The #MeToo moment has become the talk of the nation and rightly so, considering that it has empowered women to come and speak against sexual predators and the agony that they have had to face time and again at the workplace.
Paradoxically, there are several men who have both respected women and worked hard to empower them down the ages. Pune has in fact played home to several iconic movements for women in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Today, I take a leaf out of history to chronicle some of the legendary figures who were pioneers of women’s reform in the spheres of education, family planning and re-marriage. Truly, men of great character and integrity:
Bharat Ratna Maharshi Karve:
Karve Road is named after Karve who set the tone for women remarriage and education at a time when widow hood was a curse and remarriage was suppressed in an aggressively patriarchal society.
It is right here in ‘Amche Pune’ that he pursued his social reforms through women’s education and empowerment.
Karve was celebrated with a special postage stamp commemorating his birth centenary in 1958. The Marathi play `Himalayachi Savali’ (Shadow of the Himalyas) was based on him. His legendary vision still goes on in the form of the Maharshi Karve institutes.
Social reform in fact ran in the blood of the Karve family…
Maharshi Karve’s son, Raghunath pursued his college education at Fergusson College and served as Mathematics Professor in Wilson College, Mumbai.
He was passionate about the subjects of population growth and sexuality, which were taboo even for discussion at that point of time…
He courageously approached this subject by opening a family planning and birth control centre in Mumbai in 1921. In fact, London opened its first birth control clinic in the same year after he did.
However, when he started publicly expressing his views about family planning, population control, and women’s right to experience sexual/sensual pleasure as much as men, the conservative Christian administrators of the college asked him to resign from the professorship.
Raghunath Karve’s campaign was also vociferously opposed by the conservative Maharashtrian societies in Pune and Mumbai.
He refused to be cowed down and brought out a Marathi magazine, Samaj Swasthya, between 1921 and 1953 which addressed issues of sexuality and personal hygiene. He propagated the idea that control of venereal diseases and child bearing could enhance good sexual health.
Amol Palekar has made a lovely film on him titled ‘Dhyaas’. He is the probably the ideal icon against the backdrop of today’s men ‘using’ women for sexual pleasure and his work on empowering women comes to the forefront in this backdrop.
Mahatma Jyotiba Phule
Phule belonged to Satara district, but his revolutionary social reform in girls’ education began in Pune, when he and his wife Savitribai began a girls’ school in Pune for the under privileged communities who were distanced by the Brahminical class.
He was inspired by the first girls’ school in Ahmednagar run by Christian Missionaries. He believed that the lower castes and women were the less fortunate members of the society and it was vital to emancipate both these communities.
Admirably, Phule first taught his wife, Savitribai, to read and write before they started the school. Their Pune friends,Usman Sheikh and his sister Fatima Sheikh provided them their home to stay in.
They also helped to start the school in their premises. He also championed widow remarriage and started a home for pregnant Brahmin widows to give birth in a safe and secure place in 1863. His orphanage was established in an attempt to reduce the rate of infanticide.
Phule tried to eliminate the stigma of social untouchability surrounding the lower castes by opening his house and the use of his water-well to the members of the lower castes.
Joshi was the husband to one of the first women doctors of India with a foreign medical degree- Anandibai Joshi, whose name is legendary. While much ink has flown on Anandibai’s historic achievement we must not forget her husband, Gopalrao’s contribution.
Anandibai married Gopalrao when she was all of nine and he was 20 years older. However, unlike a girl who spent her life in domestic affairs where such young wives are reprimanded for any lethargy, Gopalrao used to reprimand Anandibai if she did not study.
Gopalrao was a progressive thinker and propagated women’s education. His mission began at home having set high educational benchmarks for his young wife.
They were blessed with a son when Anandibai was 14, but unfortunately, the baby lost her life in 10 days due to lack of medical care. It was then that Gopalrao set an ambition for Anandibai to pursue medical education. He encouraged her to study medicine.
In 1880 he sent a letter to Royal Wilder, a well-known American missionary, stating his wife’s interest in studying medicine in the United States and inquiring about a suitable post in the US for himself. Wilder published the correspondence in his Princeton’s Missionary Review.
Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of Roselle, New Jersey happened to read it while waiting to see her dentist. Impressed by both Anandibai’s desire to study medicine, and Gopalrao’s support for his wife, she wrote to them offering Anandibai accommodation in the USA.
Thereafter, she successfully became a doctor from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennysylvania.. On her return, the princely state of Kolhapur appointed her as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital.
However, she died a year later due to tuberculosis. Her death was mourned throughout India. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who placed them in her family cemetery at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in New York.
Kudos to such men who had the vision, power and unstinted belief in the power of the women of our country.
(Authors note : Few hisotrical references have been taken from Wikipedia)
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
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