The One Ramabai in all India
by Lorraine Francis, Mission Director, Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission
“ For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice…” Zech 4:10.
This title will intrigue many a scholar in India and overseas. There are several reasons I picked this title. Pandita Ramabai is the first woman social reformer, in India, to work for the upliftment of women’s social status through education and empowerment. She was unique in her calling and vision. A decade after the inception of Mukti in 1889, she pens these thoughts: ‘After opening the work for high-caste child widows, to these are now added deserted wives, whose condition is even more cruel than the condition of widows; also unmarried women and girls, most of them who came from famine districts. She had seen the work of the famine and the pestilence in all its hideousness. Having snatched the children from the jaws of death, from brutal men and unnatural mothers who would sell their little daughters for a simple meal, she would watch and tend them carefully day and night to ensure that flesh comes back on their skeleton bodies. When the first feeble smile appeared on their lips, it was like one of God’s sunbeams to the waiting, loving watchers.’
Miss Judith Andrews had this to say about Ramabai: “During the ten years of her work, this one woman reformer, by her silent influences and by her object-lessons to the educated young men, showed them the difference between an educated wife of twenty and an ignorant wife of nine and how important it is to drop seeds of love and purity, of charity and forgiveness into the hearts of the very victims of these evils rather than hurling eloquent words against the social evils of the country and not doing anything about it.”
Ramabai’s friends and well-wishers blessed and encouraged her work. Their generous support allowed her to take in more needy women and children. The number of residents increased from 365 to 2000 over a period of time. Each face had a horrific and pitiful story to tell. Let us hear the transformational story of the first child widow Pandita Ramabai brought with her into the Mukti home: “Married at the age of 6, she became a widow at 7. Her mother-in-law cursed her as the cause of her husband’s death, and turned her out of the home. The child had no parents, and her siblings did not care for her. She went about begging for her daily bread from place to place. Fortunately, I met her in Poona when she begged me to keep her with me. Having led a wandering life for many years and having formed slothful habits, she was a hard case to manage. However, after having tasted the love of the true and living God, she was raised as a Teacher in the school.” Pandita Ramabai proudly exclaims ‘We thank God for raising this first-fruit to His glory!’ One can only imagine how many baskets of fruit she would have brought as a harvest into God’s kingdom.
Dr. Santosh Kumar, a well-known author and writer with whom I am acquainted, makes the following observation in his book on Pandita Ramabai – ‘What One Woman Can Do’: “Far from being satisfied with trying to defend women’s independence, she charged the male-dominated society with claiming and enjoying far too many rights and privileges. In her speech inaugurating the Arya Mahila Samaj on 1 May 1882, she said – There is no reason why men should have more rights and freedom than women in our society. It is quite obvious that the major part of the family responsibilities rests with the women in the house. For this reason alone women should enjoy more privileges.”
Oh how the trend has changed over time! As the name of Pandita Ramabai emerges into the limelight, the aroma of her work is felt far and wide. Over the past few years, we were compelled to address the needs of male children. Parents of girls who have been educated and empowered through the vision of Pandita Ramabai, keep bringing their precious sons to the gates of Mukti, pleading for a chance that their sons may also find hope for a better future. Mukti has developed sixty acres of land in Handelwadi. Fourteen of these acres has been built and converted into a beautiful campus for boys. There are two spacious Hebron houses and attached quarters for the wardens. What an opportunity to spread the fragrance of Pandita Ramabai among the boys! When 2022 dawned, the Handelwadi campus became home to twenty boys (aged four to fourteen), their housemothers and a guardian couple. What a joy it is to witness the boys being raised in a safe and healthy atmosphere, and to introduce them to their Creator and Sustainer who alone has brought them into this oasis of love, peace and providence.
I express my heartfelt gratitude to the Lord for His mercies that continue to sustain Mukti. 133 years have gone by, His steadfast love has never ceased and His mercies are new every morning. There may not be as many child widows today, but the needs of women, children, teenage mothers and their babies have to be addressed. Dear readers, after reading this article, you will fully agree with me that she was the One Ramabai in All India.