Pandita Ramabai was a social reformer who was passionate about Christ and passionate about women. Ramabai was born in 1858 to a high caste Brahmin Sanskrit scholar, Anant Shastri Dongre. Her father, breaking tradition, taught his wife and daughter, Pandita, the sacred languages.
The family traveled, Ramabai’s father teaching the Holy Scriptures for a living. Tragedy struck as her mother, father, and sister all perished in the famine of 1877. Ramabai and her brother continued to travel and teach. Ramabai’s knowledge was so impressive that she was the first woman to be given the title Pandita and Saraswati. After the death of her brother, Ramabai married a Bengali lawyer below her caste and had a daughter Manoramabai. Tragically her husband soon died of cholera, leaving her with a baby daughter.
Ramabai’s travels through India made her aware of the terrible plight of women in India. Many women were married as children to much older men and therefore were widowed and left without status or protection. Ramabai soon became a leading advocate for the rights and welfare of women in India.
In 1889 she established Sharada Sadan, a school in Bombay for child widows. She promised not to pressure the girls to become Christians but she had daily devotions which the girls could choose to attend. Many of the girls became Christians.
Sharada Sadan School started in Wilson College on 11th March 1889
“It was a dazzling grand gathering” as stated in the Induprakash newspaper. The school was named after its first student, Sharada the daughter of Gan-gadharpant Gadre. The 2nd student’s name was Godubai who was a child widow.
In 1891 there were 26 widows and 13 unmarried girls. By 1896 Sharada Sadan had grown to a large extent and many needy widows and unmarried girls were impacted.
In November 1890 Sharada Sadan was brought to Pune and opened near Agakhan Palace. After that, it was moved to the campus in Pune. There were two parts to education: one was General and the other Vocational. Many projects and activities came into existence. Along with education, cultural values were taught to the girls. 125 years ago Ramabai made every effort in teaching the girls not to believe in superstitions. She was the first lady to introduce kindergarten education in India. Sharada Sadan was the first school where this kind of education was given.
On 11 March 1893 Maharashi Dhondo Kashav Karve, a social reformer married Godubai who was the second student of Sharada Sadan. This was not common in society at that time and was a turning point in the re-settling of widows in India. This became an example for the generations that were to follow.
Ramabai was a devotee of Jesus and it was her faith that inspired her to show the love of Christ by opening the Sharada Sadan school. It is said that actions speak louder than words and Ramabai showed by her actions that change was possible.
Students from the school hold many distinguished positions in India and around the world. They are illuminating the positions of lawyers, doctors, missionaries, evangelists, and business tycoons in the present world of the 21st century. Sharada Sadan, Bartmi Sadan (blind women’s education) and the kindergarten started by Pandita Ramabai are still in progress. Sharada Sadan not only educates children from Mukti Mission but also from Kedgaon and the nearby villages. Students from Sharada Sadan appear for Maharashtra State Scholarship exams and the school results are 100%.
In 1890 Pandita Ramabai purchased a farm outside Pune and in 1896 300 girls were rescued from the Madhya Pradesh famine. During a plague outbreak in 1902, she moved Sharada Sadan to the farm property outside Pune. During a severe famine, Ramabai toured the villages of Maharashtra with a caravan of bullock carts and rescued thousands of outcast children, child widows, orphans, and other destitute women and brought them to the shelter of Mukti and Sharada Sadan. By 1901 there were almost 2000 residents including those rescued from the Gujarat famine.
Very little has changed with regard to giving dignity to children and women since the inception of Mukti in 1889. The trauma of victimized children and women who are unwanted and therefore abandoned still continues. Mukti opens doors to wives deserted by their husbands, single mothers ostracized by society, and children flung off the railway tracks.
The American Council
Years later, Pandita Ramabai traveled to the US, and from that visit, began the American Council of Ramabai Mukti Mission.
In 1887, in Boston, the Ramabai Association of Boston was formed with the definite aim of ‘giving education to high-caste child widows of India.’ It pledged itself to support a school of fifty pupils for ten years, and between May 1887 and November 1888, the whole amount of money needed for this great project was subscribed. No wonder on the night the Association was formed Ramabai, surprised in tears, explained, ‘I am crying for joy that my dream of years has become a reality.’
In 1898, the ten years were completed for which her American friends had guaranteed their support. Ramabai went back to tell them how she had used the money that they had so freely and generously given her, and to explain that her whole policy had changed since they last met. When the first Ramabai Association was formed in Boston, its object was to provide education for high-caste child widows; now the aim of the work at Mukti was to rescue and educate every kind of girl or woman who was in need of help and shelter.
In 1889, Ramabai did not open her school until its support was guaranteed for ten years ahead; now she stepped out into new ventures whenever she felt God guiding her, depending only on Him for all her resources. In her first school, there was to be no deliberate attempt to make converts; now every pupil was to receive Christian teaching, in the earnest hope that this would lead each one to accept Christ for herself.
“So the original Association was disbanded (1887) and a new one formed (1898). In later years this again was to give place to a third, ‘The American Council of the Ramabai Mukti Mission’ whose aim would be ‘To promote prayer on behalf of the women and girls of India; to assist as it may in the work of the Ramabai Mukti Mission at Kedgaon, India; to assist and support the Mukti Mission in training Indian women for evangelistic work and in direct Gospel work of an evangelistic nature, both by preached word and the printed page.’
Mukti Mission US
In 2017, The American Council of the Ramabai Mukti Mission changed its name to Mukti Mission Inc, commonly referred to as Mukti Mission US.