Born in 1864 to Janardhan Pandurang and Jayantibai in the present-day Mumbai, she lost her father at the age of eight. Her parents were from a community of carpenters.
Among the many social evils prevailing at that time was child marriage and Rukhmabai was also married at the age of 11. At a very young age, she fought for her right to consent. For seven years after her marriage, Rukhmabai continued to live with her mother and stepfather.
Her husband Dadaji Bhikaji petitioned the Bombay High Court in 1884 and pleaded to restore conjugal rights of the husband over his wife. When the court ruled in favour of her husband and ordered her to comply, she refused.
The Rukhmabai vs. Dadaji case paved way for setting a new precedent when Queen Victoria overturned court's ruling and the government made the Age of Consent Act, 1891 despite protests from conservative Indians. Even in the present day, women are fighting for the right to consent amid a shocking spike in the crimes against women.
She separated from her husband in 1888 and went to England to study medicine. Apart from practicing medicine, she continued to work for social causes and was a founding member of Bombay Natural History Society, a 133-year-old pan-India wildlife research organization.
She gradually became a symbol of women empowerment during her lifetime and passed away at the age of 91 on September 25, 1955.