Savitribai Phule Life and Works.
Savitribai Phule was an eminent Indian social reformer, philanthropist, educationist, and poet, noted for her efforts and contributions to educating women and lower-caste people during the British rule in India. She was the first female teacher in India and is regarded as the mother of Indian feminism. She, along with her husband, Jyotiba Phule, established the first girl’s school with nine students in 1848 at Pune in Bhide Wada. They faced criticism from orthodox society for their revolutionary work, but they persisted in their efforts throughout their lives. She raised her voice against the practice of child marriage, sati pratha, child widows, widow remarriage, and took tangible actions to help women and lower caste people. Her life struggles had a profound impact on Indian society, especially on the movements and lives of the Dalits, deprived and exploited. The Phule couple’s struggle became an inspiration for the liberator Baba Saheb Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar’s struggles and consciousness.
Savitribai Phule was born in Nayagaon village, Satara district, Maharashtra, on January 3, 1831. Savitribai Phule was the first female teacher of India and also the first Marathi female poet of protest and awakening. She has used poetry to portray the realities of her time, as well as unfair practices and proposed solutions to these discriminatory practices. She will always be regarded as a pioneer in the field.
In 1854, at the age of 23, her first anthology, KavyaPhule, was published, and in 1892, the second, Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar, was published. The first book has 41 poems, which are mainly based on the themes of nature, societal problems, and education; the second anthology consists of 52 poems, which are based on various incidents of Jyotiba’s life and on the history of Shudra and Ati-Shudra. Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar is considered an authentic biography of Jyotiba Phule. Her poetry was mostly focused on the significance of education, nature, orthodox society, equality, and other radical concepts that she advocated in her writing.
Due to the supremacy of the discriminatory Varna-system and patriarchy, the Shudra and Ati-Shudra were deprived of knowledge, power, and wealth, which blocked their path of development. Savitribai Phule led a movement against discriminatory ideologies, educating the lower classes about their rights.
Savitribai Phule was taught by Jyotiba Phule. This was an uncommon phenomenon at that time. Because of conservative religious beliefs, women and the Shudra were not allowed to attend school in Indian culture. The traditional belief was created in society that if women and Shudra desired to obtain education, they, along with the entire society, would face serious calamity.
In 1848, Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule established the first girls’ school in Bhide Wada, Pune. The British government honored the Phule family for their contributions in the field of education on November 16, 1852. Savitribai Phule was appointed as a teacher in this school, gaining the honor of becoming India’s first female teacher. This school admitted six female students. Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule opened 18 schools in Pune afterwards. Savitribai was a “Vidya Jyoti” for all those who wanted to do something in the field of education.
In one of her poems “Go, Get Education” she inspires the lower caste and dalits children to study to break the “chains of caste” and “be self-reliant”. She inspires the oppressed to utilize “golden chance to learn” and “gather wisdom” and change their future so they could fight and overcome oppression and caste bias.
Go, Get Education
Be self-reliant, be industrious
Work, gather wisdom and riches,
All gets lost without knowledge
We become animal without wisdom,
Sit idle no more, go, get education
End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,
You’ve got a golden chance to learn
So learn and break the chains of caste.
Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.
Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule attempted to show resistance to the conservative society by educating girls and untouchables. People pelted stones at Savitribai Phule and threw cow dung at her when she went out to go to school. Cow dung used to get all over Savitribai’s sari, and because of this, she brought an extra sari and changed her sari when she arrived at school. Stones and cow dung did not let her down. She said to them, “As I do the sacred task of teaching my fellow sisters, the stones or cow dung that you throw seem like flowers to me. May God bless you!”
In 1852, she started the Mahila Seva Mandal and worked to raise women’s consciousness about their human rights, the dignity of life, and other social issues. She went on to organize a successful barbers’ strike in Mumbai and Pune against the prevailing practice of shaving widows’ heads. Meanwhile, a night school was also opened by the Phule couple in 1855 for agriculturists and labourers so that they could work in the daytime and attend school at night.
In 1863, Jyotirao and Savitribai also started a care center called “Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha” (‘Child-killing Prohibition Home’), possibly the first ever infanticide prohibition home founded in India. It was set up so that pregnant Brahmin widows and rape victims could deliver their children in a safe and secure place, thus preventing the killing of widows as well as reducing the rate of infanticide.
Jyotirao and Savitribai, who were otherwise childless, adopted a child from a Brahmin widow named Kashibai in, sending a powerful message to the society. Yashavantrao, the adopted son, went on to become a doctor. The adopted son, Yashavantrao, grew up to become a doctor.
The atrocities could not discourage the determined Savitribai and she fought till the last breath of her life. She carried a sick child (son of Pandurang Babaji Gaekwad) on her back and rushed him to the hospital for treatment during the 1897 bubonic plague in Pune, India. Even after knowing that plague is a fatalistic disease she did not care about her own life and caught the disease. After four months on 10 March 1897, she passed away.
I would like to conclude by quoting her poem, ‘‘With this clarion call arise and strive hard to gain knowledge; Rise for Education; break the shackles of tradition and bondage’’.