January 3 is the birth anniversary of the great 19th century Indian social reformer Savitribai Phule. She was born in 1831.
Belonging to a backward caste herself she was educated at her home by her husband, Jotirao Phule, who himself was a great social reformer.
In the social and educational history of India, Mahatma Jotirao Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule stand out as an extraordinary couple. They were engaged in a passionate struggle to build a movement for equality between men and women and for social justice. Recognising that knowledge is power and that the progress of women and Dalit-Bahujans was impossible without it, they dedicated their entire life to spreading education. The distinction of starting the first school for girls and the Native Library in the country goes to them. They started the Literacy Mission in India in 1854-55. In 1863, they started a home for the prevention of infanticide in their own house, for the safety of pregnant, exploited Brahman widows and to nurture these children. By establishing the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society for Truth Seeking), they initiated the practice of the Satyashodhak marriage ñ a marriage without dowry or a wedding at minimum cost. By throwing open the well in his house for ëuntouchablesí, Jotirao directly initiated a programme to oppose the caste system. Both Jotirao and Savitribai did not just stop at opposing child marriage; they also organised widow remarriages. They had no children of their own but they adopted a child of a Brahman widow, gave him medical education and arranged an inter-caste marriage for him. This couple did the historical work of building a holistic and integrated revolutionary cultural, social and educational movement of women-shudra and-atishudras of the country.
Here are few images from a graphic novel on Savitribai Phule called “Journey of a trail blazer”.
Many Indians are unaware of this great reformer. Only recently she has appeared in history textbooks in schools. So it was pleasantly surprising to see Google producing a doodle today for her in India.
I will end this post with a poem written by Savitribai.
The Plight of the Shudras
Haunted by ‘The Gods on Earth’,
For two thousand years,
The perpetual service of the Brahmins,
Became the plight of the Shudras.
Looking at their condition,
The heart screams its protest,
The mind blanks out,
Struggling to find a way out.
Education is the path,
For the Shudras to walk,
For education grants humanity
freeing one from an animal-like existence