Rukhmabai Raut, who was one of the first women doctors to practice medicine in British India and staunchly opposed child marriage, celebrates her 153rd birth anniversary on November 22 this year. Google doodle commemorated the anniversary by dedicating an illustration to Raut on its homepage in India, showing a woman with a stethoscope around her neck, with two hospital beds, a nurse and a patient in the backdrop. Born on this day in 1864, Raut went on to become India’s first qualified physician and was the major cause behind the enactment of Age of Consent Act in 1891.
Raut was married off at the age of 11 to Dadaji Bhikaji who was aged 19. She, however, continued to stay at the house of her widowed mother, who later got married to Assistant Surgeon Sakharam Arjun Raut. She was supported by her step-father, when she refused to stay with Bhikaji and his family at his house. This led to the Dadaji Bhikaji vs Rukhmabai case, 1885. While Bhikaji asked for “restitution of conjugal rights”, Justice Robert Hill Pinhey made note that in this case, Raut was a young woman and was married off in “helpless infancy” and hence cannot be forced. The case came up for retrial after many criticised the judgement as diminishing Hindu customs. With debates around Hindu vs English law, internal reforms vs external reforms, respecting ancient customs and traditions, the final judgement asked Raut on March 4, 1887 to live with her husband or face imprisonment for six moths instead. Bravely, she wrote that she would rather be imprisoned for six months than choosing to live with her husband.
The matter was finally settled when Queen Victoria dissolved her marriage by overruling the court order. Bhikaji renounced his claim over Raut after a payment of two thousand rupees. Raut later went to England to pursue further studies. She studied at the London School of Medicine a 5 years degree course in medicine. She wrote many influencing letters under the pseudonym A Hindu Lady. Meanwhile her case was studied by many and in fact, even initiated many discussions from a feminist perspective in England. It also influenced the Age of Consent Act, 1891 which abolished child marriages thereafter.
She worked as the Chief Medical Officer at a state hospital in Rajkot for 35 years before retiring to Bombay. She died on September 25, 1955.
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