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Dr Anandibai Joshi: A Phenomenal Physician Who Needs To Be Recognised

Author: Kartik Krishna
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date: December 24, 2017
URL:   https://swarajyamag.com/amp/story/ideas%2Fdr-anandibai-joshi-a-phenomenal-physician-who-needs-to-be-recognised?__twitter_impression=true

It’s time the country honoured Dr Anandibai Joshi, who fought all odds to blaze a trail in women’s education.

Among the leading social justice crusaders of the 1800s and 1900s, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Mahatma Phule and Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar was Dr Anandibai Joshi, a forgotten physician who blazed a trail in women’s education. She was amongst the first Indian women to obtain a medical degree from the Women’s Medical College, Pennsylvania, US. It is a matter of shame that even after her 152nd birth anniversary not a single medical institution or a memorial exists in honour of this great lady, who was a pioneer in the field of education for women.

Birth And Early Life Of Dr Anandibai Joshi

Born as Yamuna in Kalyan, Maharashtra, on 31 March 1865 to Gunapatrao Amritaswar Joshi and Gungabai Joshi, she showed a remarkable sense of curiosity for Hindu spirituality at a tender age of four when she asked her father about the need for worshiping images that resemble her dolls. Her father would often be in awe of her and thought that the child was born for a special purpose. She started receiving her education from Gopal Vinayak Joshi, who was a clerk with the postal department, and would later become her husband. Gopal Vinayak Joshi was a widower and a social reformer, who fought for the education of Hindu women. He would later become the driving force of her education in America. Gopal Joshi after marriage gave her the name Anandibai (the joy of my heart).

Things turned around when 14-year-old Anandibai lost her first child, which was just 10 days old due to a lack of a competent physician. That’s when she resolved to become a physician, and she would later say: “A child's death does no harm to its father, but its mother does not want it to die."

Quest For Becoming A Physician And Dr Wilder’s Racist Letter

Anandibai started going to missionary schools to obtain her education, but as a Hindu, she was often infuriated by the treatment meted out by them to the Hindus. She started going back to these schools only after her husband convinced her.

Meanwhile, while she was pursuing her high school education, Gopal Joshi wrote letters to various American philanthropists and missionaries seeking help for Anandibai to study medicine in America. After consistent efforts of Gopal Joshi, one of his letters was published by the Missionary Review on the sole purpose that the editor of the review, Dr John Wilder, could reply to it. He published his review with a reply to Gopal Joshi’s letter on 14 October 1878, which had deep prejudice and hatred for the non-Abrahamic religions in colonial countries and said that he did not want to see any Hindus in America and wanted Anandibai to confess to Christ before she lands on the American soil.

In the letter, Dr Wilder showed his racial hatred and came up with a weird logic about the Hindus not prepared intellectually and morally to live in the American society with freedom. His letter said:

“The Oriental Christ, I have seen no Hindu who seemed to me prepared intellectually and morally for the freedom he would find in American society; nor are Americans prepared for the air of innocence and exaltation worn by very undeserving Orientals.”

Fight Against The Hindu Orthodoxy And The Missionaries

Meanwhile, after the publication of this letter, in early spring of 1880s a lady named Mrs Carpenter, who had no idea of India or the Hindus read this letter in the little town of Roselle, New Jersey, and wrote back on March 1880 expressing her interest to help Anandibai, and that she was willing to provide shelter to the young woman in her home.

What later followed, as Carpenter said, was a regular course on Hindu manners, customs and religious rites. The correspondence between Anandibai and Carpenter provides a deep insight into what Anandibai thought about Hinduism and its spiritual aspects. Despite being mocked at by both the orthodox Hindus and the Christians she did not lose hope and drew inspiration from Raja Harishchandra, who is considered a beacon of truth in Hindu mythology.

In a letter dated 26 November 1881, she said how the women from the missionaries forced the students to read the Bible and how she revolted against it and threatened to drop out of the school until her husband persuaded her otherwise.

In the letter, she spoke about the Christian centrist belief of the missionaries: “I have all along found the Missionaries very headstrong, and contemptuous of the faiths of others. How arbitrary would it be if I were to say that all you believed was nonsense, and all I believed was just and proper!”

Anandibai stood up against the vicious conversion cycles and the propaganda of the missionaries against the Hindus. She tirelessly fought against the superstitious orthodox beliefs, which were reflected in her letter dated 18 April 1882, where she said:

“It is customary among us to eat "Vida" compounded of thirteen ingredients, namely betel leaves, betel nut, chunam, almond, camphor, saffron, cloves, cardamon, and so on. This "Vida" stains the teeth, tongue and mouth a red color. Some of these Bengalis stain the outside of their lips and so expose themselves to contempt.”

She said how vida was eaten by even educated women and how those stains exposed them to contempt.

In the letter, she spoke with confidence about how the missionary, which she left, would be closed because of the obstinacy of its founder Miss Robson.

A Remarkable Speech At The Baptist College

In a remarkable speech at the Baptist College on 24 February 1883, Anandibai answered all the questions that were raised by the orthodoxy and eloquently spoke about the need for female Hindu doctors.

“La. There are some female doctors in India from Europe and America, who being foreigners and different in manners, customs and language, have not been of such use to our women as they might. As it is very natural that Hindu ladies who love their own country and people should not feel at home with the natives of other countries, we Indian women absolutely derive no benefit from these foreign ladies. They indeed have the appearance of supplying our need, but the appearance is delusive. In my humble opinion, there is a growing need for Hindu lady doctors in India, and I volunteer to qualify.”
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