The first women known in the Indian history which lived and died for the social upliftment of down trodden was born on 3rd of January 1831 in Naya Ganj , Tehsil Khandala ,District Satara of Maharashtra. Her name was Savitribai. Her father’s name was Khado Ji Nevse Patil. At the time of her birth , no body could realize that the small ray of light which had descended on the earth in the form of Savitribai shall become a torch bearer for many, who were suppressed, illiterate, ill fed , ill clothed and a lightening for suppressors and oppressors inflicting tyranny in the name of caste and sex, on millions belonging to their own country and religion .
At the tender age of 9 years in 1840, she was married to a great social revolutionary Jyotirao Phule, who was then 13 years old. The union of two small lights later emerged as a big Light House for millions of their fellow countrymen and pulled them out of their ignorance, illiteracy and ill treatment meted out to them by upper caste Hindus. They jointly fought for the down trodden people of
to live with dignity keeping
spine erect. Jyotirao Phule, later affectionately called
Mahatma Jyotirao Phule proclaimed that illiteracy the ill of all ills
causes lack of intellect which in turn causes lack of moral which results in
stagnation, promoting further loss of riches and fortune which caused fall of Shudras. So
ban of education to Shudras in Brahminical literature caused their all round
degradation, so he gave preference to impart education to Shudras for their
over all upliftment. India
The Education to Savitribhai was imparted at home by her husband, who had passed his Secondary Education Examination in 1847 from Scottish Mission High School Poona and had decided not to accept any job under the government. On reading Paine’s famous book “The Rights of Man” revolutionized the young mind of Jyotirao Phule and he in turn influenced the tender mind of Savitribhai, who also took oath to help her husband for Social Revolution even at the cost of her life and comforts.
They jointly opened the very first Girl’s School in 1848 against the vicious campaign launched by orthodox upper caste Hindus for such an act of the Phule couple, as education to girls was coded as unlawful in the laws of orthodox Hindus, although they claimed to possess the most knowledgeable books called “VEDAS” but practically treating Shudras & women worse than animals. No upper caste Hindu teacher came forward to teach in this newly opened Girl’s School in which untouchables girls , besides Hindu Girl’s were admitted. Therefore, Savitribai was appointed as Headmistress of this school on I st January 1848 by Jyotirao Phule. This school was run from the house of a Brahmin in Budhwara Peth, with majority of Brahmin girl students. The orthodox Brahmins raised a great hue & cry against carrying on women education including those of Shudra girls, which stood banned by the Hindu scripture. As soon as Savitribai came out from her house to go to school, people would throw on her cow dung and mud spoiling here dress, which she washed at the school and at her residence. But ill treatment meted out to her by upper caste Hindus did not deter her from her strong convictions and she carried on with the noble cause for the social change. She, instead , opened another school on
May 1848 in untouchable’s colony and it was run by her widowed
sister –in-law (husband ‘s sister) Smt.
Suganabai. On this again the reactionaries, raised objections and threatened
Govinda Rao (Jyotirao ’s father) with dire consequences, if, he failed to
dissociate himself from the activities of his son & daughter-in-law.So he
asked the couple to leave his home as both of them refused to give up their
missionary endeavor. Both shifted to a
Muslim Mian Usman Sheikh’s house. Smt.
Fatima Sister of Mian Sheikh known as first Muslim women teacher of 18th
century, started educating Dalit children in this school opened by a Dalit
couple. This was an extremely difficult task during those days of Brahmin
domination in government and social circles, but Savitribai did it by dint of
her courage, determination, intelligence and her commitment to the cause of
Dalit upliftment through spread of Education the only road to their
Jyotirao Phule blamed the British Government for spending profusely a large portion of the state revenue on the education of the higher castes, which resulted in monopoly of all higher offices under the Government by the Brahmins. The dedicated couple wanted to break this monopoly so as to prepare the down trodden masses for struggle of having equal rights as human beings in their own motherland. Jyotirao Phule for the first time , made strong demand in memorandum submitted to Hunter Commission in 1882 for free & compulsory education to all. This plea was accepted on the instance of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and incorporated in the Constitution of Free India in 1950.
Widow re-marriage was banned then and the child marriages were very common among the Hindus including Brahmins. Many Hindu widows resorted to Sati (burning of the bride with the dead body of their husbands) in full public view. Many women got windowed in their young age and not all of them could live in a manner in which orthodox people expected them to live. Some of the helpless widows resorted to abortion or left their illegitimate children to their fate by leaving them on the streets. Out of pity for them Jyotirao Phule established on orphanage, possibly first such Institution founded and funded by a Hindu. The Phule couple gave protection to pregnant widows and assured them that this orphanage would take care of their children and Savitribai Phule Shouldered the responsibility of managing the orphanage. It was in this orphanage where a Brahmin widow named Kashi Bai gave birth to a boy in 1873 and the Phule couple adopted new born as their son and heir giving him name as
Yashuwant, who was given education to become a qualified doctor. During 1876-77 famine she feed and cared about 200 children with the help of her doctor son free of cost. She was a great source of strength to her husband.
Savitribai was not only an educationist but a great philanthropist, social revolutionary, writer and poet. Perhaps she was the first Indian woman revolutionary who worked against all odds for the emancipation of week and downtrodden women & children. Her poetry book first published in 1854 was titled as “KABYE PHULE” In one of her poems she makes out that the British succeeded in establising their rule in India due to denial of Educational opportunities by the Aryans to the original inhabitants of India. During various invasions the 85% of the population were made mute spectators when their motherland was occupied forcibly by the foreign invaders, for which nobody else but Brahmins and caste system were responsible. When she was told by her brother to follow the path shown by Bhats (Brahmins) she rebuked him by telling that she was following the just path being followed by her husband and she could not be blind follower of Brahmins like her brother. She also tauntingly said to him, “Go and love the cow and the goat and offer milk to snakes on Nagpanchmi,, even then the Brahmins shall turn you out of Puja Sathal branding you as untouchables. This shows her strong conviction and will power, when actually she was very poised lady having her heart filled with love for all.
After the death of her husband in November 1890, she successfully managed for seven years the affairs of “SATYA SHODAK-SAMAJ” established by her husband to look after the needs of unfortunate children.
During the spread of Cholera in
in 1897 she opened a number of helping centers for all sufferers in rural and
urban areas. She used to carry patients personally to the clinic of her son
Yashuwant, who cured hundreds of them free of cost.
While carrying personally a cholera ridden Mahar boy to the clinic of her son and to get him admitted there, she got infected from the Mahar boy and she died of cholera on
the 10th of March 1897.
We salute the iron lady who struck hard to break the shackles of religious progeny, caste and dynasty to establish social order of Universal Brotherhood. She was first Indian women leader, who worked for the upliftment & dignity of women & children and was a staunch opponent of orthodox laws including Untouchability. She was mother to helpless orphans, a teacher to illiterates and solace to ill and suffering masses. She deserved to be honored as “Mother of Women Education in
She is even now a source of inspiration for establishing a rule based on equality, justice and fraternity. Let us draw inspiration from her life& works and re-dedicate ourselves for the service of down trodden and Dalits besides those sections of society who are deprived of equal opportunities of life.
1. The Nagmay Sanskriti
(MP) Dated Ujjain 8-7-1997.
2. Slavery By Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (Vol I) Translated by Prof.P.G. Patil, Education Deptt. Govt of Maharastra Bombay 1991
3. Jyotiba Phule (Hindi) By Durga Prasad Shukal NCERT April 1991
4. Dr Ambedkar & His
y Danajay Keer Mission - b
5. Shoshit Samaj Ke Krantikari Pravertak ( Hindi) by C.S. Bhandari Publishars: Samyak Prakashan 32/3 Club Road Pashim Puri N Delhi