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India’s first school headmistress Savitribai Phule was a woman way ahead of her times. Her ideas about feminism and women’s right are relevant even today.
“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.”
This is the poem Savitribai Phule wrote to encourage those who have been oppressed to free themselves by getting an education. January 3rd marks her 189th birth anniversary.
Savitribai Phule often travelled to the school she ran with an extra sari in hand. She was assaulted with stones, cow-dung and verbal attacks. Being extremely conservative minded, the people believed that education was only reserved for the upper caste. And when Savitribai ran a school for women with her husband, the people were obviously appalled.
By starting the school, she rebelled against that attitude. Owing to her marginalised caste and her gender, she was denied education. She was married off at an early age but her husband, Jyotirao Phule educated her. They both ran three different schools together by the end of 1851.
Savitribai is India’s first teacher and headmistress. She brought so many social reforms in the country that Pune University recognised her efforts. In 2015, the University of Pune was renamed Savitribai Phule Pune University. She spearheaded numerous Dalit movements. Hence, she is aptly called ‘aai,’ which translates to ‘mother’ in Marathi.
Jyotirao Phule educated his wife himself. Both of them belonged to the marginalised sections of the society and education was denied to both. After getting her education, she enrolled in two teacher training programmes. She was a trained teacher.
The couple started the country’s first school for women at Bhide Wada, Pune in 1848. And the school curriculum was an amalgamation of mathematics, science and social studies. This was influenced by the western education. The curriculum was better than the curriculum and education provided in the government schools of that time. This was to the point that the number of girls enrolled in their school were higher than the number of boys enrolled in government schools.
The couple brought in a lot of reforms. They educated everyone regardless of their caste or gender. And opened a care centre called ‘Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha’ (Child-killing Prohibition Home) for pregnant rape victims. They provided them with a safe space to deliver the children and take care of them. This was unprecedented in those times. All the efforts they undertook helped bring in a lot of social changes.
Her contribution to women’s education stands unparalleled. She fought for widow remarriage and Sati and various other social ills which targeted women. One of the most remarkable movement is the barber’s strike she organised. The strike was against the shaving heads of widows.
Mahila Seva Mandal was formed in 1852. Savitribai led and initiated the movement to create awareness in the women with regard to their social status and rights. With the death of her husband, she took over the presidential role in the Satya Shodak Samaj to empower the downtrodden via education and awareness.
Savitribai died a heroic death while she was trying to save a person from plague. She contracted the disease and she died thereafter. Pune City Corporation created a memorial for her in 1983.
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