Pandita Ramabai was just five feet tall, with short black hair and small bones. Yet wherever she went the presence of this Brahman Indian woman—characterized by her grey-green eyes, shapely lips, and light complexion—seemed to cast a spell over all whom she met. She was adored as a goddess when she arrived in Calcutta at age 20.
Pandita Ramabai , the founder of Mukti Mission was a pioneer in several ways. Recognized as one of India’s most influential woman reformers, she was the first to promote the welfare and education of Indian widows. She had a charismatic personality and was passionately interested in the freedom and welfare of her countrywomen. Inspired by God, whom she found in Jesus Christ after first trying all the religions at her disposal, she founded the Mukti Mission on March 11, 1889. She started the Sharada Sadan in Bombay, with the help of two other widows. In 1898, she established the Mission at Kedgaon on a 100 acre plot. By mid 1900, there were 2500 residents housed in the Mukti Sadan, Sharada Sadan, Krupa Sadan (home of grace for the disgraced women), Priti Sadan (home of love for the aged and infirm), Sadanand Sadan (home for boys) and Bartimi Sadan (home for the blind).
Once as she was preparing to speak on two resolutions for gender reform, her audience took some time to settle down. She remained silent and still until you could have heard a pin drop and then began with the remarkable words: “It is not strange, my countrymen, that my voice is small, for you have never given a woman the chance to make her voice strong!” From that moment on, she carried her enraptured listeners in the palm of her hand, and the resolutions were passed by a huge majority.
And so it was throughout much of India and then America: Audiences were moved to laughter and tears before responding with resounding applause and standing ovations. She knew many of the sacred texts of the Hindu religion by heart and had an ear for the varied cadences of the written and spoken word. But she also knew from 20 years of wandering the hard realities of everyday life for Indian women. It was a brave person who ventured to contradict this combination of academic brilliance and personal experience. She was a born leader, held in awe by the rich and famous and trusted by the poor and oppressed.
The renowned Indian social reformer D. K. Karve wrote, “Pandita Ramabai was one of the greatest daughters of India.”
Ramabai went to Britain in 1883 to start medical training. During her stay she converted to Christianity. From Britain she traveled to the United States in 1886 to attend the graduation of the first female Indian doctor, Anandibai Joshi, staying for two years. During this time she also translated textbooks and gave lectures throughout the United States and Canada. She had also published one of her most important book, The High-Caste Hindu Woman. This was also the first book that she wrote in English. Ramabai dedicated this book to Dr. Joshi, The High-Caste Hindu Woman-to be specific a Brahmin woman which showed the darkest aspects of the life of Hindu women, including child brides and child widows, sought to expose the oppression of women in Hindu-dominated British India. In 1896, 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. A learned woman knowing seven languages, she also translated the Bible into her mother tongue—Marathi—from the original Hebrew and Greek.
By 1900 there were 1,500 residents and over a hundred cattle in the Mukti mission she started and she was also involved in establishing a Church at Mukti. The Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission is still active today, providing housing, education, vocational training, and medical services, for many needy groups including widows, orphans, and the blind.
As Pandita Ramabai involved herself in social service, there was little family life for her. Her childhood was full of hardships, she lost her parents early and her husband died within two years of marriage. She had also to educate her only daughter, Manorama Bai. She did this well: Manorama completed her BA at Bombay University; went to the USA for higher studies; returned to India, and worked as Principal of Sharada Sadan, Mumbai. With her help, Pandita Ramabai established Christian High school at Gulbarga (now in Karnataka), a backward district of south India, during 1912, and her daughter was Principal of the school. In spite of the relentless criticism, Ramabai remained focused on her goal of helping widows. In 1920 Ramabai’s body began to flag and she designated her daughter as the one who would take over the ministry of Mukti Mission.However, Manorama died in 1921. Her death was a shock to Ramabai. Nine months later, Ramabai, who had been suffering from septic bronchitis, died on 5 April 1922, a few weeks before her 64th birthday.
With inputs from christianitytoday.com, muktimission and wikipedia