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Dhondo Keshav Karve

(1858 – 1962) – (Maharashtra)

Dr. Dhondo Keshav Karve (Aged 104) also known as Anna Karve, was born on April 18, 1858 in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. He was a pioneer in empowering women and promoting widows’ education in pre-independence India. Child marriages were prevalent in Indian society in the early twentieth century, and Karve was married off to an eight-year-old girl named Radhabai when he was only fourteen years old. Unfortunately, his wife died in childbirth in 1891, leaving him with a young son named Raghunath Karve, who grew up to be a visionary social reformer like his father.

Karve earned a math degree from Elphinstone College and taught math at Fergusson College in Pune from 1891 to 1914. He was inspired by figures like Pandita Ramabai, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar to promote women’s empowerment. He founded the “Widhawa-Wiwahottejak Mandali” in 1893 to encourage widow remarriage and care for their children, and the “Hindu Widow’s Home Association” in 1896 to provide a shelter and school for widows in Hingane.

He established the Mahila Vidyalaya in 1907 and the Nishkam Karma Math in 1908 to train workers for the widows’ home and Mahila Vidyalaya. In 1916, he founded India’s first women’s university in Pune with five students. He also founded the Training College for Primary School Teachers and the Kanya Shala, a girls’ school from 1917 to 1918. The university was later renamed after him as “Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (S.N.D.T.) Indian Women’s University” when a philanthropic industrialist named Vithaldas Thackersey donated 1.5 million Indian rupees to the university in 1920.

Karve wrote two autobiographies, “Atmawrutta” in Marathi (1928) and “Looking Back” in English (1936). In March 1929, he travelled to Malvern, England, to attend the Primary Teachers’ Conference. At a meeting of the East India Association in London’s Caxton Hall, he spoke on “Women’s Education in India.” He embarked on a yearlong tour of Africa in December 1930, sharing information about his work for women in India in places like Mombasa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar. He founded the “Samata Sangh” (Association for the Promotion of Human Equality) in 1944.

The Government of India recognized S.N.D.T. University as a proper statutory university in 1949. In 1955, the Government of India bestowed upon him the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor. On his centennial birthday in 1958, he received the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor. Stamps commemorating his birth centenary were issued by the Indian government in 1958, featuring a living person for the first time in independent India. Karve passed away by 1962.