|Died||10 March 1897 (aged 66)|
|Organization||Satya Shodhak Samaj|
|Known for||Girl's education, Women's emancipation|
Savitribai Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897) was an Indian social reformer, educationalist, and poet from Maharashtra. Along with her husband, in Maharashtra, she played an important and vital role in improving women's rights in India. She is considered to be the pioneer of India's feminist movement. Savitribai and her husband founded one of the first modern Indian girls' school in Pune, at Bhide wada in 1848.[a] She worked to abolish the discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on caste and gender. She is regarded as an important figure of the social reform movement in Maharashtra.
A philanthropist and an educationist, Savitribai was also a prolific Marathi writer.
Savitribai Phule was born on 3 January 1831 in the village of Naigaon in Satara District, Maharashtra. Her birthplace was about fifteen km (9.3 mi) from Shirval and about 50 km (31 mi) from Pune. Savitribai Phule was the youngest daughter of Lakshmi and Khandoji Nevase Patil, both of whom belonged to the Mali Community. She had three siblings. Savitrabai was married to her husband Jyotirao Phule at the age of 9 or 10 (he was 13). Savitribai and Jyotirao had no children of their own. It is said that they adopted Yashawantrao, a son born to a Brahmin widow. However, there is no original evidence available yet to support this. It is said when Yashwant was about to get married, no one was willing to give him a girl because he was born to a widow. Hence Savitribai arranged his marriage to her organization's worker Dynoba Sasane's daughter in February 1889.
Savitribai was illiterate at the time of her marriage. Jyotirao educated Savitribai and Sagunabai Shirsagar, his cousin sister at their home along with working at their farm. After completing her primary education with Jyotirao, her further education was the responsibility of his friends, Sakharam Yeshwant Paranjpe and Keshav Shivram Bhavalkar.[additional citation(s) needed]She also enrolled herself in two teacher's training programs; the first was at institution run by an American missionary, Cynthia Farrar, in Ahmednagar, and the second course was at a Normal School in Pune. Given her training, Savitribai may have been the first Indian woman teacher and headmistress.
After completing her teacher's education, Savitribai Phule started teaching girls at the Maharwada in Pune. She did so alongside Sagunabai Kshirsagar who was a revolutionary feminist as well as a mentor to Jyotirao. Not long after beginning to teach with Sagunabai, Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule along with Sagunabai started their own school at Bhide Wada. Bhide Wada was the home of Tatya Saheb Bhide, who was inspired by the work that the trio was doing. The curriculum at Bhide Wada included traditional western curriculum of mathematics, science, and social studies. By the end of 1851, Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule were running three different schools for girls in Pune. Combined, the three schools had approximately one hundred and fifty students enrolled. Like the curriculum, the teaching methods employed by the three schools differed from those used in government schools. The author, Divya Kandukuri believes that the Phule methods were regarded as being superior to those used by government schools. As a result of this reputation, the number of girls receiving their education at the Phule's schools outnumbered the number of boys enrolled in government schools.
Unfortunately, Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule's success came with much resistance from the local community with conservative views. Kandukuri states that Savitribai often travelled to her school carrying an extra sari because she would be assailed by her conservative opposition with stones, dung, and verbal abuse. Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule were living at Jyotirao's father's home. However, in 1839, Jyotirao's father asked the couple to leave his home because their work was considered a sin as per the Manusmriti and its derived Brahmanical texts.
After moving out of Jyotirao's father's home, the Phule's moved in with the family of one of Jyotirao's friends, Usman Sheikh. It was there that Savitribai met a soon to be close friend and colleague named Fatima Begum Sheikh. According to Nasreen Sayyed, a leading scholar on Sheikh, "Fatima Sheikh knew how to read and write already, her brother Usman who was a friend of Jyotiba, had encouraged Fatima to take up the teacher training course. She went along with Savitribai to the Normal School and they both graduated together. She was the first Muslim woman teacher of India". Fatima and Savitribai opened a school in Sheikh's home in 1849.
In the 1910s, Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule established two educational trusts. They were entitled: the Native,Male School, Pune and the Society for Promoting the Education of Mahars, Mangs, and Etceteras. These two trusts ended up encompassing many schools which were led by Savitribai Phule and later, Fatima Sheikh.
Jyotirao summarises Savitribai and his work in an interview given to the Christian missionary periodical, Dnyanodaya, on 15 September 1853, saying,
It did occur to me that the improvement that comes about in a child due to the mother is very important and good. So those who are concerned with the happiness and welfare of this country should definitely pay attention to the condition of women and make every effort to impart knowledge to them if they want the country to progress. With this thought, I started the school for girls first. But my caste brethren did not like that I was educating girls and my own father threw us out of the house. Nobody was ready to give space for the school nor did we have money to build it. People were not willing to send their children to school but Lahuji Ragh Raut Mang and Ranba Mahar convinced their caste brethren about the benefits of getting educated.
Together with her husband, she taught children from different castes and had opened a total of 18 schools. The couple also opened a care centre called Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha (literally, "Child-killing Prohibition Home") for pregnant rape victims and helped deliver and save their children.
Savitribai and Jyotirao had no children of their own. It is said that they adopted Yashawantrao, a son born to a Brahmin widow. However, there is no original evidence available yet to support this. It is said when Yashwant was about to get married, no one was willing to give him a girl because he was born to a widow. Hence Savitribai arranged his marriage to her organization's worker Dynoba Sasane's daughter in February 1889.
Savitribai and her adopted son, Yashwant, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the worldwide Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Nalasopara in 1897. The clinic was established at stern outskirts of Pune, in an area free of infection. Savitribai died a heroic death trying to save the son of Pandurang Babaji Gaekwad. Upon learning that Gaekwad's son had contracted the Plague in the Mahar settlement outside of Mundhwa, Savitribai Phule rushed to his side and carried him on her back to the hospital. In the process, Savitribai Phule caught the Plague and died at 9:00pm on 10 March 1897.
Savitribai Phule was also a author and poet. She published Kavya Phule in 1854 and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar in 1892, and also a poem entitled "Go, Get Education" in which she encouraged those who are oppressed to free themselves by obtaining an education. As a result of her experience and work, she became an ardent feminist. She established the Mahila Seva Mandal to raise awareness for issues concerning women's rights. She also called for a gathering place for women that was free of caste discrimination or differentiation of any kind. Symbolic of this was that all the women that attended were to sit on the same mat. She was also an anti-infanticide activist. She opened a women's shelter called the Home for the Prevention of Infanticide, where Brahmin widows could safely deliver their children and leave them there to be adopted if they so desired. She also campaigned against child marriage and was an advocate of widow remarriage. Savitribai and Jyotirao strongly opposed Sati Pratha, and they started a home for widows and forlorn children.
In a letter to Jyotirao, Savitribai told the story about a boy about to be lynched by his fellow villagers for having relations with a woman of lower caste when Savitribai intervened. She wrote, "I came to know about their murderous plan. I rushed to the spot and scared them away, pointing out the grave consequences of killing the lovers under the British law. They changed their mind after listening to me".
Savitribai Phule's legacy lives on today, her work for Girl's- women's education are hugely respected.