In a country where most professions are still dominated by men, medicine was no exception to the rule – until a few names forced the world to think otherwise. The efforts of resilient female doctors, undaunted by patriarchy and male preference, is what helped Indian medicine become the mostly gender-neutral industry it is today.Doctor’s Day, celebrated on 1st July, is a day to pay homage to all the doctors who are playing significant roles and contributing to the welfare of the society.
However, when we look at the history of women’s struggle to have their own careers in India, we salute these women, who have paved the way for many others. Women doctors in India who rise to become great are to be especially applauded as they often do so against a patriarchal system that can be discriminatory – many women doctors in India who began with aspirations might fall off the grid just on account of their gender.
Dr Anandibai Joshi was the first woman doctor in India trained in the western discipline of medicine who graduated in 1885, but passed away too early in 1887 to leave a mark as a physician. However, her life made the path easier for later women doctors in India who were trailblazers in their own right, notably Dr Rukhmabai Raut who was also instrumental in increasing the age of consent from 10 to 12 years, in 1891, after which it has now gone up to 18 in 2013.
Haimabati Sen fought every inch of her way from being a child widow, through remarriage to practise medicine; Muthulakshmi Reddy, who, not content with being a doctor, ventured into politics, became a social reformer and institution builder and Mary Poonen Lukose, worked to build up Kerala’s public healthcare system which draws so much praise from all quarters today.
Dr Indira Hinduja will always be remembered for delivering the country’s first test-tube baby, all the way back in 1986. A gynaecologist, obstetrician, and infertility specialist, she received her medical degree from Mumbai University and has been practising in her hometown since. Hinduja is also credited with inventing the Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) technique, which resulted in the birth of the country’s first GIFT baby in 1988.