At the crossroad of Indian Feminism

After Bhuleshwar and South Mumbai locale, Gamdevi precinct of Mumbai will be my favorite. Not only because of variety of heritage building but because of the stories that usually tag along with it. I have already exhaustively written about the highlights of Gamdevi heritage spots, now let me enlighten you with the other stories of this unique place.

While I have introduced The Blavatsky Lodge in my previous post, let me enumerate the ladies who have made the legacy of the building more charming

Annie Besant (1847 – 1933) may have brought the theosophical movement to India but her portfolio as a British socialist, theosophist, women’s right activist, a fluent orator and writer and an avid supporter of India’s self-rule certainly impressed number of Indians. Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904 – 1986) was an Indian Theosophist, who belonged to upper caste brahmins but played a pivotal role in shaping India for which she was awarded with Padma Bhushan in 1956. She is credited with reshaping the original ‘sadhir’ style of Bharatnatyam, which was considered as lowly and vulgar art performed by the devdasis or the temple dancers, into its current exalted version.

In an industry that is predominantly operated by men, Sumati Moraji (1909 – 1998) was known as the first woman of Indian shipping industry after assuming the mantle of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company in 1946. As the daughter of the textile baron Mathuradas Goculdas, she added a new star to the history of Indian Feminism by becoming the first woman in the world to head an organisation of ship owners – Indian National Steamship Owners Association (later renamed Indian National Shipowners Association). She was later awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honor of India.

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She helped establish a business model for the modern Indian Shipping companies and helped propagate ideas of Indian Culture and heritage. It is this very belief of hers that led to her indirect involvement in the establishment of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as ISKCON, when she provided a one-way passage to Swami Prabhupada – the founder of ISKCON, in 1965 to US.

The Indian Malala who resulted in a proclamation across the entire British Empire, started her footsteps by becoming the first female practicing physician Dr. Rukhmabai. She was a child bride during 19th century British India, married to a 20-year-old widower, who refused to accompany her husband for her new married life because she wanted to complete her education. Because of her strong-headed and constant refusal, her husband decided to file a case of “restitution of conjugal rights”. The court gave her two options – either go with the husband to his house, or face imprisonment.

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The “stubborn” young girl opted for the second option. Impressed with her impassioned stand, she was allowed to pay a fine of 2000 INR to her husband in exchange for her freedom and went on to study Medicine from London School of Medicine for Women. Her fight against patriarchy led to the monumental establishment of the Age of Consent Act, 1891. She continued her fight for girls and women by establishing a institute called Sharda Mandir High School, solely for the purpose of encouraging girls’ education.

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Pandita Ramabai (1858 – 1922) was born during a period of time when the women of India were considered a little more than slaves, with an exclusive durty to serve their husband and bear children. They were not allowed to study, or venture out on their own, and a majority of Hindu women were married off when they were children to men who were decades older. Pandita Ramabai was fortunate in many ways. Though she was born in a Brahmin family, her father was a known liberal who defied societal pressures by insisting on educating both his wife and children. Her father even refused to get Ramabai married until she becames a legal adult. 

After the demise of her parents in the jungles of Karnataka, young Ramabai and her brother had to face the hardship of poverty. On reaching Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1878, she decided to dedicate her life for the cause of distressed women. She lectured on Sanskrit literature and Indian philosophy. She went against the social norm and married a bengali from a lower caste. She established the Arya Mahila Samaj in Pune to promote female education and also work towards eradicating child marriage. She also started learning English and wrote a book called Stree Dharma Niti (Morals for Women). She is also the writer of the book – The High Caste Hindu Woman

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Picture Courtesy: Rama Arya

Dr. Kashibai Navrange (1878 – 1946) was a social reformer by soul. She floated a Milk Fund in 1916 for pregnant and lactating mothers under the auspices of the Arya Mahila Samaj. She is also known as the First Indian Woman Doctor to open her own clinic.

The Parsi Community Welfare began with the efforts of Bai Jerbai Wadia, who determinedly set out to construct low cost baugs or housing colonies in Bombay for lower and middle-class Parsis. Between 1908 and 1956, a total of five baugs were built on more than 35 acres of prime property. These baugs are Nowroz Baug, Rustom Baug, Bai Jerbai Baug, Cusrow Baug and Ness Baug. Even today, they stand as a true testimony to the magnanimous spirit of Bai Jerbai and her sons.

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Ness Baug, Gamdevi

The lanes of Gamdevi talk about ideas, passion, convictions and beliefs. While the name itself has its origin after its 200 year old temple dedicated to Durga, a Goddess who symbolises feminism, it comes as no surprise that some of the legacies that has been left in this 500 metres of area comprises of pioneers of Indian Feminism.

Disclaimer: This walk is the brain child of Bharat G from Khaki Tours, who loves to spread the word about heritage and its anecdotes. For more details you can log on to their Facebook Page:Khaki Tours.


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6 comments

  1. That was so beautiful to take a virtual walk with you. You are an excellent travel writer and although I cannot focus on the detail of these amazing histories I hope to return to this article again. Very best wishes 🙂

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      • Thank you !shita but sadly it is very unlikely for my near lifetime due to personal circumstances. Not sure if some news stories are hoax but getting from AtoB or even online seems a dreadful issue right now. Hope all is ok in Mumbai, you really have made it look beautiful with photos.

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