Our Homage on International Women’s Day : Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi – Dr. Abhijit Chakraborty

At a time, when we are celebrating the International Women’s day with lots of programs and advertising the achievements of women personalities in various spheres, most of us might be surprised to hear this name—- mostly known to a selected few.

            It was about 150 years back at Kalyan, a place close to Mumbai; in a well to do Brahmin family, Yamuna Joshi was born on 31st March, 1865. At the age of 9, she was married to Gopal Rao, who was much older than her and lost his wife a few years back. Contrary to the prevalent social structure, Gopal was an ardent supporter of widow remarriage of Hindu girls and was vocal about women’s education, though he was infamous for his arrogant behaviors. He renamed his wife to Anandi. Interestingly, there was a condition in this marriage that Gopal be allowed to teach his wife and she must have to continue her education. Gopal took resort to lots of violent abusive techniques like beating his child-wife publicly, throwing books at her etc. The one and only goal was to educate Anandi. Once, Anandi went to kitchen to help Gopal’s grandmother in cooking. The outrageous Gopal beat Anandi with bamboo sticks as she wasted her precious time for studies. Unfortunately, the postmaster Gopal did not find any school for Anandi as women were not allowed to enroll at that time. Gopal heard of Pandit Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and about his works on Women’s education. He quickly decided to seek a transfer to Calcutta with only aim of educating her wife. In Calcutta, Anandi faced a lot of difficulties and was compelled to take admission in a Missionary School.

In between, tragedy struck the family— at the age of 14, Anandi gave birth to a son. But unfortunately, she lost her child within a few days as neither she nor Gopal could share their difficulties with the attending physician, who was actually a quack and they could not visit an authorized medical practitioner trained in Western Medicine. This incident had infuriated Gopal. Anandi then determined to pursue her education further and vowed to seek an end to this kind of practices. She realized the need of female doctors in the per-independent India. Seeing this transformation in Anandi, Gopal was too excited to make her dream a reality. In 1880, a year later, Gopal was transferred to Serampore, only 20 kilometers from Calcutta. Gopal wrote to Mr. Wilder, a famous American missionary stating his wife’s interest in medical education. He also offered to become a missionary at the same time. Unfortunately, this was not taken in a good grace by her wife and Anandi for the first time had protested vehemently against Gopal. In the Annual Meeting of the famous magazine “Missionary Review” held in 1883 at a public hall in Serampore College, Anandi addressed the audience and stressed the need of female doctors in the society and if any opportunity is provided, she went on to say, “I volunteer to qualify myself as one”. She was allowed to speak there due to her exemplary performance in the examinations. Audience was struck by this speech from an apparently simple woman of 16 years only. In the meantime, Mr. Wilder has published the letter of Gopal in the Princeton edition of “Missionary Review”. A benevolent lady, Mrs. Carpenter of Roselle, New Jersey, while visiting her dentist had come across that magazine and came to know about Anandi. Her story and Gopal’s zeal for education had touched the core of her heart. She talked to Gopal and Anandi and asked them to apply at various American Universities for medical education. After being informed that all the applications of Anandi were rejected by various universities, Mrs. Carpenter had volunteered to host Anandi and she got admission to Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The relationship between Mrs. Carpenter and Anandi was so close that she used to call Carpenter as “Maushi” (A hindi name for an “Aunt”). The life in America was a big struggle for her. Due to financial constraints and obligations, she could not rent a room with fireplace. She was compelled to survive the extreme winter putting all her clothes she brought from her own country, sometimes including blankets. This took a toll in her life. She was contacted with flu and slowly became frail and too weak, but continued her studies for long periods of time ignoring all these warnings. Her indomitable spirit was awarded in 1886.  Anandi Gopal Joshi became the first female doctor from British India educated in the Western Medical System of education. Interestingly, she became the fifth registered female doctor of the world. The thesis of her degree was “Obstetrics among Aryan Hindus”, a subject which was so close to her heart. She started her long return journey on sea with a poor health. She became sick in the ship, but the doctors on the ship refused to treat a “Brown Woman”. She returned to India in the later part of 1886 to serve her motherland, a wish she cherished since the loss of her son. She started attending female patients from various sections of the society. Unfortunately, the fragile health did not allow her to continue the practice for a long time. She was seen coughing and sneezing incessantly. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Her beloved “Maushi”, Mrs. Carpenter sent some medicines from America. She was also studying various books to find out any medicine. But, alas nothing could save this great human being. The untimely death came on the wee hours of 27th February, 1887, just a month before her 23rd birthday. India lost one of the bravest female soul, the country ever had. After cremation according to Hindu rites, Gopal had sent her ashes to her beloved “Maushi”. Mrs. Carpenter had placed them in their family cemetery at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York. The inscription on the cemetery is still bearing the signature of an extremely short but an inspiring life of a woman.

Reference:

1. M. Kosambi, (1996), ‘Anandibai Joshee – Retrieving a Fragmented Feminist Image’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 31, No. 49.

2. M. Kosambi (Spring 2003)”Caste and Outcast (review)“. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History – Volume 4, Number 1, , The Johns Hopkins University Press.

3. E. Carol (1979). “Medicine and Health Care“. In O’Neill, L. Decker (ed.). The Women’s Book of World Records and Achievements. First Hindu Woman Doctor”  Page-  204. Anchor Press.. ISBN 0385127332. “



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