Lady Meherbai Tata, widely believed to be one of the first Indian feminist icons, led the way through deeds and not merely words. She is known for her role in the abolition of child marriage, women suffrage, education of girls and removal of the purdah system. But that’s not all -- she is also known for her contribution to the preservation of Tata Steel, one of the country’s biggest steel manufacturers.
In his latest book #Tatastories, Harish Bhat narrates how Lady Meherbai Tata rescued the steel giant. As the story goes: Sir Dorabji Tata, elder son of Jamsetji Tata, bought the 245.35-carat Jubilee diamond, which is twice as large as the Kohinoor (105.6 carat, cut), from London merchants for wife Lady Meherbai. It was priced at around 1,00,000 pounds in the 1900s.
Lady Meherbai put the diamond on a platinum claw and put it on a platinum chain. She kept it to wear on special occasions.
But in 1924, there was not much money left to pay wages to the employees of Tata Steel. So Sir Dorabji Tata and Lady Meherbai Tata pledged their entire personal wealth, including the Jubilee diamond, to the Imperial Bank so that they could raise funds for Tata Steel.
Not long after, the company began delivering returns and the situation improved. In that time of intense struggle, not a single worker was retrenched, said Bhat.
According to the Tata Group, the Jubilee diamond was sold after the death of Sir Dorabji Tata towards the creation of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust.
LADY MEHERBAI: FEMINIST ICON
Lady Meherbai Tata was one of the people who were consulted for the Sharda Act or the Child Marriage Restraint Act that was passed in 1929. She actively campaigned for it in India as well as abroad. She was also part of the National Women’s Council and the All India Women’s Conference.
On November 29, 1927, Lady Meherbai made a case for the Hindu Marriage Bill in Michigan. She demanded equal political status for women at the All India Women’s Conference in 1930.
The International Women Suffrage News in London reported in 1921 about the Legislative Council of Bombay passing a resolution giving women’s suffrage. “A big public meeting in favour of women suffrage was held in the Wilson College Hall, Bombay, under the Presidency of Lady Tata, and a resolution calling on the Legislative Council to enfranchise the women of Bombay was passed and sent to every member of the Legislative Council. We rejoice in this second big victory for Indian women,” it said.
She played an important role in organising the Indian Conference during Women’s Week at Wembley in 1924. She was the president of the Federation of Indian Women’s Leagues in India and one of the founders of the Bombay Presidency Women’s Council. Under the leadership of Lady Meherbai, India was inducted into the International Council of Women.
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