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Savitribai Phule: The Intersectional Feminist Long Before It Was A Thing!

Indian women, and especially Dalit women owe their literacy to intersectional feminist Savitribai Phule. A tribute on her 191st birth anniversary.

I was 14 when my husband died
A man I barely knew.
A man who’s life mine was linked to.

I was forced to
climb
on
his
funeral pyre.

She rescued me.
Allowed me to have my child.
She taught me to read
Made me a teacher
Like her.
Stood me on my feet.
Helped me marry the man I loved.
I owed everything to her
I would have given my life for her.
But the guilt remained.

One day, it burst forth-
“Tai, I silently watched
while my sisters
threw stones at you”,
I confessed.

“I know”, she said.
And smiled.

_____

Savitribai Phule was born on Jan 3, 1897.

An illiterate girl from a lower caste, married off when still a child, she went on to become one of modern India’s first female teachers, and founded a school for girls which rivalled those run by the government for young boys.

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A staunch feminist and an anti-caste advocate, she dedicated her life to the upliftment of women and to the abolition of the caste system. Her protests earned her the active animosity of Brahmins, who saw her as a threat to the privileges they took for granted. Yet, most of the battles she fought were against unjust practices that affected Brahmin women the most. She could have chosen to look away, and only work to benefit the women of her caste. But she didn’t, because she realized that women couldn’t be free, unless all women were free.

Long before the term ‘intersectional feminism’ was coined, Savitribai Phule was an intersectional feminist.

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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