Dr. Motibai Kapadia: Gujarat's first lady doctor treated sexism and untouchability too


May 20, 2013

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Dr Motibai Kapadia (1867-1930) obtained a degree in medicine in 1889, just three years after Anandi Joshi became the first lady doctor of India. Motibai also strove to serve society and did so in the most dedicated manner.

Source: Times of India

Motibai was born to an affluent Parsi family of Bombay and was brought up in that city. She was the first woman to pass out from the Grant Medical College. The year she qualified as a doctor, industrialist Ranchhodlal Chhotalal founded a hospital for women in Ahmedabad. He invited Motibai to head the hospital – the Victoria Jubilee Hospital. She accepted the offer and worked there for the next four decades.

The British government later conferred the ‘Kaisar-e-Hind’ title on her for her contributions.

Motibai was not only the first lady doctor in Gujarat, but also a social reformer. In 1894, a dalit woman came to the hospital for the first time. Upon her entry, other patients immediately left the hospital. They even abused and cursed Motibai and ‘Ranchhod Rentio’. But Motibai remained adamant. "This is a public hospital, and we are dead against the practice of untouchability," she said. There was no other hospital for women, and the patients who had boycotted it retuned in a few days.

On her advice, Ranchhodlal’s grandson Chinubai Baronet founded a nursing college. He even got a house constructed so that patients’ relatives had accommodation. More than a century later, last month, the Gujarat high court pulled up the state government for not creating such facilities to shelter patients’ kin in public hospitals.

Historian Makrand Mehta considers Motibai one of the shapers of modern Gujarat for her contributions in the 20th century. Two more lady doctors – Dhanbai Wadia (1879-1945) and Gulbanu Medora (1896-1993) -joined her in her mission.

Mehta writes in his recently published ‘Gujarat na Ghadvaiya-Part II’ that there was another side to Motibai’s personality. She founded Gujarat Ladies Club. Wives of British officials, Satyendranath Tagore, and many known personalities living in the city were members. She took the initiative to create a library and a tennis court for women.

At a time when no woman appeared on stage and women’s roles were played by male actors, Motibai saw to it that women acted in plays that used to be performed at Anand Bhuvan and Shanti Bhuvan.