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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Phulmoni Dasi rape case and today's doodle on Rukmabai Raut

The great-grandson of the British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne (later 1st Marquess of Lansdowne),  a peerage of Scotland, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th h Marquess of Lansdowne KG GCSI GCMG GCIE PC was born in 1845.  He was to serve as the fifth Governor General of Canada, Viceroy of India, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In 1917, during the First World War, he wrote to the press (the "Lansdowne Letter") vainly advocating a compromise peace. We are to know him as Lord Lansdowne was appointed Viceroy of India in the same year he left Canada. The viceroyalty, which he held from 1888 to 1894, was offered to him by the Conservative prime minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and marked the pinnacle of his career.   He quelled a rebellion in 1890 and is recorded for his   attempt in 1893 to curtail trial by jury was, however, over-ruled by home government.  His divisive  policies exacerbated tensions between Hindu and Muslims !

There are cases and landmark cases ~ this one of a 10 year old girl, Phulmoni Dasi will long be remembered.  The Phulmoni Dasi rape case was a case of child marriage and subsequent marital rape in India in 1889, that  led to the conviction of the husband in 1890 and triggered several legal reforms.

The Age of Consent Act, 1891, also Act X of 1891, was a legislation enacted in British India on 19 March 1891 which raised the age of consent for sexual intercourse for all girls, married or unmarried, from ten to twelve years in all jurisdictions, its violation subject to criminal prosecution as rape. The act was an amendment of the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 375, 1882, ("Of Rape"), and was introduced as a bill on 9 January 1891 by Sir Andrew Scoble in the Legislative Council of the Governor-General of India in Calcutta.  The case was supported by  President of the council, the Governor-General and Viceroy Lord Lansdowne.


While an 1880 case in a Bombay high court by a child-bride, Rukhmabai, renewed discussion of such a law, the tragic  death of this eleven-year-old Bengali girl, Phulmoni Dasi , due to forceful intercourse by her 35-year-old husband in 1889, necessitated intervention by judiciary.



Rukhmabai ( November 22, 1864 - September 25, 1955), was an Indian woman who became one of the first practicing women doctors in colonial India. She was also at the heart of a landmark legal case described above  She herself was married off at the age of eleven to a nineteen year old groom Dadaji Bhikaji Raut. She however continued to live in the house of her widowed mother Jayantibai who then married Assistant Surgeon Sakharam Arjun. When Dadaji and his family asked Rukhmabai to move to his home, she refused and was supported in her choice by her step-father. This led to a long series of court cases from 1884, a major public discussion on child marriage and on the rights of women. Rukhmabai wrote numerous letters in the newspapers under the pseudonym A Hindu Lady, winning the support of many and when she expressed a wish to study medicine, a fund was created to support her travel and study in England at the London School of Medicine. She subsequently went to England and returned to India as a qualified physician and worked for many years in a women's hospital in Rajkot.

            To honour her on her 153rd birthday, Google has dedicated its doodle showing a lady with a stethoscope around her neck, surrounded by women patients and nurses in a hospital.

In a petition to the Bombay High Court in March 1884, Dadaji plead to restore conjugal rights of the husband over his wife, and the court in its judgement directed Rukhmabai to comply or to go to prison. Rukhmabai refused and told the British India Court that she would suffer imprisonment rather than entering into conjugal relationship with her husband. Apart from being a doctor, Rukhmabai also worked for social causes. She wrote boldly against child marriage and women’s seclusion (purdah). On September 25, 1955, at the age of 91, Rukhmabai breathed her last.

Tailpiece :  Elizabeth Blackwell (1821 – 1910) was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, as well as the first woman on the UK Medical Register. She was the first woman to graduate from medical school, a pioneer in promoting the education of women in medicine in the United States; her  sister Emily was the third woman in the US to get a medical degree.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

22nd Nov. 2017.

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