When asked about Pandita Ramabai, “I don’t know,” is a common answer given by many shop owners on the road named after her, Gamdevi’s Pandita Ramabai Marg. Although the locals seem unaware about her, Geraldine Forbes writes in her volume titled Women in Modern India that when Pandita Ramabai came to western India in 1882, she started the Arya Mahila Samaj. The Arya Mahila Samaj Hostel is incidentally on Dr Kashibai Navrange Marg, which is in the same locality as Pandita Ramabai Marg.
The century-old Gamdevi police station building is here, along with Seva Sadan that works for women empowerment. “Somebody who spoke about difficulties faced by women 150 years ago is not a normal person. She is a reflection of liberal thought and did immense social work, despite all opposition,” said Arvind Ganacharia, retired head of the department, history, in Mumbai university.
Pandita Ramabai Saraswati was an Indian social reformer who worked for emancipation of women. She was accorded the titles of Pandita and Saraswati as a Sanskrit scholar after being examined by faculty of the University of Calcutta.
The author of Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, Clementina Butler, who is the chairperson, executive committee, American Ramabai Association, introduces Ramabai as “a Hindu widow without resources, burdened with the handicap of religious fanaticism superstition which weighed down any aspirations for betterment. The courageous soul who first saw the crying need of the child widow, who realised the economic loss to the nation of setting apart a great class by ostracism to enforced inaction; the one who realised the right of child to live, to work and to have development of her powers in spite of the supposed curse of the gods upon her life”.
“The Arya Mahila Samaj was started on November 30, 1882, by Pandita Ramabai with the aim of empowering and educating each woman for leading a dignified life. The inaugural meeting was attended by 150 women. On the first day, 16 women members were enrolled. We are in our 136th year and the Arya Mahila Samaj has turned into a trust. We have opened a hostel for girls. We give scholarships to underprivileged girls and women,” said Dr Asavari Paredkar, a trustee of the Arya Mahila Samaj Trust.
In 1889, Ramabai started Sharada Sadan in the erstwhile Bombay with two students and a principle of observing complete religious freedom. It then moved to Pune and later became Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission.
Sanika Thakare, a third-year law student, said: “We studied about Pandita Ramabai in Class VIII. She was the pioneer of the movement for education of the child widows and women’s rights in India.”