Seven amazing facts about India’s first practising woman doctor

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Google dedicated today’s Google Doodle to Rukhmabai Bhikaji Raut, said to be the first practising woman doctor in colonial India. But do you know that it was her story that shaped the Age of Consent Act, 1891, which outlawed child marriages across the British Empire?

Google dedicated today’s Google Doodle to Rukhmabai Bhikaji Raut, said to be the first practising woman doctor in colonial India (although many believe that Dr Kadambini Ganguly was the first practising lady doctor in colonial India). The first lady doctor of colonial India, though, was Dr Anandi Gopal Joshi but due to her untimely death because of tuberculosis, she was unable to put her education to practical use. However, Rukhmabai (Nov 22, 1864 – Sept 25, 1955) is not only remembered for her contribution in the field of medicine but also for helping shape the Age of Consent Act, 1891, which outlawed child marriages across the British Empire. Here are seven amazing facts about this revolutionary lady:

1. Rukhmabai was only 8-years-old when she lost her father. Her mother Jayantibai re-married a widower, Dr Sakharam Arjun, who encouraged Rukhmabai to study and supported all her ‘revolutionary’ decisions.

2. When Rukhmabai turned eleven, she was married to 19-year-old Dadaji Bhikaji. But she never lived with him (due to his questionable character) and continued to live with her mother and step-father. This led to a bitter legal battle between the two.

3. Rukhmabai was a school student when her husband Dadaji filed a court case in March 1884 for restitution of conjugal rights. Although she won the legal battle initially, but the case came up for retrial two years later. This time, however, she was given two choices by the court – either she lives with her husband or face six months of imprisonment. This didn’t change her decision and she is believed to have stated that she would opt for imprisonment rather than live with a husband whom she didn’t choose.

4. Even as the legal fight was going on, she championed her cause through a series of articles penned by her under the pseudonym ‘A Hindu Lady’ and published in the leading daily, The Times of India. In her writings, she highlighted the status of women in society, talked about the plight of women in the context of child marriage and widowhood.

5. After she lost the case in court, she wrote to Queen Victoria, who, moved by her letter, overruled the court and dissolved the marriage, though awarding Rs 2,000 to Dadaji.

6. The widespread publicity of her case influenced the passage of the Age of Consent Act, 1891, which criminalised child marriage across the British Empire.

7. Free from the boundages, Rukhmabai went to study medicine in England, with the support of stalwart Dr Edith Pechey (the British director of Bombay’s Cama Hospital). After completing her studies (1889-1894), she returned to India and worked as a Chief Medical Officer in Surat. There, she continued to serve and inspire people till her last breath. She died at the age of 91.

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