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Ganguly, Kadambini


Ganguly, Kadambini (1861-1923) one of the two first female graduates and the first qualified female doctor in Bengal. Born in Kolkata on 18 July 1861, her father was Braja Kishor Basu, who hailed from Barisal and was the headmaster of a government school. Despite getting enormous help and encouragement from her father, she had to struggle hard to pursue her education as, at that time, there was no girls' school where she could study beyond primary level. However, opportunities started to unfold as Annette Ackroyd, an enlightened English woman, came to Kolkata in December 1872 and, with the help of her Brahmo friends, including manomohan ghosh, Dwarakanath Ganguly, Durgamohan Das and Annada Charan Khastagir, established, in September 1873, the first girls' school for 'higher education' (i.e. high school education), Hindu Mahila Vidyalay. Dwarakanath Ganguly, who had earlier edited a women's monthly, called Abala Bandhab (1869), was appointed its headmaster.

Even though the school lost some of its steam with the marriage of Annette Ackroyd to henry beveridge, it was revived and rejuvenated in June 1876 by the progressive Brahmos and was named Banga Mahila Vidyalay. The school decided to follow the syllabus prescribed by Kolkata University for its Entrance Examination. Two years later in 1878, it was merged with Bethune School, which retained its name. In 1879 Kadambini passed her Entrance Exam as the first girl ever to gain this distinction; and was admitted, as the only student, to a class what was the beginning of Bethune College. In 1883, along with Chandramukhi Bose, a Bengali Christian, she qualified as one of the first two female graduates in the whole of the British Empire. Chandramukhi later became the first female MA.

After completing her graduation, Kadambini decided to study medicine in the face of strong opposition from some teachers of Kolkata Medical College. She also had to face tough hostility when she took her final exam as one of the examiners, known to be opposed to women studying medicine, failed her by one mark. The college, however, gave her a special degree that permitted her to practise medicine.

Conservative Hindus were unsympathetic towards her since she had taken her Entrance Exam and became more so when she was admitted to medicine. One of the popular Hindu periodicals, Babgabasi, indeed, started a campaign of hatred against her when she started working as a doctor, vilifying her for not being properly qualified. Although the court for libel eventually imprisoned the editor, Kadambini took the hostility of Bangbasi as a challenge and went to Britain in March 1893, where she did higher medical diplomas from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin Universities. She was the first Indian woman to have achieved this rare distinction.

In her personal life, she married at the age of twenty-one a widower, 39 (and her teacher), Dwaraka Nath Ganguly. The marriage outraged not only conservative Hindus, but some of Dwarakanath's close Brahmo friends as well.

Apart from being a doctor, she was also a philanthropist and a patriot. Along with swarna kumari devi, she represented Bengal in 1889 session of the indian national congress. She was also one of the organisers of the Women's Conference held in Kolkata in 1906. As a philanthropist, she supported the cause of the women labourers in the tea gardens of Assam and those in Bihar coal mines. [Ghulam Murshid]

Bibliography Chitra Dev, Mahila Daktar: Bhin Graher Basinda, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1994; D Kopf, Brahmo Smaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind, Princeton U. Press, 1979; Ghulam Murshid, Reluctant Debutante: Response of Bengali Women to Modernization, Sahitya Samsad, Rajshahi, 1983.