Women’s Day is internationally celebrated on March 8. The concept of women empowerment is not something new; it’s a process that is on the run since the initiation of the 20th century or to be more precise since the end of the 19th century.Today, even in India, media plays an important role in shaping our thoughts and hence the process has become easier.
Let’s go back to the time, when Raja Ram Mohan Roy had shown the strength to stop ‘Sati’ with the help of Lord William Bentinck. During such a crucial juncture, the stage was set for the arrival of an empowering lady, who would take a major stride towards the ultimate goal, to give women the right to be educated, to make the superstitious Indian women understand the essence of their life and well-being. Sixteenth century Bengal saw the birth of such a prominent lady, none other than Rani Rashmoni.
Rani Rashmoni was married off to Babu Rajchandra Das at 11. Babu Rajchandra Das was a man of liberal mindset and had ties with Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He had already seen sparks of uniqueness in her wife, when she had rescued a lady from Sati and had shown the courage to stand up against stupid superstitions of contemporary womenfolk. He knew that his wife was capable of waging a fight against the then conservative society and could kindle the light of education among the oppressed women of the country. Keeping this in mind, he started taking necessary steps to get her wife educated in order to make her self-dependent and enlightened enough to be Bengal’s ‘Lokmata Rani Rashmoni’. However the procedure remained incomplete, as Rani Rashmoni had to deal with the terrible circumstance of her husband’s untimely demise. She by then had become the mother to four daughters and in the absence of an heir to the Janbazar Zamindari, the British had all eyes on their estate and was prepared to confiscate their property soon. However, she had other plans.
She became an able businesswoman and not only expanded the business of her in-laws but also took the entire responsibility of their estate in her own hands, a task, which was almost impossible for her contemporaries to imagine in their wildest dreams. She was a woman with a caring heart yet of strict principles. She not only compelled the British to stop their shipping business in her part of the Ganges for the sake of the livelihood of the poor fishermen but forced them to think twice before presenting any idea before her. She defied the British to support puja processions when the Englishmen had unlawfully barred it.
Her humanitarian approach was quite evident through her several attempts to keep her subjects happy, She built the famous Babughat in memory of her loving husband along with Ahiritola Ghat and Nimtala Ghat for the benefit of the everyday bathers at the Ganges.
As we all know, she was a very spiritual lady and by means of her immense belief and goodness she even successfully converted a group of dacoits into a band of able fishermen. Today, people remember Rani Rashmoni for her act of establishing the famous Dakhineswar Kali temple. This only tells us only about her spiritual side. To enlighten the readers more, it is very important to mention about her generous donations to the then Imperial Library (now National Library) and The Hindu College (The Presidency University), which tells us about her love for education. Even, she had given Prince Dwarakanath Tagore the necessary loan by keeping a part of his land mortgaged in order to arrange for his journey to Britain. Thus, she with considerable help of Mathur Babu, one of her son-in-laws, had built an empire which even the British feared to tread upon; such was her character and influence. She is one of the major personalities to have initiated this operation for women’s empowerment in our poverty-stricken country. On this Women’s Day, we pay homage to the enlightening philanthropist who showed immense strength and courage to stand up against the wrong practices of the society.
The writer is Coordinator, Class XI, Gokhale Memorial Girls School