On November 22, 2017, Google dedicated a doodle to Rukhmabai. Wondering who was this lady? Let us use this opportunity to take you through the amazing story of this strong Indian woman. Born on November 22, 1864, she was one among the first women to practice medicine in the era when India was still under the colonial rule of the Britishers. This is just one feather on her cap of achievement as this is a lady who was also one among the early feminists in India.
Before telling you about the amazing contributions of Rukhmabai and story of her life, here’s the doodle that Google dedicated to her.
Beautiful, isn’t it? Well, now it’s time to take you through the journey of the life of Rukhmabai whose 154th birth anniversary falls this month.
The early life
She belonged to a Marathi family. Her parents were Janardhan Pandurang and Jayantibai. When just two-year-old her father passed away. Her mother later remarried Dr. Sakharam Arjun. He was one among the most eminent physician of Mumbai (then-Bombay) and also a social activist.
Marriage at a tender age
Following the norms of the society, she was married off at the age of 11-year. Her husband was 19-year-old Dadaji Bhikaji. He was a cousin of Rukhmabai’s step-father. After the marriage, she continued staying at her own house while her husband was expected to continue with his studies and become a ‘good man’.
Being an activist Rukhmabai’s step-father made sure that she got a proper education. Besides studies, she was also introduced to one of the prominent leaders like Vishnu Shastri Pandit. He was a strong advocate of women’s causes and hence his ideas rubbed off on young Rukhmabai.
The brave decision
While she was shaping and enriching her mind, her husband was walking down the path of waywardness. Scarcely educated and unwilling to develop himself, he demanded his conjugal rights when he turned 20-year-old. However, she refused to go and stay in his house. This decision was also strongly supported by her step-father.
What was the matter?
Upon refusal, the Dadaji Bhikaji decided to file a case against her. Known as the Dadaji Bhikaji vs Rukhmabai case of 1885, the verdict fueled a major change in the law during the British era. This is the case that stood as a pillar for the enactment of Age of Consent Act in 1891.
The legal battle
When Bhikaji asked for “restitution of conjugal rights”, the judge pointed out that Rukhmabai cannot be forced to go to her husband’s house. He said that she was married off during “helpless infancy”. As expected, the case faced a lot of criticism for not respecting the Hindu customs. Thus, during the final judgment, she was asked to live with her husband or go to jail for 6 months. Quite bravely the lady said that she will face imprisonment rather than staying with Bhikaji.
The intervention of the Queen
The matter finally came to an end when Queen Victoria dissolved the marriage. After this, her husband also had to pay Rs 2,000 to her. Her case not only created a significant change in the Indian society but also sparked many discussions from the perspective of a feminist in England.
Winning this case was only a start for Rukhmabai. Soon after, she went to England to study medicine. Many social activists and reformers donated to create a fund that helped her to pursue higher studies.
The glorious moment
She received her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1894 from the London School of Medicine for Women. Upon returning she started working as a Chief Medical Officer at the Women’s Hospital in Surat. Later she retired from Zenana (Woman’s) State Hospital in Rajkot. She was the second women to receive a medical degree and practice it after Dr. Kadambini Ganguly.
This amazing lady left this earth on 25 September 1955. It is quite sad that many don’t know about her. It’s time we pay our respect to those strong ladies who have paved a path of freedom for us.