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Have you heard of Joshee, Medhavi, Jhirad craters?

The International Astronomical Union has an interesting naming convention for craters on Venus: women who’ve made fundamental and outstanding contributions to their fields. Three such craters are named for Indian women

opinion Updated: Jan 27, 2018 14:56 IST
A stamp released in 1989 commemorating the life of Pandita Ramabai
A stamp released in 1989 commemorating the life of Pandita Ramabai

The International Astronomical Union has an interesting naming convention for craters on Venus: women who’ve made fundamental and outstanding contributions to their fields. Three such craters are named for Indian women.

Medhavi Crater: Ramabai Medhavi, women’s rights activist

Ramabai was born to a Sanskrit scholar in 1858 in Gangamoola, Karnataka. She was tutored by her father and gained a reputation of her own as a Sanskrit lecturer. Her family attempted to make Sanskrit works more accessible to people who would otherwise not be allowed to or couldn’t afford to study them. They toured the country to deliver lectures. In 1878, Rama was invited to speak at the University of Calcutta and was bestowed the scholarly title of ‘pandita’.

During her travels, Ramabai became keenly aware of discriminations imposed by caste and the sufferings of women throughout the country. She found the reality of social differences difficult to reconcile with brahminical teachings of kindness. Chancing upon the Gospel of St. Luke, she became curious about Christian teachings. However, her spiritual journey was interrupted by the untimely death of her husband, Bipin Medhavi.

She then moved to Pune and founded the Arya Mahila Samaj to promote women’s education and the campaign against child marriage. Her fame helped her travel to England where she converted to Christianity and taught Sanskrit to missionaries-in-training in exchange for staying at Cheltenham Ladies’ College until 1886.

She wrote The Upper Caste Hindu Woman, a book that spoke about the oppression of women, even among upper castes in the country. Proficient in seven languages, she also translated the Bible into Marathi from Hebrew and Greek.

She passed away in 1922 from bronchitis, leaving a legacy of institutions that fostered widows, child brides, and women’s education.

Joshee Crater: Anandibai Joshi, first Indian female physician

Born in 1865 in Kalyan, a nine-year old Anandi was married to 29-year old Gopalrao Joshi. Despite his progressive views on women’s education and widow remarriage, Anandi was often beaten if caught cooking instead of studying.

A fast learner, at the age of 14, she lost her infant son. This was a turning point in her life and pivoted her studies towards medicine for better natal care. Gopalrao took great efforts to enrol her in the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She was the first Indian woman to travel to America and she went there in 1883. At 21, she graduated with an MD and a thesis on obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos, becoming the first Indian woman to study western medicine abroad. Her graduation was attended by Ramabai.

She came back to India to much fanfare, sharing her fame with Kadambini Ganguly, who had become the first Indian woman to be granted a medical degree in India the same year.

Unfortunately, in 1887, less than a year later and just shy of 22, Anandi succumbed to tuberculosis.

Jhirad Crater: Jerusha Jhirad, transformative physician

Jerusha was born in Mysore in 1891 when the nation was still mourning Anandi. She graduated from Grant Medical College in Mumbai to set up her own general practice in 1912. Two years later, she became the first Indian woman to study abroad on an Indian government scholarship. She enrolled in the University of London and graduated with an M.D. in obstetrics and gynaecology in 1919. Upon her return to India, she practised in Delhi and Bangalore. In 1925, she was appointed honorary surgeon in Cama Hospital in Bombay, and in 1928, became the chief medical officer. Her Bene Israel community’s women were among the first to enter the medical field en masse.

Jerusha was a founding member of the Bombay Obstetric and Gynaecological Society, and its president in 1948. She campaigned for the rigorous development of medical and academic standards in Indian gynaecology. In 1950, she became the first president of Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India. She has to her credit a history of transforming prenatal, postnatal, sterility and obstetric care in Bombay. She also opened the first female hostel for postgraduates in medical studies in the country.

Her efforts to improve medical education in India and advance the cause of female physicians earned her the Member of the British Empire by the Crown in 1949, and the Padma Shri in 1966.

Sandhya Ramesh is a science writer based in Bengaluru

The views expressed are personal