Rukhmabai was born in 1864 in Bombay and she was the only daughter of Janardhan Pandurang and Jayantibai. Unfortunately, she lost her father when she was eight years old. Rukhmabai was a child bride who was married at the age of 11, to Dadaji Bhikaji who was aged 19. She continued to live with her widowed mother Jayantibai who married an Assistant Surgeon Sakharam Arjun an eminent physician and the founding member of Bombay Natural History Society.
When Dadaji asked Rukhmabai to move to his home, she refused, and her decision was supported by her step-father who helped her fight the case in court. Rukhmabai stated that a woman cannot be forced to stay in a marriage when she is unwilling. Rukhmabai found out that Dadaji had an aversion to education. In the 1880s era, Indian women were deprived of rights but, Rukhmabai Bhikaji opposed her husband’s demand to conjugal rights in a court case. Rukhmabai stood firm and strong that she preferred to face imprisonment for violating the rules than being in a marriage and this argument had never been heard of before in any court. This led to the passage of the Age of Consent Act in 1891, despite opposition from conservative Indians. Today, if women can assert their rights of consent, it is due to Rukhmabai.
Later, she moved to study in England at the London School of Medicine after she got support from Dr Edith Pechey the British Director of Bombay’s Cama Hospital, activists, and fellow Indians in England to complete her course. She also obtained qualifications at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Brussels before graduating in 1894. She returned to India as a qualified physician and worked for many years in Rajkot and Surat for 35 years. Rukhmabai is honoured as the first practising lady doctor of India. Though Anandi Gopal Joshi was the first Indian woman to qualify as a doctor, she never practised medicine.
She did not stop with medicine, she was one of the most prominent people fighting for the cause of women’s rights including child marriage and women’s seclusion in colonial India.
She was active until her last breath which was at the age of 91, on September 25, 1991.
Image Credits: Google.com