Pioneer of women’s education, Indian feminist movement: remembering Savitribai Phule on her 190th birthday
Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule was born on January 3, 1831 in a town called Naigaon in the Satara district of Maharashtra. She was a feminist and social reformer who fought for the empowerment and education of women in India. This year marks the 190th anniversary of Phule’s birth, and the day is observed in Maharashtra as Balika Din.
Savitribai Phule is considered one of the pioneers of the feminist movement in India. The first school for girls in the country started in 1848 in Bhide Wada, Pune. Her efforts to spread awareness about women’s education saw her face boycotts and abuse mostly by men at the time. Jyotirao Phule, her husband, was one of the pillars of support for her on her journey to raise awareness about the importance of women’s education and improving the condition of women and India. Phule married Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine when she could not read and write.
By 1851, Phule had established three schools and was the teacher of 150 students. She would go on to establish 17 schools in the country and, although most of them were for upper caste women, she and her husband established schools for Dalit and lower caste women as well. Phule encouraged the women to attend school by offering them stipends.
The education of women was not the only thing Phule wanted the Indians to learn. She also fought against the social injustices of the time such as Sati, child marriage and the still prevailing caste system and was also one of the first defenders of women’s rights in the country. He dug a well for ‘untouchables’ in his residence in an act of defiance against the caste system and also opened a care center for pregnant rape victims called ‘Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha’. Phule also created a ‘Mahila Seva Mandal’ where women met and she raised awareness about women’s rights.
In addition to pioneering Indian feminism, Phule was a plague warrior. He helped several people when the bubonic plague hit the world, opening a clinic with his son, Yashwant, in 1897 to help patients. The plague ended up being the reason for his disappearance, since he died on March 10, 1897.
She was also a radical and forceful writer and poet who questioned Brahminical hegemony and openly criticized the social ills of the time such as Sati, child marriage, class distinctions, gender inequalities and the caste system.