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No Fear No Favour

Google pays homage to India’s first woman physician Rukhmabai

Celebrating the birthday of India’s first woman physician Rukhmabai, who practised medicine in colonial India, has found her way to Google’s official logo.

Paying homage to India’s first woman physician, Google Doodle in a blog post says, “Today’s Doodle by illustrator Shreya Gupta shows the courageous doctor among her patients, doing the dedicated work of a skilled physician,” said Google’s blog post on its doodle.

Rukhmabai has many things attached to her life. If modern Indian girls have the right to assert their consent, it is due to Rukhmabai refusing to recogniser her marriage and the case filed by her husband.

Born in the year 1864 in Bombay (now Mumbai), Rukhmabai was the only daughter of Janardhan Pandurang and Jayantibai. She lost her father at the tender age of 8-years and was married off at 11 to Dadji Bjikaji. Her mother later married to an eminent physician and the founding member of Bombay Natural History Society, Sakharam Arjun.

Even after her marriage, Rukhmabai continued to stay with her mother and step-father. Later, Dadaji moved to court seeking it to order his wife to live with him. The brave Rukhmabai refused to move in with her husband stating that a woman cannot be compelled to stay in a marriage when she is not interested. Supporting her decision, her step-father helped her to fight the case. The Dadaji vs Rukhmabai case, which went on for three years, triggered a debate in both the country India and England. The verdict went in favour of Dadaji prompting Rukhmabai to left with the option either to live with her husband or face six months imprisonment. A brave Rukhmabai said she was willing to opt the latter.

Queen Victoria overruled the verdict and prompted the government to bring the Age of Consent Act, 1891, despite opposition from conservative Indians.

Rukhmabai legally separated from her husband in 1888 and moved to England to study medicine. She got support from Dr Edith Pechey of Bombay’s Cama Hospital, activists, and fellow Indians in England to complete her course in the London School of Medicine for Women. She returned to India in 1894 and practised in Surat, Rajkot, and Bombay for the next 35 years. She passed away on September 25, 1955.

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