Muthulakshmi Reddi: Trailblazer, Pathbreaker, Lightgiver
Here's am ode to the legend Muthulakshmi Reddi was. Kudos.
Today, July 30, 2019, Google celebrated the 133rd birthday of Muthulakshmi Reddi, one of the coolest, most intelligent, most awesome women in Indian history. She was a trail blazer of her time, marking the first of many aspects of life for women in British India. You know why? Not only was she the first woman to ever work as a surgeon in a government hospital, she was also the first female legislator in colonial India. Here’s our ode to the woman she was:
Muthulakshmi Reddi was born in Tamil Nadu in 1883. As was the custom, her parents tried to arrange an early marriage for her; but she vehemently resisted. She was able to convince them to give her the freedom to pursue her education - and so she did, with elan. She topped her school exams, and then joined the prestigious Maharaja College. Maharaja was formerly an all-boys school, and upon her enrolment, a number of the students threatened to pull out.
Nevertheless, she persisted. Oh, and how.
She won a scholarship at the College, graduated with honours, and then further continued to study and be a complete badass by becoming the first female student in the Department of Surgery at Madras Medical College.
I mean, come on. How could she possibly get better than this?
In 1912, she finished her medical education and became the first woman house surgeon in India, at the Government Maternity Hospital, Madras. At the time, she was one of the first female doctors in the entire country.
Okay. So she was brilliant at medicine. But that’s not all!
Reddi was hard-core into politics and female political representation. She founded the Women’s Indian Association in 1918, and then went on to become the first woman member of the Madras Legislative Council. This made her the first woman legislator in India. She also happened to be the vice-president of the Council.
Next level, right?
While she was a part of the Council, she did some remarkable work - she worked towards abolishing the Devadasi system, raised the minimum age of marriage for girls, and campaigned for the passing of the Immoral Traffic Control Act. All these laws were immensely important and necessary feminist laws that helped create a better future for posterity, and millions of her peers.
As a part of her advocacy for saving women from the devadasi system, she established the Avvai Home to shelter, rehabilitate, and educate young women caught within the system. Legend has it that she established the Home when three devadasi girls knocked on her door, seeking help.
She also established the Adyar Cancer Institute, which today still continues to be one of the top cancer centres in the world. Reddi's legacy of strong female leadership continues there, as the Institute is now headed by Dr. Shantha, another trail blazing, brilliant woman of our time. Reddi was also a strong supporter of Gandhi’s march towards Independence. She was a constant feminist voice within the Satyagraha movement, working towards battling gender equality. You can read her eloquent treatise on the emancipation of women, published in the Hindu on August 15, 1947, here.
Muthulakshmi Reddi did get married, in 1914, after she was established as a surgeon; and this marriage was one she entered into on her own terms, as an equal to her husband, who was a doctor as well.
Here’s why Muthulakshmi Reddi, and all the trailblazing feminists of the past are important - without them, we wouldn’t know we had the right to vote. Without them, we might not imagine that women could be surgeons. Without them, we might not have women who are legislators, and members of Parliament. 2019 saw a Lot Sabha with more female MPs than ever before. Every privilege we enjoy today rests on the shoulders of the women who came before us. Every door that is open to us is open because these women marched through when they were closed.
Muthulakshmi was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956 in recognition of her constant battle for the betterment of this country. And she's had a google doodle dedicated to her now, which, let's face it, means that she has officially arrived. And yet - she deserves so much more. She deserves to be ingrained in our memories as the woman who could, and as the reason so many of us now, can.