image At the crossroad of Indian Feminism

After Bhuleshwar and South Mumbai locale, Gamdevi precinct of Mumbai will be my favorite. Not only because of variety of heritage building but because of the stories that usually tag along with it. I have already exhaustively written about the highlights of Gamdevi heritage spots, now let me enlighten you with the other stories of this unique place.

While I have introduced The Blavatsky Lodge in my previous post, let me enumerate the ladies who have made the legacy of the building more charming

Annie Besant (1847 – 1933) may have brought the theosophical movement to India but her portfolio as a British socialist, theosophist, women’s right activist, a fluent orator and writer and an avid supporter of India’s self-rule certainly impressed numerous people. Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904 – 1986) was an Indian Theosophist, who belonged to upper caste brahmins but played a pivotal role in shaping India for which she was awarded with Padma Bhushan in 1956. She is credited with reshaping the original ‘sadhir’ style of Bharatnatyam, which was considered as lowly and vulgar art performed by the devdasis or the temple dancers, into its current exalted version.

In an industry that is predominantly operated by men, Sumati Moraji (1909 – 1998) also known as the first woman of Indian shipping after assuming the mantle of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company in 1946, daughter of the textile baron Mathuradas Goculdas added a new star to the history of Indian Feminism by becoming the first woman in the world to head an organisation of ship owners – Indian National Steamship Owners Association (later renamed Indian National Shipowners Association). She was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honor of India.

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She helped to establish a model for modern Indian Shipping companies and offered to world not only business values but also helped propagate ideas of Indian Culture and heritage. It is this very belief of hers that led to her indirect involvement in the establishment of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as ISKCON, when she provided a one-way passage to Swami Prabhupada – the founder of ISKCON, in 1965 to US.

 The Indian Malala who resulted in a proclamation across the entire British Empire. It is a curious title, but I know it will work on grabbing your attention.  Though it is known among the medical community that Dr. Anand Gopal Joshi was the first Indian lady to become a doctor, though she never actually practiced in the field of medicine. The honor of the first female practicing doctor is enjoyed by Dr. Rukhmabai who qualified as a doctor in 1894. She was a child bride during 19th century British India, married to a 20 year old widower, who waned to complete her education and hence refused to accompany her husband to her new home. After the constant refusal, the husband decides to file a case for the “restitution of conjugal rights”. The court gave her two options – either go with the husband to his house, or face imprisonment.

The stubborn young girl preferred the latter, to go to the prison, instead of accompanying her husband. Impressed with her impassioned stand, she was allowed to pay a fine of 2000 rupees to her husband in exchange for her freedom and went on to study Medicine from London School of Medicine for Women. Her fight against patriarchy led to the monumental establishment of the Age of Consent Act, 1891. She continued her fight for girls and women by establishing a institute called Sharda Mandir High School solely for the purpose of encouraging girls’ education.

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Pandita Ramabai (1858 – 1922) was born during those times when the women folks of India were considered a little more than slaves, to serve their husband and bear children. They were not allowed to study, or go out on their own and a majority of Hindu women were married off when they were children to men who were decades older. Pandita Ramabai was fortunate in many ways. Though she was born in a Brahmin family, her father was a liberal. Her father had married his wife when she was nine years old and he was forty. But defying social pressures he educated both his wife and children. Her father even refused to get Ramabai married until she becomes an adult. It was from him that she was inspired towards social reform.

After the demise of her parents in the jungles of Karnataka, young Ramabai and her brother had to face the hardship of poverty. On reaching Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1878, she decided to dedicate her life for the cause of distressed women. She lectured on Sanskrit literature and Indian philosophy. She was a big draw at the meetings. She went against the social norm and married a bengali from a lower caste which resulted in antagonizing all her relatives. She established the Arya Mahila Samaj in Pune to promote female education and also work towards eradicating child marriage. She also started learning English and wrote a book called Stree Dharma Niti (Morals for Women).

Ramabai went to England in 1883 as a professor to teach Sanskrit. She accepted the Christian faith. Two years later she went to USA to study the educational system there and qualified herself for Kindergarten teaching. Here she wrote a book, ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’. She founded ‘Ramabai Association’, which accepted to pay the expenses for ten years to run a Widow’s Home for upper-class Hindu widows in India.On return to India in 1889, Ramabai established ‘Sharada Sadan’.

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Picture Courtesy: Rama Arya

Dr. Kashibai Navrange (1878 – 1946) was a social reformer by soul. She floated a Milk Fund in 1916 for pregnant and lactating mothers under the auspices of the Arya Mahila Samaj. She is also known as the First Indian Woman Doctor to open her own clinic.

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The Parsi Community Welfare began with the efforts of Bai Jerbai Wadia, who determinedly set out to construct low cost baugs or housing colonies in Bombay for lower and middle-class Parsis. Between 1908 and 1956, a total of five baugs were built on more than 35 Acres of prime property, with over 1500 Apartments built in 64 buildings. These Baugs are Nowroz Baug, Rustom Baug, Bai Jerbai Baug, Cusrow Baug and Ness Baug. Even today, they stand testimony to the magnanimous spirit of Bai Jerbai and her sons.

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Ness Baug, Gamdevi

The lanes of Gamdevi talk about ideas, passion, convictions and beliefs. While the name itself has its origin after its 200 year old temple dedicated to Durga, a Goddess who symbolises feminism, it comes as no surprise that some of the legacies that has been left in this 500 mteres area comprises of pioneers of Indian Feminism.

Disclaimer: This walk is the brain child of Bharat G from Khaki Tours, who loves to spread the word about heritage and its anecdotes. For more details you can log on to their Facebook Page:Khaki Tours.

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6 comments

  1. That was so beautiful to take a virtual walk with you. You are an excellent travel writer and although I cannot focus on the detail of these amazing histories I hope to return to this article again. Very best wishes 🙂

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      • Thank you !shita but sadly it is very unlikely for my near lifetime due to personal circumstances. Not sure if some news stories are hoax but getting from AtoB or even online seems a dreadful issue right now. Hope all is ok in Mumbai, you really have made it look beautiful with photos.

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