Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, a daring first legislator in India, first female house surgeon and founder of Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai, TN

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To day  Indian women are far better than those in the past centuries when women empowerment  or women's right in the society  was  quite unknown. In spite of open and subtle restrictions or certain norms  prevalent in the Indian society,  there were many women of wisdom and courage   who struggled  on their own to break  away from the conservative path and  chose a different unknown path to achieve  what they were truly born to be.  The path chosen by them was a risky one and mentally they were prepared to fight all the odds facing them. This year's International women's day we have to turn the pages of Indian history  to find out those unsung women from whom our 21st century women could draw inspiration  to reach  their  cherished goals that will be of great help to our society. In this respect,  Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, a Physician and a daring Social Reformer (1886 - 1968), was a maverick.

 Native of Puddukotta, then a  small princely state of Tamil Nadu, Muthulakshmi  was the first  ever female legislator in the whole of British India, a recipient of  Padma Bhushan  award,  first female student to be admitted to a men's college; first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital, Chennai.  Apart from it, she was a  distinguished social reformer and a freedom fighter keenly interested in seeing India  free from the British yoke;  she was Deputy President of the Legislative Council, and the first Alderwoman of the Madras Corporation Avvai Home.  Her  most important  and pioneering contribution was in  1954,  when she opened a hospital for cancer patients in Chennai (Madras then) - Adyar Cancer Institute which is now one of the top institutes in India  and is still  a world-renowned institution today.
 Born in  the  princely  state of Pudukkottai of Tamil Nadu, despite restrictions being  faced by  girls in India of her time to study in a co-educational institution, she  not only completed her higher education but was  admitted into the medical profession.  It was in  1907, she joined the Madras Medical College, where she achieved a brilliant academic record.  After winning several  gold medals and prizes Muthulakshmi  graduated in 1912  with flying colors. Then she took the honor of being one of the first female doctors in India. Later, she had the great fortune of developing close contact with Annie Besant,  an Irish woman who whole heatedly supported India 's freedom and later Mahatma Gandhiji. 

 Her father S. Narayanaswami Iyer, the Principal of Maharajah's College of Pudukotta was a trend-setter and broke the tradition and married  Dr. Muthulakshmi's mother, Chandrammal, who happened to be from the  so called Devadasi community. The Brahmin community, in those days, came down heavily on him for his marriage to a girl from other community. Consequently, Dr. Muthulakshmi  became close to   the maternal side of her family and made a decision to fight for the Devadasi community and their  social issues and their struggle to come out of the closet.  Undaunted  Sri Narayanaswami Iyer, who happened to the grand father of the late well-known  Tamil movie matinee idol of  yesteryear Gemini Ganesan (his father was Ramaswami Aiyar, son of Narayana Swami Aiyar through his first wife)  broke the tradition and  sent Muthulakshmi to school despite protests from other communities in the town.Girls were denied education in those days.
Noticing her keen desire in studies,   Muthulakshmi's teachers gave her special care/attention  and when she came of age  she continued her studies by tutoring  at home. As for her marriage, she told her mother Chandrammal  she would chose a groom who would respect her sentiments and treat her on par. At a young age,  she impressed on the people close to her  that women needed  education to face the society and male domination. Though there were protests from the principal and others when she wanted to join the maharajah's college, the  Maharajah of  Pudukottai, being a humane person, stood the ground   and  admitted her to the college, besides giving her a scholarship.  Having completed her studies in 1912 at  Madras Medical College in Chennai, she became first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital  for Women and Children in Chennai.

The foundation stone for Adyar Cancer Institute was laid by Sakthi Hari Haran in 1952. The hospital, which started functioning on 18 June 1954, is a lasting testimony to Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy and her multi-faceted personality. Presently more than 80,000 cancer patients  are being treated a year.   It  was due to her relentless efforts  despite opposition, she introduced  the Anti-Polygamy Bill. With the passage of this bill  in 1930, a major  attempt was made for the suppression of brothels and immoral trafficking of women and children. 
Deriving inspiration from indomitable Dr. Annie Besant, Dr. Muthulakshmi  built  Avvai Home in Madras in 1930 to serve the poor children and women;  she also made arrangements  to give free education, clothes and proper diet to orphans. The institution is still providing education and vocational training to many orphans. She was the Chairman of the All-Asian Conference of Women till 1935. She was also the fifth All-India Women's Conference Session, which was held in Lahore in 1930.