Mahadev Govind Ranade was an Indian social reformer, a distinguished scholar and founding member of Indian National Congress. He was among the foremost reformers who denounced the caste system and untouchability. He advocated social reforms such as widow re-marriage, liberation of women and emancipation of the oppressed classes. As a judge, he exercised his powers to promote equality of the sexes, the spread of education, rescuing children and widows from social injustices, and protection of agricultural workers and land tenants from exploitation. He always advocated the use of constitutional and legal ways for attaining freedom and bringing in social reforms. Later, he became involved in the working of a number of institutions aiming at social, economic and political advancement of India such as the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, the Social Conference, Industrial Conference and the Prarthana Samaj. As a founder member of the Indian National Congress, his influence was inescapable. He was also considered to be a great historian who played a decisive role in the modernization of the Indian economy. He also published books on Indian economics and on Maratha history. He considered Western education as a vital element for the formation of a new and progressive India. A reformer, lover of justice and a believer of equality among all, he inspired many other Indian social reformers through his works.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on January 18, 1842 in Niphad, a Taluka town in Nashik district, Maharashtra in a Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmin family. His father was a minister.
At the age of six, he attended a Marathi school in Kolhapur and was later transferred to an English school in 1851. When he was 14, his father sent him to study in the Elphinstone College, Bombay.
He belonged to the very first batch of students in Bombay University. He acquired the B.A. degree in the year 1862 and then obtained L.L.B. from the Government Law School in 1866. He achieved distinctions in all his degree courses and remained a scholarship holder almost throughout his academic career.
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In 1871, he was appointed as the Presidency Magistrate, a rank for the fourth judge in the Bombay Small Causes Court.
In 1873, he became the first-class sub-judge at Pune and then in 1884, he was elected as the judge of the Poona Small Causes Court.
From 1885 he belonged to the Bombay legislative council until he became a member of the Bombay High Court in the year 1893.
In 1885, he also helped in the formation of the Indian National Congress Party, which essayed a major role in the independence movement of India. From 1887, he became a special judge under the Deccan Agriculturists' Relief Act.
In 1897, he became a member of a committee which was allotted the task of tallying national and local expenditure along with necessary recommendations to stabilize the financial condition. For his services in the committee, he received the decoration of Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire.
Throughout his career, he also served at the positions of syndic and dean in arts at the Bombay University. He also encouraged the translation of standard English works and tried to introduce vernacular languages into the university curriculum.
He co-founded the ‘Prarthana Samaj’ with his friends Atmaram Pandurang, Bal Mangesh Wagle and Vaman Abaji Modak, to propagate theism based on the holy Vedas. He was also the founder of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha and Ahmednagar Education Society.
He was instrumental in the establishment of the Social Conference movement, which worked against child marriages, the shaving of widows' heads, and spending heavily in marriages and other social functions.
He also published books on Indian economics and on Maratha history which includes ‘Rise of the Maratha Power' (1900).
His most noteworthy accomplishment was his continuous social and political efforts in order to reform the Indian society. He stressed on the rights of women and children and also fought against the caste system. He also contributed towards development of a stable economy by promoting the development of indigenous small industries.
Another major work which he undertook was the establishment of the ‘Prarthana Samaj’, a Hindu movement inspired by the Brahmo Samaj, advocating principles of enlightened belief based on the ancient Vedas. He was also one of the leading personalities behind the formation of Indian National Congress.
One of his notable works was the formation of the Social Conference movement, which he supported throughout his life. He actively supported widow remarriage and female education and raised his voice in support of abolition of child marriages.
Personal Life & Legacy
When his first wife died, he married a child bride, Ramabai Ranade, who he subsequently supported in receiving an education.
He died on January 16, 1901, due to angina pectoris, commonly referred to as chest pain, in Poona, India. After his death, Ramabai continued his social and educational reform work. He had no children.