First Lady Teacher In India MADAM SAVITRI BAI PHULE .
( Gratefully Remembering On her 187th Birthday Falling on 3rd January 2016
At the tender age of 9 years in 1840, she was married to a great social revolutionary personality 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 by upper caste Hindus. They jointly fought for the down trodden people of India to live with dignity keeping spine erect. Jyotirao Phule, later crowned with the title of Mahatma proclaimed that illiteracy the ill of all ills causes lack of intellect which in turn causes lack of moral resulting in stagnation, promoting loss of riches and fortune . This caused fall of Shudras to the level even below animals. So ban of education to Shudras in Brahminical literature caused their all round degradation. Therefore he gave preference to impart education to Shudras and women for their overall upliftment. The Hindu literature branded women as a door to hell. Woman was debarred to own property, lead independent life, get education, observe Sati (Bride burning with the dead body of husbands) ,adopt heir of her choice. Her life deiety was her husband, who may be lame, ill, indulging in polygamy, prostitution and showing ill treatment to her. She had to live on left over of the family.
Jyotirao had lost his mother at the age of 9 years. He was brought up under the care of Sagunabai who was his mother’s sistor’s daughter. Sagunabai was married but had lost her husband so she had started living in Gobindarao’s house. She also served as in the house of an Englishman John to care their children.She could speak English despite being illiterate herself. But she was very kindhearted full of revolutionary and social spirit. She had influenced the tender mind of Jyotirao, who later became a leading light of Maharastra in social revolution, spread of education, philanthropy etc.
Education to Savitribhai and Sagunabai was imparted at home by Jyotirao 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. Service to man kind was adopted as his lifelong profession. On reading Paine’s famous book “The Rights of Man” revolutionized the young mind of Jyotirao Phule . This in turn also influenced the tender mind of Savitribhai, who too took oath to help her husband for Social Revolution even at the cost of her life and comforts. Trio of Jyotirao Phuley, Savitribai and Sagunabai made an eternal mark in the progress of Dalits and women arousing in them the sense of self respectability.
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 they treated 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. First six lucky girls who got admission in Phuley school were Annpurna Joshi,Sumati Kukashar,Durga Deshmukh, Madhvi Thathey,Sonu Pawar Jani Kirdelay. 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 humanist Tantia sahib Bhindey Brahmin in Budhwara Peth .The school had 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. Savitribai Phule had a pair of sarees . As soon as she came out of 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 15th May
1848 in untouchable’s
colony and it was run by her widowed sister –in-law (husband ‘s sister) Smt. Suganabai, who too was
educated at home. On this again the reactionaries, raised objections and
threatened shri Govinda Rao (Jyotirao ’s father) with dire
consequences, if, he failed to dissociate himself from the activities of his
son & daughter-in-law. So Govinda Rao asked his son and daughter- in law 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 and women upliftment through spread of education and put them on
definite road to their empowerment.
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 to achieve equal rights as human beings in their own motherland were denied to this unfortunate section of the society. Jyotirao Phule for the first time , made strong demand through memorandum submitted to Hunter Commission in 1882 for free & compulsory education to all. This plea was accepted by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and incorporated it in the Constitution of Free India in 1950. Bharat Ratna Dr. B.R. Ambedkar picked up mission of Phule couple as his life mission and admitted Jyotirao Phule as his political Guru.
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. As per one survey report from 1815-1824,as many as 3531 women got burnt as SATI in Calcutta( now Kolkata). This was banned by British in their territory in 1861. 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 were sexually exploited by their male relatives so these conceived and resorted to abortion or left their illegitimate children to their fate by leaving them on the streets or dustbins. Out of pity for them Jyotirao Phule established an orphanage, possibly first such Institution founded and funded by a Hindu, who was untouchable by caste. The Phule couple gave protection to pregnant widows and assured them that the orphanage would take care of their children. Savitribai Phule Shouldered the responsibility of managing the orphanage. Brahmin widow named Kashi Bai got pregnant after the death of her husband She wanted to commit suicide to save her and her child from religious course. She was saved by Mahatama Phule promising her and her child full protection. It was in this orphanage that 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 ( Glorious), 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 husband free of cost. Savitribai 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 establishing 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 this forcible occupation of Indian territory by invaders 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,( A Hindu festival when Snakes are fed milk and worshipped) , even then the Brahmins shall turn you out of Puja Sathal( Worshipping place) branding you as untouchable. This shows her strong conviction and will power, when actually she was very poised lady having her heart filled with love for all.
A poem from her first collection of poems – Kavya Phule – was published in 1854.
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.
Phule couple dug a drinking water well in their house premises and allowed persons of all castes to draw water from it.
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 persons. SATYA SHODAK-SAMAJ is a religion established by Mahatama Jyotiba Phule on 24th September,1873 with the main aim of liberating the shudras and atishudras from manmade exploitations and oppression.
Since Phule couple was childless so on the death of Mahatama Jyotiba Phule, the religious customs infected people objected their adopted son for carrying on last rights. So Mata Savitribai Phule came forward to lit the pyre of her husband .This was not allowed as per Hindu religious laws but she cared the least for such in human laws framed to enslave the illiterate masses by the religious peers to eke out their livelihood.
During the spread of Cholera in Maharashtra in 1876 and 1897 Mata Savitribai Phule 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. She even arranged free meals for many during those distressed days.
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.
By ignoring her for long historians have shown deplorable partiality to her working because of her low caste affiliations, where as she worked for all,who so ever needed her help and guidance.
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 Untouchbility. She was mother to helpless orphans, a teacher to illiterates and solace to ill and suffering masses. She deserved to be honored with title of “Mother of Women Education in India”. This will be a great honour to womenfolk in Indian.
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 and non Dalits alike. This will encourage all those sections of society who are deprived of equal opportunities of life.
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(I) The Nagmay Sanskriti Ujjain (MP) Dated 8-7-1997.
(II) Slavery By Mahatma Jotirao Phule (Vol I) Translated by Prof.P.G. Patil
Education Deptt. Govt of Maharastra Bombay 1991
iii) Jotibha Phule (Hindi) By Durga Prasad Shukal NCERT April 1991
iv) Dr Ambedkar & His Mission By Danajay Keer
v) Shoshit Samaj Ke Krantikari Pravertak ( Hindi) by C.S. Bhandari Publishars: Samyak Prakashan 32/3 Club Road Pashim Puri N Delhi