Born in a Devadasi family, Muthulakshmi went on demanding her freedom to the point of freeing women all across the country and breaching the barrier of medicine, even setting up a cancer institute.
The Tamil Nadu government on Monday announced 30th July to be celebrated as ‘Hospital Day’ every year, at the birth anniversary of one of the country’s successful medical practitioner, social reformer and Padma Bhushan awardee in the early 20th century and the Tamil Nadu’s first woman legislator Muthulakshmi Reddi. ‘Hospital Day’ will be celebrated by showcasing the achievements and initiative taken up by the medical fraternity and Hospitals.
Born in 1886 in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukkottai, Muthulakshmi Reddi broke many barriers of the society, education, medicine and law. She became India’s first female doctor.
Muthulakshmi Reddi’s father S. Narayanaswami Iyer married Chandrammal, a Devdasi women, which led him to become an outcast to his own community and family. Reddi grew up with the traditions and teaching of Devdasi and all her young years with the maternal side of her family. Being close to the Devdasi traditions Muthulakshmi soon grew compassionate towards the hardships and unjust these women went through.
Her father was the former principal of Maharajah College. When Muthulakshmi rebelled against early marriage and chose her education instead her father stood by her in full support. However, the parents of the students and the principal thought Muthulakshmi will “demoralize” the male students but with the support of the Maharaja himself and the encouragement of her father Muthulakshmi became the first woman ever to get admission in in an all-boys Maharajah College. In spite of all the restrictions placed on girls in her time she completed her education.
Reddi later became the first woman in her town to opt for higher education – at the Madras Medical College. She completed her studies in 1912, and became house surgeon in the Government Hospital for Women and Children in Chennai making her the first ever female medical practitioner in India.
Muthulakshmi Reddi also became the first Indian woman to become a member of a legislative council, when she was elected vice-president of the Madras Legislative Council in 1918.
In her capacity as a legislator, she campaigned for many social reforms for women. One of them was the abolition of the Devadasi system. Muthulakshmi showed compassion and special dedication to the issues of Devdasi women and understood that the essence of their devotion lied in performing art for their gods and temples and not for the entertainment for public or private parties. Muthulakshmi worked hard to band the anyone from making the Devdasi perform for public or private functions.
She passed the bill for the suppression of brothels and immoral trafficking in women and children. A home for girls and women was opened through her efforts to provide shelter to those rescued from brothels.
Muthulakshmi also played a key role in helping raise the minimum age of marriage for girls at India.
In recognition for her vast contribution in social work Muthulakshmi Reddi was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award of the government of India, in 1956.
Her list of accomplishments doesn’t end here, in 1954 Muthulakshmi set up the Adyar Cancer Institute in Madras. Muthulakshmi was not only a doctor but a lawmaker, educator, reformer, a feminist in its true sense and most importantly a rebel that challenged societal norms to the point of changing it. Her contribution has not only shaped the independence of women but also contributed to the independence of the country.