Who was Savitribai Phule?
- A Dalit woman from the Mali community, Savitribai was born on January 3, 1831, in Maharashtra’s Naigaon village.
- She was married off at the tender age of 10 to Jyotirao Phule
- He educated her at home and later, Jyotirao admitted Savitribai to a teachers’ training institution in Pune.
- Throughout their life, the couple supported each other and in doing so, broke many social barriers.
Savitribai Phule, the social reformer is considered to be one of India’s first modern feminists.
- A revolutionary Indian woman who began the mission to educate women in India.
- She relentlessly fought against the dominant caste system and worked towards the upliftment of the marginalized.
Early Life and Work
Savitribai went on to become India’s first woman teacher and headmistress. It is her struggle and story that marks the beginning of modern Indian women’s public life in India.
- The extraordinary couple (married to Jyotirao) was engaged in a passionate struggle to build a movement for equality between men and women and a fight against the caste system. They dedicated their lives to spreading education and knowledge. They started the first school in the country for girls and the ‘Native Library’.
- In 1863, they started a ‘home for the prevention of infanticide’ in their own house, to ensure the safety of pregnant and exploited widows.
- They also established the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society for Truth Seeking), initiating the practice of marriage without dowry or overt expenses. Satyashodhak Samaj was founded with the purpose to give education to the lower castes, scheduled caste, and scheduled tribes and making them aware of the exploiting tradition of society.
- They were against child marriage and supported widow remarriages.
- They had no children of their own but adopted a child of a Brahmin widow, educating him and arranging an inter-caste marriage for him.
Struggles she faced
On teaching women
- Savitribai’s struggle was fraught with many difficulties and despite that she continued her work peacefully. Men would purposely wait in the streets and pass lewd remarks. They sometimes pelted stones and threw cow dung or mud.
- Savitribai would carry two saris when she went to school, changing out of the soiled sari once she reached school, which would again be soiled on her way back, and yet, she did not give up.
- The guard who was then appointed for her, wrote in his memoirs about what she would say to those men, “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!”
- The couple also set up ‘Balyata Pratibandak Gruha’, a childcare centre for the protection of pregnant widows and rape victims. Urging women to break free of caste barriers, Savitribai encouraged them to sit together at her meetings.
- Savitribai Phule published her first collection of poems, called Kavya Phule (‘Poetry’s Blossoms’), at the age of 23 in 1854. She published Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (‘The Ocean of Pure Gems’), in 1892.
When Jyotirao passed away
- When Jyotirao passed away, he could not be buried with salt covering his body as he had wished.
- He was burnt on the pyre and it was Savitribai who courageously came forward and held the earthen pot (it is supposed to be carried by the successor of the deceased). She led the final journey of Jyotirao and consigned his body to the flames.
- In the history of India, this was probably the first time a woman had performed death rites.
- She also erected a ‘Tulsi Vrindavan’ with his ashes on the spot where Jyotirao wanted to be buried.
- After Jyotirao’s demise, Savitribai led the Satyashodhak movement till the very end. She was the chairperson of the Satyashodhak Conference held in 1893 at Saswad, Pune.
- The year 1897 dawned with the menace of plague. People were dying in hundreds daily in Pune.
- The government tried to control the epidemic under the leadership of officer Rand.
- Savitribai along with Yeshwant set up a hospital to take care of the patients.
- She would herself pick up sick people and bring them to the hospital and treat them. Even though she knew that the disease was contagious, she continued to serve them till the plague took her own life.
One of her most loved and valued poems:
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 (Kavya Phule, 1854)
News Source: Indian Express