Ramabai Ranade has been the pioneer of the modern women`s movement in India and outside. Though an illiterate she toiled hard to climb up the social ladder with the guidance of her husband, Madhav Govind Ranade. 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 over 1000 women. The immense popularity of the institution was due to the fact that it was under Ramabai`s close personal supervision. She concentrated all her energy for the growth of Seva Sevadan and as a result it has become an institution without a second of its kind. It will ever remain a monument in her sacred memory. She spent all her time making women self-reliant economically independent.
Early Life of Ramabai Ranade
Ramabai was born on 25 January 1862. She was barely 11 years old when she was married to Madhav Govind Ranade, who was a scholar, idealist and a revolutionary social activisy. Ramabai was an illiterate when she was married as she lived in a time when the superstitious belief existed that it was a sin for a girl to read or write. Her husband was a graduate of Mumbai University
with first class honors. Scholars addressed him as the "Prince of Graduates". He worked as the Profes-sor of English and Economics at the Elphinstone College in Mumbai
. He was an oriental translator and a social reformer. Later he was posted as the sub-judge of Pune
. He was a transparent judge who served humanity. He worked against all the evils that existed in the society. He was against untouchability, child marriage and Sati. He sponsored the first widower-marriage in Bombay. He claimed for women`s education and equal rights for women He took over the Saroajanik 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. He took over the Saroajanik 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.
Education of Ramabai Ranade
Ramabai made it a mission to educate herself, so that she could be an equal partner in the active life led by her husband. She became his devoted disciple and slowly became his Secretary and later as his trusted friend. Madhav gave regular lessons to young Ramabai in writing alphabets, reading Marathi, History, Geography, Mathematics and English. He used to make her read all newspapers and discuss with him current af-fairs. She became fond of English literature.
Ramabai`s important literary contribution is her autobiography Memories in which she gives a detailed account of her married life. She published a collection of Justice Ranade`s Lectures on Religion.
Later Life of Ramabai Ranade
Ramabai made her first public appearance at Nasik High School as the Chief Guest. Madhav wrote her maiden speech. She mastered the art of speaking Marathi and English effectively in public. Her speeches were simple but her words touched the hearts of the audience. She began working for Prarthalltl 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.
Political Life of Ramabai Ranade
The later half of her life was tragic as it was shadowed by the death of her husband. She left Bombay and came to Pune
and stayed at their old ancestral house near the Phule Market. For one year, she led an isolated life. Finally she came out of her self-imposed isolation to organize 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 Sadans 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 considered as a taboo for women.
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 fervor of nursing as a career for women and to encourage young girls and widows to join the nursing course in Seva Sadan.
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 shout-ing. 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 centers, selling centers etc. Ramabai`s fame became synonymous with Seva Sadan. This was her great-est 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.