samaj
. At first, he and his colleagues were engaged in "intellectual protest against superficial dogmas untenable for a rational mind," but later they became more interested in social action.
In 1871 Ranade was made a judge in Pune
where he joined a group of committed social reformers intent on achieving real change. Soon after he had received this appointment his wife of almost twenty years died. Social reform colleagues expected he would marry a widow. But Ranade's father, anticipating this disaster, moved quickly to arrange a marriage between his thirty-one-year-old son and an eleven-year-old girl. Ranade protested but did not refuse the match. Married to Ramabai, Mahadev became both husband and teacher, mentoring the girl who became one of India's most important social reformers. In the years that followed, Ranade was wavering between an agenda for reform on the one hand and a traditional society on the other. He wanted to encourage widow remarriage and female education and oppose child marriage, but his own personal life was conflicted between tradition and modernity. As a result he failed to take a more radical stand.
Despite all these personal issues, Ranade stood as one of the most reputed social reformers on the basis of the National Social Conference (begun in 1887) - and in his philosophy of social change. The National Social Conference built by Ranade was one of the most important institutions for social reform. He was a firm believer in the Golden Age of India when women enjoyed a higher status than they did in his time and he blamed the Smritis and the Indian Puranas
for their fall. He believed that only gradual reform, accomplished without radical change, could bring about the restoration of the golden age. He believed that the change had to be evolutionary. Outside forces, he felt, could at best be a stimulant, for change but the true impetus for change could only come from within Indian society itself. Ranade described the society he hoped to see as changing "from constraint to freedom, from credulity to faith, from unorganized to organized life, from bigotry to toleration, from blind fatalism to a sense of human destiny." He warned his critics that to stand still or work against change would result in decay and possibly the extinction of Indian society.
Various reformers working either alone or with local organisations attended the National Social Conference where they learned about initiatives all over the sub-continent. In his role as founder-leader, Ranade recommended four methods of accomplishing social change. His favourite method was the use of arguments to try and prove to the opponents that there were a number of customs being followed which were not a part of real Indian culture. He tried to persuade people that the emphasis of the reformers should be on legislation. When all else failed only then was social rebellion was in order. At the second annual meeting of the National Social Conference in 1889 over five hundred people took a solemn vow that they would support widow marriage and female education, and cease practicing child marriage and the exchange of dowry. This was a significant step, in Ranade's view, towards the identification of reforms for women with an all-India agenda.
Thus Ranade was a significant reformer who, in his own way, did much for the advancement of women from their repressive situation in nineteenth century India.