Pandita Ramabai Saraswati was born as Rama Dongre, to a Marathi speaking Chitpawan Brahmin family. Her father was a Sanskrit Scholar who taught his wife and daughter to read the Sanskrit texts, disproved by the society at the time. It was in the Calcutta University that she was conferred the title of ‘Pandita’ and ‘Saraswati’ in recognition for her work in the interpretations of the Sanskrit texts.

In Poona, Ramabai delivered a series of lectures in the home of Judge M. G. Ranade, on the emancipation of women and the sacred literature of India. She formed a society for Indian women that met every Saturday called ‘Arya Mahila Samaj,’whose purpose was to work for the deliverance of Indian women from the oppression of child marriage. In 1882, in an address to Lord Ripon’s Education Commission, Ramabai gave evidence for the cause of women’s education and deliverance from the oppression of child marriage. Her work was so profound that it reached Queen Victoria and served as an impetus to the Women’s Medical Movement by Lord Dufferin. Ramabai travelled the villages of Maharashtra in 1896, a time of severe famine, rescued and brought home to the shelter of Mukti and Sharada Sadan, thousands of outcast children, child widows, orphans, and other destitute women.

Ramabai converted to Christianity in 1883. She surely faced a tirade of criticism on her newfound faith but never enforced her views on anyone but welcomed those willing to join her in prayer. Having faced opposition from the society as a woman who could read the Sanskrit texts, who was unmarried for a long time, married to a man from a lower caste and later became a widow, during a time when widows were blamed for their husband’s death, Ramabai raised her daughter on her own. She stated that her life of loss and grief brought her only closer to God. Ramabai did her best to fight against the atrocities against women and sought to uplift them in the society.


The struggles of an insider in the Indian context, John Ridgway, Chennai, 31October 2007