Meherbai Tata was a social worker and philanthropist. Her father was the educationist H.J. Bhaba, who had personally supervised his daughter’s education. She was beautiful and accomplished, and had a love for English literature and playing the piano. She married Sir Dorabji Tata, eldest son of Sir Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata and elder brother of J.R.D. Tata. She was thus uniquely placed to advance the cause of women, belonging to one of India’s foremost families, and having access to the drawing rooms of Europe as well as the palaces of India.
According to the reports of UNICEF in 2018, the prevalence of girls getting married before age 18 has declined from 47 per cent to 27 per cent between 2005-2006 and 2015-2016, legalisation that made this possible marks its 90th anniversary in 2019.
The backbone of SARDA ACT
The Child Marriage Restraint Act, popularly known as the Sarda Act, was passed in 1929 thanks in no small part to the pioneers of the women’s movement in India like Lady Meherbai Tata. she actively campaigned for it in India and Abroad.
Quoting from the legislator’s introductory speech, she said,
I have a word to say to the government as to their attitude towards the bill. A heavy responsibility rests on them for the continuance of this evil. The government probably knows that several Indian states, for instance, Baroda, Mysore and Bharatpur, have passed laws forbidding marriages of girls below 12. Recently, the state Kotah in Rajasthan promulgated a new marriage act. This shows what attitude governments really interested in and solicitous of the welfare of their people are taking in regard to child marriage and the duty of the government of India lies clear before them.
I sincerely hope this bill will be passed. It is to be brought before the government again next February, I think.
The bill, however, wasn’t passed till September 28, 1929, and it would not have been possible without the ability of women leaders like Lady Tata to convince Indians as well as build the pressure of world opinion.
Global Voice of Indian Women
Lady Tata was committed to girls education and removal of the purdah system and was an expert at championing them on global platforms.
Gandhi Ji often called her “India’s Spokeswomen”.
Lady Tata was globally recognized for her contributions towards Indian Society and especially women, that’s why after her death in 1931, A London publication wrote,
Lady Tata’s death in June is a great blow to the women’s movement in India. It will be almost as much felt in women’s international groups in other lands, where for some years past she has been increasingly looked to as India’s spokeswoman. Lady Tata was admirably fitted to play the part of India’s representative to the women of other countries. She had the great force of character which, combined with real kindness, and singular graciousness of manner, made her presence immediately felt in any conference. Women in many lands formed their impression of the modern emancipated Indian woman from her forceful speech, her beauty and wise tolerance.
The tribute highlighted her international outlook and how her refusal to be held back by barriers of race and colour made her the “moving spirit of the National Council of Women in India.”
Lady Tata belongs to a group of people who believe in the ideology of helping others, Whenever she promised to help a person or cause she did so to the last ounce of her strength, and beyond it.