Rukhmabai, pioneer of women's rights, celebrates 153rd birth anniversary

Rukhmabai, pioneer of women's rights, celebrates 153rd birth anniversary

Rukhmabai, pioneer of women's rights, celebrates 153rd birth anniversary

Today is  the 153rd birth anniversary of Rukhmabai Raut, one of British India's earliest practicing women doctors  and a pioneer of the women's rights movement in India.

Her pioneering feat was impressive,  given the fact that this was  at a time when women's rights - especially that of Indian women - were hardly given any importance.

Rukhmabai is remembered for bring the term 'consent' into the discourses and discussions on women's rights.

Rukhmabai's life in colonial India is significant, especially when it comes to learning about consent, a term that dominates discourse everywhere.

Rukhmabai was born in Mumbai, then Bombay, on November 22, 1864. She was a child bride, married off at the age of 11, to Dadaji Bhikaji, who was then 19.  Child marriage was a common practice  in India then.

Rukhmabai's mother had endured child marriage as well, having been married off at 14, giving birth to Rukhmabai at 15 and then becoming a widow at just 17.

Rukhmabai did not live with her husband after marriage. Instead, she  stayed in her own house  and educated herself, following the instructions  of her  stepfather.

Rukhmabai soon found out that her husband was averse to her getting education, and so  she took the bold decision  that she did not want to remain married to Bhikaji.

In March 1884,  Bhikaji petitioned the Bombay High Court to restore  his conjugal rights over his wife - that is, make Rukhmabai come and live with him.  

Little did Bhikaji know then that his  petition would trigger a landmark case, which would eventually lead to the passing of the  Age of Consent Act  in 1891.

The court ordered  Rukhmabai to comply  with her husband's demands or go to prison.  She said she will not go with him.

Rukhmabai argued that she could not be forced to remain married, since she was married at an age when she was unable to give her consent.  This argument had never been heard before in any court of law.

Rukhmabai's arguments were a success and her bold claims led to a significant amount of media attention in the 1880s.

The case thus came to the notice of many prominent social reformers, including Ramabai Ranade and Behramji Malabari.

Finally,  Bhikaji chose to accept monetary compensation in exchange for agreeing to dissolve the marriage.  If it was not for the compromise, Rukhmabai would have had to go to jail then.

It was after this case was settled that Rukhmabai chose to train as a doctor, resulting in a successful 35-year career in medicine.

She did not stop with medicine  - choosing to become a social reformer as well, by writing against child marriage and purdah.

Rukhmabai was an active social reformer until her death at the age of 91,  on September 25, 1955.