India has a lot of heroes who contributed a lot to make India what it is today. Yes, heroes are not only freedom fighters; we also have social reformers and activists who gave their all to molding the beautiful and peaceful India it is today. This article discusses the life of Mahadev Govind Ranade, an Indian Judge who was a lot of things in one.
He was a member of the Indian National Congress, a Historian, A Judge, a teacher and an influential figure who, along with his wife, made a lasting impact on Indian society. In the 19th century, India witnessed the emergence of various ideologies and different moments seeking to bring about religious, political and social reforms. Justice Ranade was at the forefront of this reformist movement in western India.
Birth and Early Life
He was born on the 18th of January 1842 at Nefat, Nashik district in Maharashtra. His father, Govind Amrit Ranade, was a minister then. Born in the Brahmana family, his early education was at Kolhapur, and his higher education was in Bombay. He first learnt Marathi, then later on learned English.
He was a hardworking young man, and at the age of 14 years, he joined the Elphinstone School in Bombay. This college was established in 1857. Justice Mahadev Ronade was among the first students to join this college for the B.A. program and later the LLB program in 1866.
Justice Ranade was a bright and focused student who always did well in his studies and ended up being a topper in his class. In 1867, he graduated from the college with an LLB.
As per his name prefix, he completed his Law education. Thereafter, he worked in Pune as a Subordinate Judge. The British government delayed his promotion because of his political activities. In 1895, he became the Bombay High Court Judge.
Justice Ranade was appointed to work as an instructor at Elphinstone College, earning the title of teacher. This opportunity to be a history teacher at the college sparked his interest in Marathas. That’s how he wrote his famous essay “The rise of the Maratha Power in the Year 1900”.
Justice Ranade wanted to reform society. However, he was quite different from other social reformers. Unlike the rest, he chose not to focus on one aspect and decided to cover all areas. He was a peaceful social reformer who always focused on helping society. His love for peace and unity forced him to avoid the rebellion method of social reform because he feared it could cause chaos and division among the people.
Ranade noticed a cruel way of life among the Hindus and, more so, the laws related to women and early marriages. According to him, women were oppressed by the social systems prevalent at that time. He was determined to reform such systems. He got into campaigning against the parda system. He supported the colonial government’s efforts to increase the age of consent.
M.G. Ranade also played a major role in developing the Prarthana Samaj. Prarthana Samaj was a Hindu reform movement started in 1867 in Bombay by Dr Athmaram Pandurang. Though Brahmo Samaj mainly inspired it, it became an independent movement supporting Hinduism. It also welcomed and encouraged other religions like Christianity and Buddhism. The Prarthana Samaj was a serious movement, and under the leadership and control of great social reformers like M.G. Ranade said the movement was keen on equality in society.
M.G. Ranade was never on good terms with how women in Hindu society were treated. So just as expected, he got into campaigning for female emancipation. He saw it wise to push for female emancipation to be necessitated in India.
Then women were not much respected, especially those from humble backgrounds. Girl child education was never a priority in the old days, which concerned M.G. Ranade. The Purdah System was perverse and determined to keep women behind and neglected.
The cases of child marriage were getting out of hand, and such things irritated M.G. Ranade, and he swore to push to reform such awkward systems. Some of the efforts he invested in reforming society was forming the Social Conference Movement, and he stood with it till his last breath.
In old India, the widows were never meant to remarry. So as an active social activist, he took his attention to it and tried to make positive change in society. He co-founded the “Widow Marriage Association” in 1861.
The efforts here were channelled to advocate for Widow Remarriage. He and his accomplices believed that widows also had the right to remarry. Note that M.G. Ranade co-founded this association when he was still a teenager. Such passion and love for social reform were rare and unmatched.
Ranade’s first wife passed on when he was at the age of 30. Unfortunately, they had no kids by the time she died. His family pushed him to get another wife. Everyone expected him to remarry a widow as he advocated for the same. However, this didn’t happen.
According to his family wishes, he married at the age of 31 to Ramabai, who was younger and only eleven years old. So their age difference is 20 years.
Ranade didn’t want to marry a widow because he understood the land’s customs and knew his kids would be treated like outcasts. He faced a lot of ridicule and was constantly accused of hypocrisy. The poignant part of the whole thing is that he didn’t even get the kids after marrying the young girl.
The wedding was done following the laws and traditions of the land, and he lived a happy life with his wife, Ramabai. Ramabai also came from a family with the same social status as that Ranade. She belonged to the Kurlekar family.
Justice Ranade lived a life of a social reformer all his life. He genuinely fought for reforming the many wired and unfavorable social systems in India then. Ranade passed on in 1901 in Pune. He died at the age of 59 years.
His wife, Ramabai, upheld her husband’s legacy as a social reformer. Justice Ranade had no kids to succeed him.
Statue of Justice Ranade in Mumbai, Credit: versesane