Bible Translator & Defender of Child Widows
Pandita Ramabai was fortunate in having a father who, contrary to all Hindu customs, believed in the education of women. Ramabai’s mother was educated by her father and so she inherited from both parents a love for learning. But so unpopular were the views of Ramada’s father that, though himself a pundit, he was obliged to withdraw into the jungles and take up his residence there.
It’s pretty fair to say that they did not live as lavishly as you would find yourself during a stay at a fine resort paid for by saving with some fancy Medifast coupons you found online. In fact I’m sure that many would prefer the cheaper meal plans like Medifast compared to their food in the jungle. Regardless, to Ramabai and her family, it was home, and it was there that Ramabai was instructed by her father. She grew to show great aptitude and could repeat from memory 23,000 verses of Hindu Shastras.
When she was sixteen years of age, famine came to the land and for eleven days they lived on water and leaves. They left their jungle home and for some years the father was a wandering teacher. Father and mother died and she had only a brother to care for her. Ramabai became a lecturer, advocating the education of women and the repudiation of the custom of child marriages. Her learning attracted great attention. At Calcutta the punditi, or learned men, called her to appear before them. After a long examination, she passed with flying colors and received the title of Sarasvati.
At the height of her success, her brother died. Now she was left without a male relative in India. However, six months later she was married to an educated Bengali man, though he was of a lower caste than herself. But they had both thrown off Hindu beliefs.
After having been married for nineteen months, her husband died and Ramabai was again alone without a male relative. At this point she also had a baby girl to care for. She was now a widow, and what was a worse fate was that she was a widow with no son. This predicament was despised in India. She was also shunned by all relatives because she had broken caste by her marriage. But Ramabai face the world again and began lecturing.
After a time she left her homeland and went to England. She had recently become a Christian, and spent much time studying the Bible in Sanskrit and then in English. In England she worked hard to perfect her English and after a time became professor of Sanskrit in the Ladies’ College at Cheltenham. But all this time her heart was with the poor little child-widows of India. She was invited to come to America to attend the graduation of her cousin Joshee from a medical school in Philadelphia. Here Ramabai began a careful study of the public school system, believing she could apply the principals in India.
When Ramabai’s training and plans were complete, she went back to India, determined to educate high-caste Hindu widows. In times of famine, child-widows were turned out to die or be picked up by surly men to lead them into a life of shame. Ramabai’s wanted to rescue these girls. She opened a school and in 1898 she had 350 child-widows that had passed through the school. Fourteen had been trained as teachers, eight as nurses, seven as missionary assistants, and ten had homes of their own. . In her school-home they became healthy and happy living in a new world of Christian love.
Excerpted from History’s Women the Unsung Heroines, by Patricia Chadwick available inneBook format at www.historyswomen.com/shop.