Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi - The Great Reformer
Government of India conferred Dr. Mrs. Muthulakshmi Reddi, the first Indian to be medical graduate, first ever member of a state assembly and first deputy speaker of any legislative assembly anywhere in the world, with Padama Bhushan in 1956 for her services for the nation. She was among the founder members of ‘Women Indian Association’ who took an active part to make it a big success.
Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi was a very successful medical practitioner and a popular social worker prior to her election as a member of legislative assembly of Madras Legislative Council. She had traveled abroad for her education purpose and later for the purpose of participation in conferences related to women’s cause, therefore when her name was proposed for Madras presidency membership, she was an unopposed choice. She was immediately elected as deputy speaker as soon as she became the member of the house.
Introduction of Muthulakshmi Reddi
Muthulakshmi was born in on July 30, 1886 at Pudukottai in Madras State. She suffered from Asthma right from a very young age of 9 or 10 but the girl who suffered from illnesses for a long time showed the world her charisma later as a very successful lady. She was brought up in an age when the system did not allow education for girls. The Deewan of Pudukottai had started a school for the purpose of education of local girls but despite the offer of scholarships, very few girl students took the admission in that school. Muthulakshmi was sent to the school by her father in a covered vehicle, hidden from the public view. There was no clock or books in the school. She was given a book written on leaves. Her father had requested her class teacher to train her enough so that she could manage the domestic accounts of laundry and milk.
There was no provision to teach English to girls but seeing the talent of Muthulakshmi, she was taught English up to First Standard. Her father was a learned man, principal of Maharaja College who was known and respected for his strict discipline, strong character, generosity and keeping his words. Seeing her interest and talent in education, he encouraged Muthulakshmi to study further. She appeared in matriculation examination that was a tough job those days. Only 10% students would manage to clear that exam those days and Muthulakshmi Reddi was the only girl student that passed the exam that particular year. She later passed her intermediate exams but had to skip one year due to her illness but she was admitted in the Madras medical college on the recommendation of king of Pudukottai.
There was no hostel facility available for girls in the medical college and also the Christian hostels were not preferred for girls those days, therefore Muthulakshmi was housed in a private place. Her Asthma worsened during her education but she did not give up her efforts and continued with her best efforts to obtain very good marks in her exams. Incidentally, there was not a single girl student in medical education from Christian or Anglo-Indian community. In such an atmosphere, a Hindu girl medical student became the target of jealousy in the local circles. But Muthulakshmi Reddi proved her merit after the first year results were declared and she succeeded with flying colors. She further proved herself in third and fourth year when she managed to obtain 100% marks in Surgery, considered a man-oriented subject.
Social activities of Muthulakshmi Reddi
Muthulakshmi Reddi became the first doctor in India with distinction in Surgery and Honors in the year 1912. There were few lady doctors in India but they were trained in foreign countries. Soon there were number of job offers for Muthulakshmi Reddi and she was appointed the first Lady Surgeon in Egmore’ women and children hospital. In 1913, she was married to Dr. Sundar Reddi, F.R.C.S. the surgeon in King George Hospital. The marriage was according to her personal choice and on her own conditions that she will live her life on her conditions and according to her own preferences. She opened her own clinic in Madras in 1914 as a private practitioner and became very famous instantly. During that period she got the chance of meeting many renowned politicians like Sarojini Naidu and started taking part in social and women related activities. In 1925, she went abroad on government add for higher education and represented Indian women in a women’s conference held in Paris in 1926. She was elected for the Madras Presidency in the same year when returned to India. Incidentally, she opened the first Indian Child Hospital in Madras.
Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi carried out a number of social works for women in her capacity of a Member of legislative assembly. She worked hard against Devdasi tradition and brought a bill for removal of this bad practice going on in temples for ages. Finally, she succeeded in her struggle against this social evil and had the bill passed in 1929. She brought many bills for approval in the assembly related to education and health of women and children welfare. She was the one who started the procedure of regular health check-up of children in schools. She opened various specialty centers for treatment of infants, hospitals for women and children, appointed women medical service and especially allocated funds for education of women. In fact, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi recommended free education to women and children in India.
Her Social Activities
By year 1930, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi was fully active in various social works and started institutions such as ‘Awai Home’ for orphan children and run these centers successfully. Later in 1951, she established the first cancer hospital in south India. She was appointed member in the Hartog Committee under Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms. She traveled allover India and Burma to study the situation and submitted her report to help the cause of women’s educational condition in the country. She was one of the members along with princes Amrit Kour and Begum Sharif Hamid Ali that represented India in Round table Conference in !929 held in London to discuss the issues related to women organizations in India.
She resigned from the post of Deputy Speaker of the state assembly during the Namak Satyagrah agitation in 1929-30 after Mahatma Gandhi was arrested and other women agitators were beaten badly by the British police force. She participated openly in fight for Freedom along with other renowned Indian leaders. After our country got its independence, she was again elected member of state assembly of Madras and elected first Chairwomen of Madras State Welfare Board. She was also the Elder Women of Madras City Corporation during that period. Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi the great reformer of Indian social circles and great follower of Mahatma Gandhi and Annie Besant left for her Heavenly abode on 22 July in 1968.
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