Google doodle for Rukhmabai Raut, but India’s first woman doctor Kadambini Ganguly remains forgotten

Hindustan Times | By, Kolkata
Nov 23, 2017 12:03 PM IST

Ganguly obtained a degree in medicine in 1886. She started practice the same year and continued till 1923 when she passed away.

Google paid a doodle tribute to Rukhmabai Raut on her 153rd birthday on Wednesday for being one of the first women doctors of India, but the distinction of being the first belonged to Kadambini Ganguly, who passed out from Calcutta Medical College in 1886, a good eight years before Raut qualified as a physician.

In 1882 Kadambini Ganguly also became the country’s first woman to obtain a graduate degree (BA).(Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)
In 1882 Kadambini Ganguly also became the country’s first woman to obtain a graduate degree (BA).(Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Ganguly (1861-1923) was a gynecologist. She was also the first Indian woman to obtain a graduate degree (BA) in 1882.

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In 1886, she became the first practising lady physicians in south Asia trained in European medicine. Three year later, in 1889, she also became first woman to be on the dais of an Indian National Congress session.

Sohini Sengupta (centre) in the role of Kadambini Ganguly in Nandikar’s play. (Photo Courtesy: Nandikar)
Sohini Sengupta (centre) in the role of Kadambini Ganguly in Nandikar’s play. (Photo Courtesy: Nandikar)

Famous Bengali theatre group Nandikar is now staging a play on the life and times of Ganguly.

Ganguly’s persona and achievements drew the attention of a wide range of people from Florence Nightingale to Annie Besant. She was also a busy mother bringing up eight children, including two step children.

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Incidentally, Ganguly and Anandibai Joshi (from Mumbai) both obtained degrees in medicine in 1886. While Ganguly passed from Calcutta Medical College, Joshi obtained her degree from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in the US. However, Joshi’s career was cut short by her untimely death early in 1887, at the age of 21.

In 1892, Ganguly went to England and obtained further training from Dublin, Glasgow and Edinburgh. She returned and joined Lady Dufferin Hospital in Kolkata. Ganguly continued to practise till the day she breathed her last on October 3, 1923.

“Now when women’s liberation movement is picking up pace in India, Ganguly’s example should guide us. She showed women’s liberation did not exclude males, not the least being anti-male. Her story reveals how men and women walk hand in hand in this struggle,” said Sohini Sengupta, the director of the play ‘Rani Kadambini’ in Nandikar. Sengupta plays the role of Ganguly.

Kadambini was the second wife of Dwarakanath Ganguly, a prominent Brahmo Samaj leader, who lost his first wife a few years before he tied the knot with her.

“Breaking social norms was not easy. Her profession demanded visiting patients at night and she attracted criticism from many corners. One popular vernacular newspaper even called her a whore but she and her husband fought a legal battle to win compensation and got the editor jailed for six months,” Rajib Ganguly, 58, Kadambini’s great grandson, told HT.

Ganguly’s family is working on a book centered around the couple’s inspirational life.

Rukhmabai Raut, who obtained medical degree in 1894, was less fortunate in getting family support. She was caught in a bitter legal battle with her husband in the court as she sought to divorce her husband to whom she was married as a child.

The Bhikaji vs. Rukhmabai case of 1885, filed by her husband seeking “restitution of conjugal rights” continued till 1888. The verdict went in favour of her husband. But indomitable Raut wrote to Queen Victoria who overturned Indian court’s order.

In 1989 Raut sailed to England, enrolled herself in the London School of Medicine for Women and qualified as a doctor in 1894.

It was during her stay in England that child marriage was banned in British India as a direct fallout of her battle. She started practising soon after arriving in India and continued till 1929, when she retired.


    Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, principal correspondent, Hindustan Times, Kolkata, has been covering politics, socio-economic and cultural affairs for over 10 years. He takes special interest in monitoring developments related to Maoist insurgency and religious extremism.

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