Today, April 5, St. Clement’s Episcopal Church commemorates Pandita Mary Ramabai, prophetic witness and evangelist in India. Throughout a life filled with obstacles and sorrow, she never lost her evangelical enthusiasm:
“What a blessing this burden does not fall on me. But Christ bears it on his shoulders.”
Born in 1858, Pandita Ramabai was denied access to formal education, as a woman. Ramabai’s father, who was a Sanskrit scholar, taught her to read the Sanskrit texts. Her fame as a lecturer and Sanskrit scholar grew. In 1878, Calcutta University conferred upon her the title of “Pandita,” meaning “the learned one.”
When she gave birth to her daughter, she dedicated herself to bettering the status of women in India. But within five years, her parents, brother, and husband died. As both an orphan and a widow – a woman who had only her daughter – she was ostracized.
In 1882, Ramabai founded the Arya Women’s Society. She urged education for teachers. And she urged that women – the only ones allowed by society to treat other women – be admitted to medical schools.
She went to England in 1883 to start medical training. There, she converted to Christianity. She traveled extensively throughout the United States and Canada, lecturing, writing, and translating textbooks. Among her writings was her first publication in English, The High-Caste Hindu Woman. In it, she sought to expose the oppression of women in Hindu-dominated British India, including the treatment of child brides and child widows.
Returning to India in 1889, Ramabai founded the Mukti Mission, a home for abandoned widows and orphans of the Brahmin (high priest) caste in Bombay (Mumbai). She extended the mission’s outreach to women and orphans of all castes during the famine of 1896 and expanded the mission to include a clinic and vocational training.
Fluent in seven languages, Ramabai translated the Bible into Marathi, a West Indian language, from Hebrew and Greek. She and her daughter founded a high school for young women and served together at the Mukti Mission. She worked tirelessly among India’s poor, depending on the generosity of others to fund her activities. All her achievements, she credited to Jesus Christ:
“No one but He could transform and uplift the downtrodden womanhood of India and of every land.”
Ramabai was shocked by the death of her daughter in 1921; she died nine months later, on April 5, 1922.
Excerpted, in part, from A Great Cloud of Witnesses