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ramabai: lessons from one who changed destiny

Born in 1858, Ramabai was destined to live an empty life. It was not the best time to be female in India. Society saw no value in Woman except for her ability to procreate and housekeep—Even these value markers dropped to a zero when the husband died; and the expendable widow was thrown onto the funeral pyre to be burned alive atop of her husband’s corpse.

Against all odds. Ramabai was fortunate to have a father who believed that one’s destiny was not predetermined by one’s gender. While society espoused that girls were not worthy of education and opinions, Dongri—a renowned scholar of Sanskrit—educated both his wife Laxmibai and his daughter Ramabai at home. However, his ways contradicted society and he was ostracized. Wherever they went, they were denied a place to stay, food to eat, and the company of others. So Dongri moved his family from town to town, relentlessly trying to bring about positive change. Their wanderings resulted in little success and they were forced to retreat into the jungles to eek a living off the land. Their nomadic lifestyle even took them through a famine when they survived on just water and leaves for eleven days. Finally, the wanderings took a toll on them and Dongri and Laxmibai died.

Alone and destitute, Ramabai and her brother continued to stand up for what they believed, regardless of consequences. Ramabai fought against child-marriage and advocated education for women.

Proving oneself. Ramabai’s thirst for knowledge continued. But being a woman, she could not enter into any school system. So she found and created opportunities to prove herself over and over again. Her competency in Sanskrit soon gained attention and stories of her impressive memory spread—of how she had memorized 23,000 shastras even before she was 16 years old. She was so talked about that the elite scholarly group (all men, of course) called her into their presence to check her out. What they saw and heard astounded them and they did what had never been done before. They offered her—a woman—the opportunity to take the most prestigious Sanskrit exams. These exams were known for their high level of difficulty and it was common for one to fail several times before passing. Ramabai, however, got high marks in her first attempt. And she was honored with the title “Sarasvati.”

Standing tall and alone. Ramabai became a lecturer. But just when destiny was finally looking up, her brother died leaving her alone. Six years later, she married a man of a lower caste but one who supported her causes. Again, just as destiny took a positive turn, her husband died—only 19 months after they were married. She was now a widow with a baby girl. Unwavering and strong, Ramabai traveled to England where she taught Sanskrit. While there, she studied the Bible and felt impressed to translate it into Sanskrit. Her study of the Bible led her to Jesus and more. It was a journey that reaffirmed her determination to change destiny. After her respite overseas, Ramabai returned to India. She established shelters, schools, boarding houses and organizations to uplift all kinds of women—widows, low-caste, homeless, and suppressed.

Application. For most of her life, Ramabai was ALONE—physically, emotionally, sociologically. She could have allowed loneliness to cripple her. But she didn’t. She rose above it to stand tall, look over the horizon and see her calling—her destiny.

What is the crippling factor in your life? Identify at least three ways you can overcome your obstacle. Ask yourself “How important is it for me to stand tall and find my calling, my destiny?”

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