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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First Indian Women Doctor

                                                                           
Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi (30 July 1886 – 22 July 1968 Madras) was an eminent medical practitioner, social reformer and Padma Bhushan awardee in India. She was the first women legislator in India.Muthulakshmi Reddy, was appointed to the Chennai Legislative Council in 1927. For her, this nomination marked the beginning of her life-long effort to "correct the balance" for women by removing social abuses and working for equality in moral standards. 

She was one of the women pioneers who stood for the cause of liberating India from the British. She was a women activist and a social reformer too. Muthulakshmi had many firsts to her recognition. She was the first girl student to be admitted into a Men's College, the first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital, the first woman legislator in British India, the first Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board and the first woman Deputy President of the Legislative Council and the first Alderwoman of the Madras Corporation.

Early life

Muthulakshmi Reddi was born in the princely state of Pudukottai of Tamil Nadu. In spite of various constraints faced by girls in India of her time, she could complete her higher education, and was admitted into medical profession. In 1907, she joined the Madras Medical College, where she achieved a brilliant academic record. With several gold medals and prizes to her credit, Muthulakshmi graduated in 1912 to become one of the first woman doctors in India. Soon thereafter, she came under the influence of Annie Besant, and then of Mahatma Gandhi.

Her father was S. Narayanasami, an Iyengar and the principal of Maharaja's College. Her mother was Chandrammal, born to the Isai Vellalar community. S. Narayanasami broke with tradition and sent Muthulakshmi to school. The child's enthusiasm for learning was so great that Muthulakshmi's teachers decided to instruct her in subjects beyond those approved by her father. At the onset of puberty she was obliged to leave school, but tutoring continued at home. Chandrammal wanted to search for a bridegroom but Muthulakshmi had different aspirations. She expressed a need to be a different woman from the common lot. She pitied women for their subordination to men and inwardly rebelled whenever she heard people say that only boys needed education.

When Muthulakshmi passed the matriculation exam she applied for admission to Maharaja's College but her application was not welcomed by the principal at the time or the parents of other students. Her gender was a factor and so was her background. The principal thought she might "demoralize" the male students. The somewhat enlightened Maharaja of Pudukottah ignored these objections, admitted her to the college, and gave her a scholarship. Her father suggested she become a school teacher but she had higher aspirations. She entered Madras Medical College, completed her studies in 1912, and became house surgeon in the Government Hospital for Women and Children in Chennai. She later married Dr. D. T. Sandara Reddy on the demand that he promised to "always respect me as an equal and never cross my wishes." In 1914, when she was twenty-eight years of age, they married in accordance with the 1872 Native Marriage Act.

Influences on Muthulakshmi Reddy

During her college years, Muthulakshmi met Sarojini Naidu and began to attend women's meetings. She found women who shared her personal concerns and addressed them in terms of women's rights. The two great personalities who influenced her life were Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Annie Besant. They persuaded her to devote herself for the upliftment of women and children. She worked for women's emancipation at a time when women were confined in the four walls of their room.
  
Political career

She was nominated to the Madras Legislature as a member of legislative council in 1926, and became the first woman to be a member of any legislature in India. When she was elected as the Deputy Chairperson of the legislative council, she became the first woman in the world to become the Vice-President of a Legislature. She was the prime mover behind the legislation that abolished the devadasi system in 1929 and played a keen role in raising the minimum marriage age for women in India. In 1930, she resigned from the Madras Legislature as a protest following the imprisonment of Mahatma Gandhi. Under the influence of Gandhi and Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, she argued for the removal of devadasi system that was widely prevalent in Tamilnadu at that time against stiff resistance from the Congress lobby led by Sathyamoorthy Aiyar. She was the founder-president of the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) and became the first alderwoman of the Madras Corporation.

Dr Reddy was actively involved with several orphanage homes and women’s welfare organisations, and initiated measures to improve the medical facilities given to slum dwellers. In 1930, she founded Avvai Home, a home for destitute women and orphans at Besant Avenue, Adyar. As an MLC, she introduced a scheme of free education for girls up to class eight.

Adyar Cancer Institute

During her address at the Centenary celebration of the Madras Medical College in 1935, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy first expressed her desire to start a hospital for cancer patients. With the overwhelming support of like-minded people, the foundation stone for Adyar Cancer InstituteJawaharlal Nehru in 1952. The hospital which started functioning on June 18, 1954, was only the second of its kind in India and the first in south India. It is today a world-renowned institution offering treatment to nearly 80,000 cancer patients every year. 

Awards and Books

Her book named My Experience as a Legislature recounts her initiates in respect of social reforms taken by her in the Madras Legislature.
Government of India conferred on her Padma Bhushan in 1956 in recognition of her meritorious services to the nation.

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