Karve's publication of his stirring autobiography, Looking Back , furnishes readers with the retrospective focus on his early life, which he opined did augment his sensitivity for the plight of widows in the then India.
Dhondo Keshav Karve was born on April 18, 1858 at Sheravali village, located in the Khed Taluka of Ratnagiri district of the state of Maharashtra in India . He hailed from Chitpavan section of the Brahmin class .
Education, he pursued with utmost inclination. He completed matriculation from Wilson College, in Mumbai . Afterwards, he accomplished his dream of higher studies, by achieving the graduation degree in Mathematics from Elphinstone College . When Karve was just 14, he was wedded to the more young Radhabai, an eight-year old girl, as per as the malpractice of child-marriage prevalent in those times. The couple actually started living their marital life, when Radhabai was 14 and Karve, became 20. Unfortunately, mishap disrupted the flow of life as , Radhabai died at a tender age in 1891.
A widow's deplorable state aggrieved him so much, that he took the iron determination to improve their lot. Karve's contact with social-wellnes activities could be traced back to his reformist enterprise, since his student's life in college. After attainment of graduation he became the teacher of mathematics in three different high schools in Bombay. Next, he was bestowed with a professional rank at Fergusson College in Poona. Finally, he was honored with the lofty position of a life member of the Deccan Educational Society.
He demonstrated his true compassion towards and sensitive realization of the utter misery of the underprivileged Indian widowhood, by upholding the reform of widow-remarriage. After the demise of his first wife Radhabai, he set the revolutionary example of widow-remarriage by marrying a widow, himself. He joined ties with the widow, Godubai, the twenty-two-year-old sister of his college friend. This benevolent act led the rigid, creel and orthodox Hindus in his hometown, to segregate him and to torment his mother. The jolted Karve got a genuine feel of the ordeal that the widows had to bear. Education for widows turned out to be the prime focus for him. He understood that education was instrumental in rendering any individual economically self-sufficient. He gave a concrete expression to his dreams, in 1896. He established an abode for widows, which turned out into a school.
The syllabus he formulated was suitable for honing up the prowess of young widows and providing them with jobs. Given the lack of proper academic centers for girls, Karve was suggested to allow unmarried girls to avail of education in his school. Because schools for girls were scarce, Karve was asked to admit unmarried girls as well. Karve , accordingly, constructed the Mahilya Vidyalaya , meaning Girls' School , to develop "good wives, good mothers, good neighbors." He asserted the utility of education, by remarking, "that would make them economically independent and would enable them to think for themselves".
The first widow to get herself enrolled at his school was his sister in law, Parvtibai Athavale. When Parvatibai was twenty years old, she became a widow. Refusing all propositions for remarriage, Parvatibai announced her willingness to learn and "do some work of importance." She received the light of knowledge , at Karve's school. She consolidated her foothold , by appearing as the first lady superintendent of the Hindu Widows' Home Association . Later, this organization came to be known as Hingane Stree Shikshan Samstha. However, its present name is Maharshi Karve Stree Shikshan Samstha .
Parvatibai imparted education at Karve's school in vernaculars. She, especially, stressed on the urgency of child-nursing and household crafts. By heritage, these disciplines catering to the domestic sphere, was guided, by the senior ladies to the succeeding generation. But, with time, the changing trends and associated complications of women's services, called for an official network of training in the matter. The advise of Parvatibai was that women should never climb up the ladder of coveted professional position, at the expense of their "natural roles". She illustrated the issue, by fetching the instance of her own life:
"I felt that a widow who had one or two children and who had some actual experience of the happiness of domestic life, if she were able to do some work of importance would not be tempted to enter again into the duties of a married life. In accordance with this idea, I settled on my ideal of life." It is said, that Parvatibai, did not approve much of widow-remarriage.
Karve was such a philanthropic mind, that he gave away even the life insurance deposits that had been preserved for his life insurance policy of Rs 5,000. Anandibai, in the meanwhile, became the mother of Karve's child,. She sensed the increase of responsibilities from her side, particularly the need to finance the expenses of herself and her son, if by chance Karve dies. She upgraded her abilities by undergoing a course in midwifery. This made her capable enough to earn adequate money. This information, drives home the point, that how Karve's mantra of self-sufficiency had inspired his "Ardhangani" or "other half", his wife, Godubai.
The next move on the part of diligent Karve , was the Women's University sculpted by him in 1916. He modeled this institution on the contours of the Women's University in Tokyo of Japan . Karve, as the president of the National Social Conference in 1915 , gave a hint of his vision of women's education in future , and relegated the co-educational system to the background , "we must recognize that both national and social economy require that women should occupy a station of their own distinct from that of men ... but that the office they have to fill is different, though equal - perhaps greater in importance." It was a rule at the Women's University that all courses of study, should be offered to the students through the vernacular medium of delivery. It is interesting to note, that special subjects like home science were incorporated, into the syllabus, keeping in mind, the nature of aptitude in most women. Furthermore, the students were free to make their choice of subjects. It was "possible for women to avoid difficult subjects like mathematics and physical science."
The classes in the University, commenced with a handful of five students at Hingane, in the year 1916. However, this institution did not flower that much for the first few years until the industrial tycoon, Sir Vithaldas Thackersey, patronized it. Thackersey donated Rs 1,500,000 in 1920 with the acknowledgement of the agreement that the university had to be named after his mother. Henceforth, the institution carried the name, Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Indian Women's University or SNDT . In 1931, the University, planted its first college in Bombay (present Mumbai) and in 1936, it relocated its core branch in Bombay.
The University attained the zenith of crowning glory, when Government of India declared it as a recognized University, registered to the Government of India in 1949. Dhondo Keshav Karve executed education as a confluence -point for assimilating the best of tradition and the wave of modernity, and to create a pleasant harmony between the two, instead of making them antithetical. Karve is commemorated till date, as the venerated spiritual guide who led the wayward women of the nation, towards life of dignity and self-esteem.