Muthulakshmi Reddy was born on 30 July 1886 in Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu. Her father Narayan Swami Iyer was a professor at Maharaja College and her mother Chandramai was from the Devadasi community.
Her father and some teachers taught her at home till matriculation and she was also a topper in the examination. However, Maharaja High School refused to enroll her as she was a girl.
The conservative section of society created a lot of uproar over teaching them in school.
However, seeing her interest in studies, Marthand Bhairav Thondaman Raja Muthulakshmi of Pudukottai got a stipend and got her admitted to high school. She was the only girl in her school at that time.
The condition laid in marriage:
Muthulakshmi Reddy was the first Indian girl in the surgery department at Madras Medical College. She topped the college in surgery and won a gold medal.
Doctor V Santa in her book ‘Muthulakshmi Reddy – A Legend in Yourself’ says that she was not only a woman who took many initiatives, but she fought for the liberation and empowerment of women.
She married Doctor T Sundar Reddy in April 1914 with a condition. The condition was that her husband would not interfere in their social activities and medical help of the needy.
He was selected for the health training of women and children in England. When his parents refused him to go to England, Tamil Nadu Health Minister Panagal Raja directed the government to give him financial assistance for a year.
Muthulakshmi found that working only at the level of health was not enough for the upliftment of women. So she jumped into the women’s movement under the guidance of Annie Besant. She was nominated to the Madras Legislative Council by the Union of Women of India (WIA) in 1926. She remained on the council till 1926-30.
Initially, she was hesitating to serve in the council. She was afraid that her medical work might get affected. However, she felt that women should also use their home building capacity in nation-building.
Contribution to important laws:
Muthulakshmi was instrumental in enacting the Child Marriage Prevention Act, abolishing the devadasi system from temples, closing brothels, and preventing trafficking of women and children.
In the Council, while presenting the bill raising the age of consent of girls for marriage to 14, she had said, “In the practice of sati there is only short suffering while in the practice of child marriage of the girl from birth to death. As a child-wife, child mother, and child widow, one gets a lifetime of pain. ” She has mentioned this in her book “My Experience as Legislature”.
She has written that when her bill Child Marriage Prevention Act was published in the local press, the fundamentalists attacked her through open meetings and press. It also included university graduates.
Law against the devadasi system:
Muthulakshmi was a pioneer in getting the law passed to end the devadasi system. She also faced opposition from hardline groups in the process. However, this proposal was unanimously endorsed by the Madras Legislative Council and recommended it to the Central Government.
This bill became a final law in 1947. In the Devadasi system, young girls or women are given to God.
While presenting the motion before the Madras Legislative Council, Muthulakshmi Reddy said, “Devadasi system is the worst form of Sati and it is a religious crime.”
She was deeply influenced by the ideology of Annie Besant and Mahatma Gandhi. “Muthulakshmi Reddy, A Social Revolutionary”, the research paper of the history department’s research scholar M.S. Snehlata in Tiruchirappalli, reads, “When Mahatma Gandhi was arrested during the Salt Satyagraha, Muthulakshmi resigned from the membership of the Madras Legislative Council. “
Her younger sister died of cancer which caused her a lot of shocks and then she worked for the establishment of Adyar Cancer Institute in 1954. Cancer patients from all over India still come to this institute for treatment.
She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956 for his contribution in the field of medicines and social reform.
The Tamil Nadu government issued a postage stamp in memory of Muthulakshmi on her birth anniversary in 1986.
Muthulakshmi breathed her last in 1968 at the age of 81. Google made a doodle on his birth anniversary.