Indian Social Reformer
1858 – 1922 A.D.
We marvel at the executive ability, the brilliant intellect, the spiritual power, the blessed achievements of this noble Christian woman, when we consider that she was born in the jungles of western India, within sound of the cry of the tiger, in a land where womanhood is degraded and despised, uneducated and unloved, living in seclusion and suffering, the innocent and helpless victim of her lords an masters, the other sex.
Her father was wealthy, wise and religious. He wished to educate his child wife of nine years. Hence he removed to the jungle, where he could pursue his plans unmolested. Here his wife grew to maturity, and was educated, and here Ramabai was born. Soon after, the family started traveling from one shrine to another, worshiping heathen gods, and for a living reading aloud the sacred Puranas. In the cool of early mornings, before the wanderings of the the day began, the loving mother taught her children, so that when Ramabai was but twelve years old she could repeat eighteen thousand verses of the Purans, and almost unconsciously had acquired Marthi, Kanarese, Hindustani and Bengali.
Famine was abroad in the land. The little family suffered for food and water, an finally the father, mother, and sister died of hardship and starvation. Bare-footed, poorly-clad, often without food for several days, Ramabai and her brother continued their weary journeying, sometimes shielding themselves from the night’s cold by digging in the sand and covering their bodies. They devoted themselves to worshiping idols, hoping to win reward and wealth, but in vain.
Where they could, they lectured, espousing the cause of women and child-widows. A slender girl of twenty-two, she spoke fluently in seven languages, and acquired a reputation for her her learning. In Calcutta she married. Her husband died after nineteen months, leaving her a little girl.
She determined to devote herself to the rescue of child-widows. In preparation for this work, she went to England, then to America. All this time she hungered for the true God, but found Him not. But when she saw the blessedness of Christian lives, and their love for others, she yielded to the only true God, was baptized and confirmed. “Her keen wit, and pathos, her intellectual brilliancy, her enthusiasm devotion, aroused all hearts and kindled enthusiasm.”
Her first home for child-widows was opened in Bombay in 1889, and opened with two pupils. It was called Sharada Sadad – adobe of windows. Soon it enlarged to one hundred and seventy-eight widows, ranging in age from five years to forty. Rescued from lives of hardship, shame and abuse, their hearts were responsive to the warm, sympathetic atmosphere of the Christian school. They were allowed to retain their Hindu customs and religion if they desired. Of course, most of them as they became enlightened, and learned what Christianity does for womanhood, found their inheritance in Jesus Christ. “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Praise the Lord!
“To increase the revenue of the school, she bought one hundred acres of land at Kedgaon, planting half with fruit trees and half with fruitful crops. While her outward activities were increasing, her spiritual life was deepening an growing richer. She longed to do more for Christ. The famine of 1897 gave her the coveted opportunity. Going herself to the famine district, she gathered three hundred, whom she established at Kedgaon in tents, calling the settlement Mukti, and giving up her own salary for support.
“The famine of 1899 – 1900 offered means of reaching still more; gaunt, enfeebled, afflicted with loathsome disease, the result of starvation, they were nursed back to health with tenderest care. Ramabai did not rest until one thousand five hundred were brought into the compound.” The other home was transferred to Kedgaon.
Her devotion to Christ, her life of communion in the heavenlies [sic], her deepening knowledge of things Divine, her passion for the uplift and true salvation of the neglected, saddened, ignorant and pitiful child-widows, make her personality and life-work throb with Divine energy, and she has her reward in seeing them become happy, beautiful, educated and useful Christian women. And think of the enteral reward awaiting her journey’s end!
Reference: Men and Women of Deep Piety by Mrs. Clara McLeister. Edited and published by Rev. E.E. Shelhamer. ©1920.