Dr. Dhondo Keshav Karve (18 April 1858 – 9 November 1962), popularly known as Maharishi Karve, was a social reformer in India in the field of women’s welfare. In honour of Karve, Queen’s Road in Mumbai (Bombay) was renamed to Maharshi Karve Road
Karve continued the pioneering work in promoting widows’ education. The Government of India awarded him its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1958, the year of his 100th birthday.
The appellation Maharshi, which the Indian public often assigned to Karve, means ”a great sage”. He was also sometimes affectionately called “Annā Karve”; in the Marāthi-speaking community to which Karve belonged, the appellation “Annā” is often used to address either one’s father or an elder brother.
The work of Pandita Ramabai inspired Karve to dedicate his life to the cause of female education, and the work of Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar inspired him to work for uplifting the status of widows. The writings of Herbert Spencer also highly influenced him.
He married a widow and was ostracized for this. (He was a widower at this time). He was saddened by the plight of Brahmin widows who had to shave their heads and stop wearing anything but a length of a dark red cloth. Men in the family sometimes had sexual relations with them. If they became pregnant the only solution was that they commit suicide while the man escaped without any punishment.
When Karve had started his shelter and school for widows, in 1896, he had to start it in the remote village of Hingane outside the city of Pune because the dominant orthodox Brahmin community in the city had ostracized him for his reformatory activities. (Karve himself belonged to the Brahmin community.) With his meager resources, for many years Karve would walk several miles from Hingane to the city of Pune to teach mathematics at Fergusson College and also collect in his spare time paltry donations from a few progressive donors, even as some others from the orthodox community would openly hurl insulting epithets at him when he went around to spread the word of his emancipatory work and collect donations.
Karve’s 20-year-old widowed sister-in-law, Parvatibai Athavale, was the first to join his school. After finishing her education, he appointed her as the first woman superintendent of the Hindu Widows’ Home Association.
After reading information about Japan Women’s University in Tokyo, Japan, Karve felt inspired to establish in 1916 in Pune the first university for women in India, with five students.
During 1917–1918, Karve established the Training College for Primary School Teachers, and another school for girls, Kanyā Shālā.
In 1920, an industrialist and philanthropist from Mumbai, Vithaldas Thackersey, donated Karve’s university 1.5 million Indian rupees—a substantial sum in those days—and the university was then renamed Shreemati Nāthibāi Dāmodar Thāckersey (SNDT) Indian Women’s University.
In March 1929, Karve left for a tour of England. He attended the Primary Teachers’ Conference at Malvern, and spoke on “Education of Women in India” at a meeting of the East India Association at Caxton Hall, London. From 25 July to 4 August 1929, he attended an educational conference in Geneva, and spoke on “The Indian Experiment in Higher Education for Women.” From 8 to 21 August, he attended in Elsinor the international meeting of educators under the auspices of the New Education Fellowship.
During a subsequent tour of America, Karve lectured at various forums on women’s education and social reforms in India. He also visited the Women’s University in Tokyo. He returned to India in April 1930.
In December 1930, Karve left for a fifteen-month tour of Africa to spread information about his work for women in India. He visited Mombasa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Portuguese East Africa, and South Africa, England, America, Switzerland.
In 1931, the SNDT university established its first college in Mumbai, and moved its headquarters to Mumbai five years later.
In 1936, Karve started the Maharashtra Village Primary Education Society with the goal of opening primary schools in villages which had no schools run by the district local boards. He also encouraged maintenance of reading habits of adults in villages. In 1944, he founded the Samatā Sangh (Association for the Promotion of Human Equality).
In 1949, the Government of India recognized SNDT University as a statutory university.
Besides dedicating his life to the emancipation of women in India, Karve stood for the abolition of the caste system and the curse of untouchability in Hindu society.
Karve had four sons: Raghunath, Shankar, Dinakar, and Bhāskar. All of them rose to eminence in their own fields of work. Raghunath Karve was a professor of mathematics and a pioneer in sex education and birth control in India. Dinkar was a professor of chemistry and later Principal of Fergusson college and an eminent educationist. His wife, Irawati Karve, was an anthropologist, an eminent author and a leading sociologist of India. Bhaskar and his wife worked in Hingane Stree Shikshan Samstha in various leading capacities. His second son, Shankar Karve, spent most of his professional life as an eminent doctor in the city of Mombasa, in the then British colony of Kenya. On his 80th birthday, the Kenyan government issued a postage stamp in his honour.
Dinakar wrote a book, The New Brahmans: Five Maharashtrian Families, in which he profiled his father along with other Brahmin reformers.
In 1958, the Government of India issued stamps commemorating the birth centenary of Dhondo Keshav Karve. After India’s independence, it was the first time a living person was pictured on the issued stamps.