|Dondo Keshav Karve
a pioneer of women's education and
widows' rights in India
Dondo Keshav Karve was born at
Sheravali, Maharashtra, on April 18, 1858. When
he was 14, his parents arranged a marriage for
him to an 8-year-old girl named Radhabai; the
couple was officially married when he was 20.
Radhabai died while giving birth to their only
son, Raghunath, in 1891. From 1891 to 1914, Karve
taught mathematics at Fergusson College in Pune,
In 1893, Karve broke from
tradition and chose to marry a 23-year-old widow
named Godubai. At that time, it was customary for
widows to never remarry and to have to rely on
charity from their relatives in order to survive,
so Godubai was also breaking from a long-standing
tradition. She also broke tradition by studying
at Pandita Ramabai's Sharada Sadan as its first
widow student. Godubai's achievements,
combined with the work of Pandita Ramadai and
others, inspired Karve to work for female
education and for uplifting the status of widows
in India. In 1893, he founded an organization
which encouraged the marriage of widows and
helped needy children of widows.
In 1896, Karve established a
Hindu Widows' Home Association and started a
shelter and school for women (including widows)
at Hingne, a village outside Pune. He established
the home outside Pune because the Brahmin
community, of which Karve was a part, had
ostracized him for his activities. For years
Karve walked the several miles from Hingne to
Pune to teach at the college. In his spare time
he collected donations to keep the home
operating. Subsequently named Maharshi Karve
Stree Shikshan Samstha, the home still operates
to this day.
While operating the widows'
home, Karve began working to establish a college
for women in India. In 1916, despite serious
social restrictions against educating women, and
a government that was far less than enthusiastic,
he established the first university for women in
India at Pune, with an initial enrollment of five
students. In 1920, Sir Vithaldas Thackersey, an
industrialist and philanthropist from Bombay,
donated 1.5 million rupees to the university,
which was subsequently renamed Shreemati Nathibai
Damodar Thackersey Indian Women's University (Nathibai
Thackersey was Sir Vithaldas Thackersey's mother).
The university moved its headquarters to Bombay
in 1936, and was recognized by the Indian
government as a statutory university in 1949. The
university still operates today, under the
official name of SNDT Women's University.
From 1929 to 1931, Karve toured
Europe, America, and Africa, giving lectures on
the status of women in India. In 1936, he started
the Maharashtra Village Primary Education Society
with the goal of opening primary schools in
villages currently without state-run schools.
Karve also worked for the aboliton of the caste
system and untouchability in India, and, in 1944,
he founded the Association for the Promotion of
In 1958, the government of
India awarded its highest civilian honor to
Karve, the Bharat Ratna.
Dondo Keshav Karve died at
Pune, India, on November 9, 1962.
Karve was the author of two
autobiographical works: Atmawrutta
(1928), in Marathi, and Looking Back
(1936), in English.
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