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Dondo Keshav Karve

a pioneer of women's education and widows' rights in India

Dr. Dondo Keshav Karve

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, Maharashtra.

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 Human Equality.

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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This page was last updated on June 10, 2018.