India's First Feminist Icon - Savitribai Phule - Seeker's Thoughts

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India's First Feminist Icon - Savitribai Phule

Go, Get Education/be self-reliant, be industrious/work, gather wisdom and riches/ all get lost without Knowledge” – Savitribai Phule.

Savitribai Jyotirao Phule was a prominent Indian social reformer, educationist and poet who played an important role in women education and empowerment during the nineteenth century. 

Counted among few literate women of those times, Savitribai is credited for founding the first girl’s school in Pune in Bhide Wada with her husband Jyotirao Phule. 

She took great effort towards educating and emancipating child widows, campaigned against child marriage and sati pratha, and advocated for widow remarriage. 

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A leading figure of Maharashtra’s social reform movement, she is considered an icon of Dalit Mang caste along with likes of B.R Ambedkar and Annabhau Sathe. 

She campaigned against untouchability and worked actively in abolishing caste and gender discrimination.

Savitribai Phule was born on January 3, 1831, in Maharashtra’s Satara district. She was the eldest daughter of her family, she was married off to Jyotirao Phule at a tender age in 1827.

Jyotirao encouraged his wide to get educated and even teach young girls in due course of time.
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She observed the miserable condition of pregnant rape victims and therefore, along with her husband opened a care center “Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha”.

In order to reduce the miseries of the widows, she organized and led a strike against the barbers to dissuade them from shaving the heads of the widows which was a norm back in those days.

In order to encourage students to study and reduce the drop-out rate, she used to give stipends to children for attending school.

The couple opened a well in their house for the untouchables during an era when the shadow of an untouchables was regarded as impure and people were reluctant to even offer water to the thirsty untouchables.

At a time when caste system was embedded in Indian society, she promoted inter-casted marriages, she along with her husband founded the styashodhak samaj which used organize marriages without priest and dowry.

The objective of Satyashodhak Samaj, which included Muslim, Shudra, Dalit (lower caste people) and other less privileged ones from getting oppressed and exploited. The couple arranged minimum cost marriages in the samaj sans any priest or any dowry. Both brides and grooms took pledges in such marriage that amounted to their wedding vows. She became the chairperson of the samaj. Savitribai carried forward the work of her husband through the samaj leading it till her last breath.

Savitribai Phule’s contribution can be best gauged by the feminist author and poet’s writings from the period. Among the works of Savitribai Phule that still survive are a collection of 41 poems called Kavyaphule, published in 1854.

The collection has number of poems on the nature, but what make them significant are the verses advising children to stay away from caste system. Her writings helped mould society’s mindset, according to the book women’s Higher Education in the 19th century by Gouri Srivastava.

Even though Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule faced a lot of resistance and opposition from contemporary society, they want in to run three different schools for girls in Pune. They also established two educational trusts. The native female school, Pune and the society for promoting the education of Mahars, Mangs, etc.

Savitribai along with her husband was also instrumental in the formation of the reform society styashodhak samaj, which initiated the practice of marriage without dowry or overt expenses.

A memorial was created in her honor by the Pune city corporation in 1983. India post released a stamp in her honor on March 10, 1998, as well. In the year 2015, the University of Pune was renamed Savitribai Phule University.

Her death

Her adopted son Yashwantrao served the people of his area as a doctor. When the Worldwide Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague badly affected the area around Nallasopara, Maharashtra in 1987, the courageous and Yashwantrao opened a clinic at the outskirt of Pune to treat the patients infected by the disease.

 She brought the patients to the clinic where her son treated them while she took care of them. In the course of time, she contracted the disease while serving the patients and succumbed to it on March 10, 1897. 

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