Born On: April 18, 1858 Born In: Ratnagiri, Maharashtra Died On: November 9, 1962 Career: Social reformer Nationality: Indian
During the 19th and the early part of the 20th century, India was in the dark grip of casteism and ritualism. Naturally, those who were at the lower end of the social scale suffered the most and amongst them, women bore the brunt all the more, since they were not treated as equal as men. Widows, especially, had a harrowing time as they were considered to be a curse. Because child marriage was widely prevalent, the fate of child widows was particularly pathetic. Touched by the plight of such women and inspired by the works of social reformers, Dhondo Keshav Karve decided to dedicate his life for their cause. Throughout his life, he established numerous institutions that were dedicated towards pulling out women from darkness. He recognized that the main reason for such apathy towards women was that they were bereft of education and so worked towards closing that chasm. It is a testimony to his life that his admirers and well wishers addressed him affectionately as Annasheb, which means elder brother. If women and widows get more respect today, if women are more outgoing and preparing to challenge what was once the bastion of men then it is all because of the selfless and dedicated service of one man, Dhondo Keshav Karve.
Dhondo Keshav Karve, affectionately known as Annasheb Karve, was born in the year 1858 in a lower middle-class Chitpavan Brahmin family, in Maharashtra, to Keshav Bapunna Karve. He completed his intermediate from Wilson College in Mumbai and wanted to enter the public service examination but was denied as the authorities thought that he looked too young. So, he studied mathematics at Elphinstone College in Mumbai. In 1891, he joined Fergusson College in Pune as a faculty of mathematics and taught there until 1914. Karve's move to dedicate his life towards the cause of female education and welfare was inspired by the work of Pandita Ramabai, the renowned social reformer. He was also inspired to work for the upliftment of widows, who at those times were looked on with disdain and were considered as social outcasts, by the works of Vishnushastri and Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. He also considered the writings of Herbert Spencer to have had a major influence on him.
To encourage widow remarriage Karve set up the Widhawa Wiwahottejak Mandali in 1893. Apart from working towards widow remarriages, the organization also worked towards helping the needy children of widows. Two years later, the institute was renamed Widhawa Wiwaha Pratibandh-Niwarak Mandali (Society to Remove Obstacles to Marriages of Widows). Continuing his work on uplifting the status of women in society, he founded a Hindu Widows' Home Association in 1896 in a village called Hingane on the outskirts of Pune. The reason for setting up the institution in such an area was because the Brahmin community opposed his reformist activities. They ostracized him as he was also from the Brahmin community. Not the one to lose hope or be bowed down, he instead re-affirmed his belief all the more and set up a Mahilashram in the same village. This ashram was not only for widows but served as a shelter and school for all women, as educational institutions for women during those days were very scarce. In 1907, Karve started the Mahila Vidyalaya, an educational society for women. To train workers for the Widows Home Association and the Mahila Vidyalaya, he established Nishkam Karma Math (Social Service Society) the following year. In subsequent years as the Widows Home Association flourished, it was renamed Maharshi Karve Stree Shikshan Samstha in honor of its founder.
Since Karve still taught mathematics at the Fergusson College, he would travel daily from the Hingane village to the college. While at the city he would collect donations from sympathizers and also spread awareness about the plight of the widows, and women in general. After reading about the Japan Women's University, Karve was inspired to set up the first women university in India in Pune in the year 1916. The University started with just five students. The University expanded rapidly when in 1920 an industrialist and philanthropist, Sir Vithaldas Thackersey, donated 1.5 million rupees. The university was then renamed Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (SNDT) Indian Women's University in honor of the mother of the benefactor. In 1931 the University established the first college in Mumbai. Thereafter, in 1936 the University was shifted to Mumbai from Pune and in 1949 the Government of India recognized it as a statutory university. After setting up the university, he established a Training College for Primary School Teachers the next year and Kanya Shala, a school for girls. Realizing the lack of primary schools in villages, he established in 1936 the Maharashtra Village Primary Education Society whose main goal was to set up schools in villages where there were none. Through this education society, he also sought to promote reading habits among adults. By 1944, he began working towards fostering human equality among his fellow beings. With this aim in view he founded the Samata Sangh (Association for the Promotion of Human Equality).
In 1929, on a tour of Europe for a period of six months, from March to August, Karve attended the Primary Teachers' Conference at Malvern in England. He also attended a meeting of the East India Association at Caxton Hall in London where he delivered a lecture on "Education of Women in India". After England, he toured Geneva and attended an educational conference where he spoke on "The Indian Experiment in Higher Education for Women". He also attended an international meeting of educators set up under the auspices of the New Education Fellowship. He then left for a tour of America visiting various forums and lecturing on women's education and social reforms in India. Subsequently, he went to Tokyo and visited the Women's University and returned to India in April 1930. However, by December of the same year he left for Africa on a fifteen month tour visiting Mombasa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Portuguese East Africa, and South Africa and spreading information about his work on uplifting of the status of women in India.
Awards And Recognition
In 1955, the Government of India honored Karve with the Padma Vibhushan and in 1958 with the Bharat Ratna for his contributions to social work. In addition, he was awarded the Doctor of Letters by the Banaras Hindu University, Pune University, SNDT University and Mumbai University in 1942, 1951, 1954 and 1957 respectively. The Maharshi Karve Road in Mumbai is named in his honor.
When Karve was fourteen, his parents married him off to an eight year old girl called Radhabai. She passed away in 1891 at the age of twenty-seven due to complications at childbirth. However, their son Raghunath Karve survived who later on became a renowned social reformer. In 1928, Karve published an autobiographical work in Marathi titled 'Atmawrutta' and in 1936 he published another autobiographical work, this time in English titled 'Looking Back'. After the death of his first wife, he married for the second time two years later, a 23 year old widow called Godubai. This act of marrying a widow was against the social mores of that time, which forbade widow remarriage and so he had to face considerable opposition. His reformatory thoughts were supported by his wife who also displayed revolutionary zeal. She had been widowed at the age of eight and in her twenties became the first widow student. With his second wife he had three children, Shankar, Dinkar, and Bhaskar.
The great social reformer Dhondo Keshav Karve passed away on 9th November, 1962 at the age of 105.
1858: Dhondo Keshav Karve was born in Ratnagiri in Maharashtra.
1872: Married Radabai at the age of fourteen.
1891: His wife died at the age of twenty seven.
1893: Married the second time to a widow, Godubai.
1896: Founded the Hindu Widows' Home Association.
1907: Established an educational society for women called the Mahila Vidyalaya.
1916: Set up the first Women University in India.
1929: Went on a six month tour of Europe and America.
1930: Went on a fifteen month tour of Africa.
1931: The first college was established by the University in Mumbai.
1955: Honored with the Padma Vibhushan.
1958: Awarded the Bharat Ratna.
1962: Died at the age of 105.