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Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a philosopher, educationist, writer, publisher, reformer, and philanthropist.

He was one of the greatest intellectuals and activists of the 19th century and is considered as one of the pillars of Bengal renaissance. He put in great efforts to carry on the reforms movement which was initiated by Raja Rammohan Roy. Vidyasagar was a staunch follower of humanity. He was instrumental in bringing the revolution the education system of Bengal.

Iswar Chandra Bandopadhaya was born at Birsingha in Midnapur on September 26, 1820. Born in to a poor family of Thakurdas Banerjee and Bhagabati Devi, he was not only remarkably intelligent but was full of determination. His quest for knowledge was so intense that he used to study on street light as his poor parents couldn’t afford a gas lamp at home. He cleared successive annual examinations with flying colors and won many scholarships for his academic performance which were a welcome relief in his impoverished financial condition. He also took up a teaching job to support himself and the family.

In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully cleared his Law examination. In 1841, at the age of twenty one years, Ishwar Chandra joined the Fort William College as a head of the Sanskrit department. He received the title "Vidyasagar" from the Calcutta Sanskrit College, due to his excellent performance in Sanskrit studies and philosophy. This title was mainly given for his vast knowledge in all subjects which was compared to the vastness of the ocean.

He travelled all over Bengal in the capacity of Inspector of Schools. It gave him the opportunity to understand the pervading darkness and superstitions in which people of Bengal lived in the absence of education. It resulted in establishment of 20 Model schools in only two months. He also realized that unless women were educated it was impossible liberate them from the terrible burden of inequalities and injustice.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar initiated the concept of widow remarriage and raised concern for the abolition of child-marriage and polygamy.

Vidyasagar championed the cause of the uplift of the status of women in India.  He was a strong supporter of widow marriages.  He wanted to transform orthodox Hindu society from within.  With valuable moral support from his friends, Vidyasagar introduced the practice of widow remarriages to mainstream Hindu society. In earlier times, remarriages of widows was no so common. There were very few of such marriages used to take place among progressive members of the Brahmo Samāj. During this period, young girls were married to very elderly widowers to. This situation led to many girls becoming widows at a very early age. The life of such young girls was agony. They were subjected to orthodox rituals which included semi starvation diet, rigid and dangerous daily ritual of cleanliness, hard domestic labor. Some of them used to run away and turned to prostitution.  Vidyasagar took the initiative in proposing and pushing through the Widow Remarriage Act XV of 1856 in India. He also demonstrated that the system of polygamy without restriction was not sanctioned by the ancient Hindu religion. His fearless championing on behalf of widow re-marriage ends in success. He failed to get the abolition of polygamy though succeeded in the imparting female education.

He spent most of his time in writing reformist literature and text books, his pioneering work in Bengali prose certainly deserves the very best of appreciation. His simplification of idiomatic expressions and clarification of the writing style provided the sound base on which latter Bengali writers like Tekchand Thakur, Pyarichand Mitra and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee built their literary superstructures. Indeed, Tagore revered him as 'the father of modern Bengali prose'

His efforts to simplify and modernize Bengali prose were significant. He also rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great scholar, academician and reformer passed away on 29 July, 1891 at the age of 70 years. After his death Rabindranath Tagore said, "One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!"

Vidyasagar promoted the idea of best education for everybody regardless of their gender, caste and class.

In the face of opposition from the Hindu establishment, Vidyasagar vigorously promoted the idea that regardless of their caste, both men and women should receive the best education. He truly believed that people should learn the more progressive sibj in remarkable clarity of vision is instanced by his brilliant plea for teaching of science, mathematics and the philosophies of John Locke and David Hume, to replace most of ancient Hindu philosophy. His own books, written for primary school children, reveal a strong emphasis on enlightened materialism, with scant mention of God and religious verities – a fact that posits him as a pioneer of the Indian Renaissance.

Shortly after Vidyasagar's death, Rabindranath Tagore reverently wrote about him: "One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!" 

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Dr. Anandibai Joshi

Anandhibai JoshiDr. Anadibai Joshi was one of the first Indian woman to receive education abroad and obtain a medical degree through Western medicine. Anadibai was born in 1865 in a very conservative Maharashtrian family. That time, most of the Indian families were orthodox and education among women was not common. As per the customs then, she was married at a very young age of 9 years to a very elderly widower who was 20 years older to her.  Her husband Gopal Rao  was a progressive thinker, and supported the education of women, which was not very prevalent in India.

Noticing Anandibai's interest in acquiring education, he helped her receive education and learn English. He took it on himself to teach her English. Gopal would take his young wife for long walks during which his teaching sessions continued. He was convinced that learning English was more important than learning Sanskrit. But Anandibai confessed that learning from her husband was not easy. He would hit her with pieces of wood or books. At a very young age of 14,  she gave birth to their first and only child. The infant survived only 10 days, but in her grief Anandi turned her thoughts to what could have been done to save her child: she became convinced that if there had been a female doctor available, the child might have lived. At 14, she became determined to become a doctor.

Gopalrao encouraged his wife to study medicine. He wanted to send her abroad for medical studies, even though they had no money. He wrote to a missionary friend Royal Wilder in the US, asking for help to admit Anandibai to a medical school, and also find a job for himself. They offered the help only on the condition that the couple would convert to Christianity. But They declined the offer. Wilder published the correspondence in his publication, Princeton's Missionary Review. A woman named Theodosia Carpenter happened to read the correspondence and was very impressed with the couple. She wrote a letter to Anandibai stating her desire to offer Anandibai accommodation in USA. They exchanged many letters discussing Hindu culture and religion. They also discussed about early marriages and its effect on women’s health, of the status of women in society and various other women’s issues.

During the couple's stay in Calcutta, Anandibai's health was declining. She suffered from weakness, constant headaches, occasional fever, and, sometimes, breathlessness. The medicines that Theodosia sent did not do much good. In 1883, Gopalrao was transferred to Serampore, and at that time, he decided to send Anandibai alone to America for her medical studies despite her poor health. Anadibai was not ready, however, Gopalrao was determined to send her to America.

The couple's decision made the conservative Hindu community furious.  They became the target of the anger of these people and at times were also attacked. Anandibai addressed the community at Serampore College Hall. She promised the crowd that she would not covert. She explained them the pressing need for Hindu female doctors. After her return form America, she was planning to open a medical college for  women in India. She received many financial aids after her speech.

So in June 1883 at the age of nineteen, a frail but determined Anandibai set her jouney to USA, along with two friends of Theodosia. She got admission to the first Women’s Medical Program offered by the University of Pennsylvania. She even won a scholarship of $ 600/- for three years. Her dissertation was on “Obstetrics among the Hindu Aryans.”

But the unbearable cold and the unfamiliar diet took a toll on her already declining health. She contracted tuberculosis. But she was determined to complete her Medicine studies.  She graduated with an M.D. on March 11, 1886. Her husband and a social reformer Pandita Ramabai were present at this function. Even Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message. The Philadelphia Post wrote, “Little Mrs. Joshee who graduated with high honours in her class, received quite an ovation.”

She returned to India and was appointed as 'the physician-in-charge' of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital, Kolhapur. But it was unfortunate that Anadibai could not fulfill her dreams of providing her services to the women in India.   The illness took over and she died at the early age of 22 in February 26th, 1887. Her death was mourned all over India. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpeer, who placed them in her family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Anadibai is a true inspiration to all the young girls who strive hard to get education. She has made us believe that dreams are within your reach, if your are determined.


Dr. Anandibai Joshi

Raja Ram Mohan Roy


Raja Ram Mohan Roy was an Indian socio-educational reformer who challenged traditional Hindu culture and led conservative Indian society towards progressing India. He is also called the "Maker of Modern India" He founded the Brahmo Samaj at Calcutta in 1828, which was initially known as the "Brahmo Sabha." Raja Rammohan Roy was a great scholar and an independent thinker. He advocated the study of English, Science, Western Medicine and Technology. He was given the title 'Raja' by the Mughal Emperor.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born in a Bengali Hindu family in Radhanagore, Hooghly, West Bengal 1772. His family background displayed religious diversity; his father Ramkanto Roy was a Vaishnavite, while his mother Tarinidevi was from a Shaivite family. He  was sent to Patna for higher studies. By the age of fifteen, he had learnt Bangla, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit. He studied Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, the Upanishadas etc. and books of other religions. He joined the service of the East India Company in 1805 and gradually rose to high offices.

He left the Company to devote his time to the service of his people. Profoundly influenced by European liberalism, Ram Mohan came to the conclusion that radical reform was necessary in the religion of Hinduism and in the social practices of the Hindus.

In 1814, Raja Ram Mohan Roy formed Atmiya Sabha. Atmiya Sabha tried to initiate social and religious reforms in the society. Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned for rights for women, including the right for widows to remarry, and the right for women to hold property. He actively opposed Sati system. Roy demanded property inheritance rights for women.

At that time, only Sanskrit and Persian were taught in our schools. There were very few to tell us anything about Western Science. But even they were in English. And our people did not know English. It was the great Raja Rammohan Roy, who realized that India would be a backward country, if people did not learn English, Mathematics and Science. He advocated the study of English, Science, Western Medicine and Technology.

So, in 1815, Ram Mohan came to Calcutta and the very next year, started an English College by putting his own savings. He was well aware that the students should learn the English language and scientific subjects and that's why he criticized the government's policy of opening only Sanskrit schools. Government accepted this idea of Ram Mohan and also implemented it but not before his death.

In 1828, he set up the Brahmo Sabha, which was a movement of reformist Bengalis formed to fight against social evils. He attacked the caste system and campaigned to persuade the Government to abolish 'Sati' system and child marriage. He advocated equal rights for women, right of widows to remarry and right of women to property.  It was as a result of his persistent campaign that the cruel custom of Sati, the practice of encouraging--and often forcing--widows to burn themselves alive on their husband's funeral pyres was declared illegal in 1829 A.D. by Lord William Bentick.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first social reformer of Modern India and he is rightly called the 'Father of Modern India'. He had a rational and scientific approach and believed in the principle of human dignity and social equality. He was a perfect combination of the East and the West.

He condemned polytheism and idol worship and propagated the concept of one God. His religious ideas had assimilated elements of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and modern European liberal philosophy. He translated ancient Indian works on religion and philosophy into Bengali.

He was internationalist and supported the cause of freedom everywhere. He celebrated the success of the 1830 Revolution in France and condemned the Britishers who were inflicting miseries on Ireland.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy, during his visit to United Kingdom as an ambassador of Akbar- the second, died of meningitis at Stapleton in Bristol on 27 September, 1833. At the time, Roy was an ambassador of the Mughal emperor Akbar II, who conferred on him the title of Raja to convince the British government for welfare of India and to ensure that the Lord Bentick's regulation banning the practice of Sati was not overturned.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

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