Today I’m going to share the story of Dr. Rakhmabai Raut, who was one among the first woman practising doctors in colonial India, and the first woman to get a divorce in 1888.
Rakhmabai’s story is very inspiring. Rakhmabai’s mother got married at the age of 14, had a child at the age of 15 and at the age of 17, she became a widow. However, Rakhmabai at the age of 11, was herself married to 19-year-old Dadaji Bhikaji.
After that, Rakhma’s mother got remarried, and fortunately Rakhma’s stepfather, Dr. Sakharam Arjun, was in favour of promoting girls’ education.
Rakhmabai’s husband, Bhikaji was a bad-tempered guy and against education. She decided not to stay with him and proceeded with her studies using books from a library.
Bhikaji then approached Bombay High Court for restitution of conjugal rights. In 1884, India’s first divorce case was filed in the Bombay High Court. The Court on 4 March 1887 gave Rakhmabai two options, ‘Either go to Bhikaji or to jail for six months.’
Unprecedently, Rakhma said, ‘No means no’. She argued, “I’m not old enough to know what marriage is, it was imposed on me at this tender age, so I cannot be forced into this marriage.”
It was an argument that slammed the society of those days. Many social reformers came forward to support Rakhmabai. The lawsuit was given huge publicity by the then British media, bringing it to the notice of the world and public awareness was raised against child marriage.
Four years later, in July 1888, the lawsuit was finally settled out of court. Bhikaji took money to free Rakhma from this marriage. The lawsuit became historic in many ways in British India.
After coming out of her marriage, Rakhmabai first studied English, went in for further education and was admitted to the London School of Medicine for Women in 1889. She returned to India in 1894 as a Doctor of Medicine.
She played the role of Chief Health Officer at Women’s Hospital in Surat. She never remarried and remained active throughout in social work until the end of her life.
She was the one who orchestrated the Age of Consent Act, 1891. At the age of 90, Dr. Rakhmabai Raut passed away in Mumbai on 25 September 1955 leaving an inspiration for many women and the society.