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Ramabai: Overcoming Obstacles

Born in 1858, Ramabai was destined to live an empty life. It was not the best time to be a woman. Society saw no value in women except for procreating and housekeeping. Even these value markers dropped to a zero when the husband died; 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 destiny is not predetermined by 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 soon 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. Experiencing little success, 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 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 (made up of 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 difficult and it was common for men to fail several times before passing. Ramabai, however, got high marks on her first attempt. And she was honored with the title “Sarasvati.”

Standing tall and alone. Ramabai became a lecturer. But just when life seemed to be getting better, 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 her life took a positive turn, her husband died—only 19 months after they were married. Although now a widow with a baby girl, she was unwavering and strong. Next Ramabai traveled to England where she taught Sanskrit and then later to the United States. During this time, she studied the Bible and felt impressed to translate it into Sanskrit and Marathi. Her study of the Bible led her to Jesus and to a journey that reaffirmed her determination to change her destiny. After her respite overseas, Ramabai returned to India where she established shelters, schools, boarding houses and organizations to uplift women—widows, low-caste, homeless, and the suppressed.

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? How do you overcome obstacles. Ask yourself “How important is it for me to stand tall and find my calling, my destiny?”

Check out her Wikipedia page for biographical details.

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