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The legacy of Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule

Published: 14th Mar, 2022


Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has recently received flak for his remarks on the social reformist couple Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule.


About Savitribai Phule:

  • Savitribai Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897) was an Indian social reformer, educationalist, and poet from Maharashtra.
  • She is regarded as the first female teacher of India.
  • Savitribai Jyotirao Phule was a prominent Indian social reformer, educationist and poet who played an instrumental 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.

Role in Women Education & Empowerment

  • The first indigenously-run school for girls in Pune (at that time Poona) was started by Jyotirao and Savitribai in 1848 when the latter was still in her teens.
  • In 1863, Jyotirao and Savitribai also started a care center called ‘Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha,’ possibly the first ever infanticide prohibition home founded in India.
    • It was set up so that pregnant Brahmin widows and rape victims can deliver their children in a safe and secure place thus preventing the killing of widows as well as reducing the rate of infanticide.
  • In 1874, Jyotirao and Savitribai, who were otherwise issueless, went on to adopt a child from a Brahmin widow called Kashibai thus sending a strong message to the progressive people of the society. The adopted son, Yashavantrao, grew up to become a doctor.
  • She was also associated with a social reform society called ‘Satyashodhak Samaj’ founded by Jyotirao on September 24, 1873 in Pune.
    • The objective of the samaj, which included Muslims, Non-Brahman, Brahmans, and government officials as members, was to free women, Shudra, Dalit and other less privileged ones from getting oppressed and exploited.

Her Writing and Valuable Contribution

Savitribai Phule’s poems and other writings continue to be an inspiration for many and remain pioneering in the struggle against India’s caste system. She has put together some very valuable writing.

  • Kavyaphule- Collection of poems, 1854
  • Jyotirao’s Speeches, Edited by Savitribai Phule, 25 December 1856
  • Savitribai’s Letters to Jyotirao
  • Speeches of Matoshree Savitribai, 1892
  • Bavankashi Subodh Ratnakar, 1892

About Jyotirao Govindrao Phule:

  • Jyotirao Govindrao Phule (11 April 1827 – 28 November 1890) was an Indian social activist, thinker, anti-caste social reformer and writer from Maharashtra.
  • His work extended to many fields, including eradication of untouchability and the caste system and for his efforts in educating women and exploited caste people.
  • He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, were pioneers of women’s education in India.
  • Phule started his first school for girls in 1848 in Pune at Tatyasaheb Bhide’s residence or Bhidewada. 
  • He, along with his followers, formed the Satyashodhak Samaj(Society of Truth Seekers) to attain equal rights for people from exploited castes.
    • People from all religions and castes could become a part of this association which worked for the upliftment of the oppressed classes.
    • Phule is regarded as an important figure in the social reform movement in Maharashtra.
    • He was bestowed with honorific ‘Mahatma’ title by Maharashtrian social activist Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar in 1888.

About Satya Shodhak Samaj:

  • In 1873, Jyotiba Phule formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth).
  • He undertook a systematic deconstruction of existing beliefs and history, only to reconstruct an equality promoting version.
  • Jyotirao vehemently condemned the Vedas, the ancient holy scriptures of the Hindus.
  • He traced the history of Brahmanism through several other ancient texts and held the Brahmins responsible for framing the exploitative and inhuman laws in order to maintain their social superiority by suppressing the “shudras” and “atishudras” in the society.
  • The purpose of the Satya Shodhak Samaj was to decontaminate the society from caste discrimination and liberate the oppressed lower-caste people from the stigmas inflicted by the Brahmins.
  • Jyotirao Phule was the first person to coin the term ‘Dalits’ to apply to all people considered lower caste and untouchables by the Brahmins.
  • Membership to the Samaj was open to all irrespective of caste and class.
  • In 1868, Jyotirao decided to construct a common bathing tank outside his house to exhibit his embracing attitude towards all human beings and wished to dine with everyone, regardless of their caste.

His famous works:

  • Tritiya Ratna (1855)
  • Gulamgiri (1873)
  • Shetkarayacha Aasud, or Cultivator’s Whipcord (1881)
  • Satyashodhak Samajokt Mangalashtakasah Sarva Puja-vidhi (1887).

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