Savitribai Phule: India’s First Woman Who Started Conversation On Women’s Rights
We cannot imagine the plight of women in India during the times of Sati, child marriages and blatant violation of human rights in a casteist society. Savitribai Phule is among the handful revolutionaries of that time, who took upon themselves to address the issues of the neglected and downtrodden.
Born in Maharashtra’s Naigaon, she became a child bride, married off at the tender age of 9 in 1840, to Jyotirao Phule.
Jyotirao, another social reformer, played a crucial role in educating his wife and empowering her. Savitribai undertook teachers’ training at Ahmednagar and in Pune and, became a qualified teacher in 1847.
Opening India’s first school for girls
Armed with knowledge, Savitribai was determined to change the sad state of women in our society. Being the first woman teacher in India, she opened the first girls’ school, along with her husband, to mainstream girls. Quite believably, it created a storm. The idea of a woman stepping out of the house and spearheading the movement to educate and make girls self-reliant, didn’t go down well with the people. They hurled dung and stones at Savitribai, when she was on her way to the school. She carried a change of saree, changed into it and went ahead with her routine, unperturbed.
Shelter for destitute women
Savitribai was especially concerned about the plight of widows. In 1864, she built a shelter for destitute women, widows and child brides who were cast aside by their families. She undertook the responsibility to educate them.The people from the lower strata of the caste hierarchy had always gotten the raw deal. Many atrocious customs were put in action to segregate these sections from the other. Jyotirao and Savitribai dug a well in their own backyard for the ‘untouchables’ who were not allowed to drink water from the common village well.
Establishing Satyashodak Samaj
The truth seeker’s society or Satyashodak Samaj was Jyotirao’s creation aimed at eliminating discrimination and adding order to the society. Savitribai’s contribution in establishing the school is commendable. She was awarded the best teacher in the state by the British government for her impeccable work in 1852.
Defied societal norms
After Jyotirao’s demise in 1890, Savitribai went against the custom and lit her husband’s pyre. Something which is even frowned upon in today’s time. She also took over the reigns of Satyashodhak Samaj and came in the forefront in its management.
Savitribai contracted bubonic disease while carrying a 10 yr old victim of the plague, which had spread across Maharashtra in 1897. She breathed her last on 10 March, 1897. She embraced death by dedicating her life in uplifting the downtrodden and marginalised sections of the society.
Regarded the beacon of modern feminism in India, Savitribai Phule’s struggle paved path for the succeeding generations of women and men to carry forward the struggle to create a gender-equal society.
We as the younger generation of women owe our freedom and independence to the trailblazer, like Savitribai and her ilk. Therefore it becomes all the more important to strive for a gender-equal society as there’s a lot more left to achieve.