When the British were ruling India through the East India Company, the condition of Indian womenfolk was almost pitiful. They were confined behind veils and had to endure the brunt of social evils like Sati (burnt alive on the pyre of their husbands) and child marriage. Getting educated was also a far-off thing for them and becoming working professionals was totally unthinkable. Even the so-called progressive Brahmo Samaj’s leaders acted as a deterrent in women getting higher education.
On 18th July 1861, a woman was born in Bhagalpur, Bihar, who would go on to challenge the status quo of this male-dominated society and not only curve a niche for herself but also become a flag bearer for all womenfolk. She was Kadambini Ganguly, who along with Anandibai Joshi, went on to become the first two women physicians from not India but also the complete British Empire.
She had the blessings of a progressive father, Braja Kishore Basu, who was not only the headmaster of Bhagalpur School but also championed the cause of women emancipation in Bhagalpur by setting up the Bhagalpur Mahila Samiti in the year 1863. This happened to be the first women’s organization in the entire country.
She also was fortunate to be married to Dwarkanath Ganguly in 1883, who also championed the cause of reforms for womenfolk. Both of them worked tirelessly together to uplift the condition of women in that era.
Initially educated at Banga Mahila Vidyalaya, Kadambini then shifted to Bethune School and during her educational stint there in 1878, she became the first woman to pass the entrance examination of the University of Calcutta. She along with Chandramukhi Basu were the first female graduates of not only India but the entire British empire.
She then went on to study medicine at Calcutta Medical College and in 1886 graduated to become along with Anandibai Joshi, the first two women who had officially qualified for practicing Western Medicine. This was achieved while overcoming severe resistance from the orthodox male-dominated society of those times. She went for further studies to the United Kingdom in 1892 and successfully completed LRCP (Edinburgh), LRCS (Glasgow), and GFPS (Dublin). After her return, she worked in Lady Dufferin Hospital for a short period following which she set up her own practice.
She is indeed a role model for not only the women of today, who must be thankful to her for elevating their status to the level of the men but the men should also thank her because she made them realise the fact that women are not inferior to them in any sphere and in fact can surpass them easily in all activities per se.
On her 159th Birth Anniversary, we pay rich tributes to this feisty lady, who struggled all her life but ensured a much smoother life for women of the subsequent generations.