Savitribai Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897) was an Indian social reformer, educationalist, anti-abortionist and poet from Maharashtra. She is regarded as the first female teacher of India. Along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule, she played an important role in improving women's rights in India during British rule. Phule and her husband founded the first Indian run girls' school in Pune, at Bhide wada in 1848.[a] She worked to abolish the discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on caste and gender. She is regarded as an important figure of the social reform movement in Maharashtra.
Phule on a 1998 stamp of India
|Died||10 March 1897 (aged 66)|
|Cause of death||Bubonic plague|
A philanthropist and an educationist, Phule was also a prolific Marathi writer.
Savitribai Phule was born on January 3, 1831 in the village of Naigaon in Satara District, Maharashtra. Her birthplace was about five kilometers from Shirval and about 50 kilometers from Pune. Phule was the eldest daughter of Lakshmi and Khandoji Neveshe Patil, both of whom belonged to the Mali Community. The Mali people belonged to a caste of largely agricultural workers that is classified by the Indian government as an Other Backward Caste (OBC). An OBC describes a caste that is determined to be socially or educationally disadvantaged. At the age of 10, Savitribai Phule was married to Jotirao Phule, born on the 11th of April 1827. At the time of their marriage, he was thirteen years old. Savitribai and Jotirao had no children of their own,[page needed] but they adopted Yashawantrao, a son born to a Brahmin widow.
At the time of her marriage, Savitribai Phule had not been educated because Brahmins forbade it for people of her low caste and gender. Jotirao was also forced temporarily to abandon his education because of his caste but eventually was able to enroll in a Scottish missionary school, where he studied to grade seven.
According to government records, Jotirao was responsible for educating Savitribai at their home. After completing her primary education with Jotirao, her further education was the responsibility of his friends, Sakharam Yeshwant Paranjpe and Keshav Shivram Bhavalkar. She also enrolled in two teacher's training programs. The first was at institution run by an American missionary, Cynthia Farrar, in Ahmednagar. The second course was at a Normal School in Pune. Given her training, Savitribai may have been the first Indian woman teacher and headmistress.
After completing her teacher’s education, Savitribai Phule started teaching girls at the Maharwada in Pune. She did so alongside Sagunabai who was a revolutionary feminist as well as a mentor to Jotirao. Not long after beginning to teach with Sagunabai, Savitribai and Jotirao Phule along with Sagunabai started their own school at Bhide Wala. Bhide Wala was the home of Tatya Saheb Bhide, who was inspired by the work that the trio was doing. The school at Bhide Wala defied Indian education norms not only because of its teaching girls, but also with its curriculum. The curriculum at Bhide Wala included mathematics, science, and social studies, instead of the traditional Brahmanical texts like the Vedas and Shastras. By the end of 1851, Savitribai and Jotirao Phule were running three different schools for girls in Pune. Combined, the three schools had approximately one hundred and fifty students enrolled. Like the curriculum, the teaching methods employed by the three schools differed from those used in government schools. In fact, the Phule methods were regarded as being superior to those used by government schools. As a result of this reputation, the number of girls receiving their education at the Phule’s schools outnumbered the number of boys enrolled in government schools.
Unfortunately, Savitribai and Jotirao Phule’s success did not come without much resistance from the conservative community that they were surrounded by. It is said that Savitribai often travelled to her school carrying an extra sari because she would be assailed by her conservative opposition with stones, dung, and verbal abuse. The Phules faced such strong opposition because of the conservative and marginalized caste to which they belonged. The Sudra community had been denied education for thousands of years. For this reason, many Sudras began to oppose Jotirao and Savitribai’s work and labeled it as “evil”. This uproar was often instigated by the upper castes. Up until 1849, Savitribai and Jotirao Phule were living at Jotirao’s father’s home. However, in 1849, Jotirao’s father, asked the couple to leave his home because their work was considered a sin in the Brahmanical texts.
After moving out of Jotirao’s father’s home, the Phuls moved in with the family of one of Jotirao’s friends, Usman Sheikh. It was there that Savitribai met a soon to be close friend and colleague named Fatima Begum Sheikh. According to Nasreen Sayyed, a leading scholar on Sheikh, “Fatima Sheikh knew how to read and write already, her brother Usman who was a friend of Jyotiba, had encouraged Fatima to take up the teacher training course. She went along with Savitribai to the Normal School and they both graduated together. She was the first Muslim woman teacher of India”. Fatima and Savitribai opened a school in Sheikh’s home in 1849.
In the 1850s, Savitribai and Jotirao Phule established two educational trusts. They were entitled: the Native Female School, Pune and the Society for Promoting the Education of Mahars, Mangs, and Etceteras. These two trusts ended up encompassing many schools which were led by Savitribai Phule and later, Fatima Sheikh.
Jotirao summarises Savitribai and his work in an interview given to the Christian missionary periodical, Dnyanodaya, on 15 September 1853, saying,
It did occur to me that the improvement that comes about in a child due to the mother is very important and good. So those who are concerned with the happiness and welfare of this country should definitely pay attention to the condition of women and make every effort to impart knowledge to them if they want the country to progress. With this thought, I started the school for girls first. But my caste brethren did not like that I was educating girls and my own father threw us out of the house. Nobody was ready to give space for the school nor did we have money to build it. People were not willing to send their children to school but Lahuji Ragh Raut Mang and Ranba Mahar convinced their caste brethren about the benefits of getting educated.
Together with her husband, she taught children from different castes and opened a total of 18 schools. The couple also opened a care centre called Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha (literally, "Child-killing Prohibition Home") for pregnant rape victims and helped deliver and save their children.
Savitribai and her adopted son, Yashwant, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the worldwide Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Nalasopara in 1897. The clinic was established at stern outskirts of Pune, in an area free of infection. Savitribai died a heroic death trying to save the son of Pandurang Babaji Gaekwad. Upon learning that Gaekwad’s son had contracted the Plague in the Mahar settlement outside of Mundhwa, Savitribai Phule rushed to his side and carried him on her back to the hospital. In the process, Savitribai Phule caught the Plague and died at 9:00pm on the 10th of March, 1897.
Poetry and other workEdit
Savitribai Phule was also a prolific author and poet. She published Kavya Phule in 1854 and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar in 1892, and also a poem entitled "Go, Get Education" in which she encouraged those who are oppressed to free themselves by obtaining an education. As a result of her experience and work, she became an ardent feminist. She established the Mahila Seva Mandal to raise awareness for issues concerning women's rights. She also called for a gathering place for women that was free of caste discrimination or differentiation of any kind. Symbolic of this was that all the women that attended were to sit on the same mat. Savitribai was also an anti-infanticide activist. She opened a women's shelter called the Home for the Prevention of Infanticide, where Brahmin widows could safely deliver their children and leave them there to be adopted if they so desired. She also campaigned against child marriage and was a advocate of widow remarriage.
In a letter to Jotirao, Saviribai told a story about a boy about to be lynched by his fellow villagers for having relations with a woman of lower caste when Savitribai intervened. She wrotes, "I came to know about their murderous plan. I rushed to the spot and scared them away, pointing out the grave consequences of killing the lovers under the British law. They changed their mind after listening to me".
Pune City Corporation created a memorial for her in 1983.
- In 2015, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University in her honour.
- On 10 March 1998 a stamp was released by India Post in honour of Phule.
Along with Ambedkar and Annabhau Sathe, Phule has become an icon in particular for the Dalit Mang caste. Women in local branches of the Manavi Hakk Abhiyan (Human Rights Campaign, a Mang-Ambedkarite body) frequently organise processions on their jayanti (birthday in Marathi and other Indian languages).
- The American missionary Cynthia Farrar had started a girl's school in Bombay in 1829. In 1847, the Students' literary and scientific society started the Kamalabai high school for girls in the Girgaon neighborhood of Bombay. The school is still operational in 2016. Peary Charan Sarkar started a school for girls called Kalikrishna Girls' High School in the Bengali town of Barasat in 1847. The Parsi community Mumbai had also established a school for girls in 1847)
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