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Savitribai Phule’s Birth Anniversary: A Saga of Struggle, Valor and Joy

Savitribai fought against the issues like female infanticide, caste system, untouchability, tonsuring widows’ heads, encouraged inter-caste marriages and re-marriages of widows

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

INDIA. Mumbai: The 191st birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule, a great social reformer, educationist, poet, and the first woman teacher of India, was celebrated on Monday, with messages pouring in from all parts of the country.

On the occasion of Savitribai’s birth anniversary, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in a message recalled the great humane work carried out by her – fighting the caste system and making women stand on their heels. The Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar visited her memorial at Naigaon in Satara and offered wreaths and wished the people of the state on ‘Women’s Education Day’.

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In Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Kakinada, Hyderabad, the Southern Indian state, Vice-Chancellor Prof GVR Prasad paid rich tributes to Savitribai. On the occasion, he urged women to get inspiration from great personalities like Savitri to achieve greater heights in life.

A saga not lesser than the freedom struggle

Born on January 03, 1831, in Naigaon, Khandala in Satara district of Western Maharashtra, Savitribai devoted herself to social work from the very beginning. As per the tradition of child marriage prevailing in those days, Savitribai got married at the age of 9 to Jyotirao Govindrap Phule alias Jyotiba (12).

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Fighting all odds, Savitribai began her studies. Appreciating her enthusiasm, her husband Jyotiba’s friends, Keshav Bhavalkar and Sakharam Paranjape gave her initial lessons. Subsequently, Jyotiba admitted her to a school in Ahmednagar. Since she was childless, she adopted a boy child of a widow. She named him Yashwant, who became a doctor.

After initial studies, Savitribai shifted to Pune, an educational hub, and began teaching girl students with Jyotiba’s aunt Sagunabai, who had set up a school in the Maharwada (untouchables’ colony) in 1846. The Phule couple began their first school in Bhidewada. This was the first regular school for girl students in the country. A total of 9 students belonging to lower castes were studying in that school.

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Despite stiff opposition from the upper class, the Phule couple opened a second girls’ school at Rasta Peth, Pune. The bungalow for this school was donated by a Muslim man. They later opened a third girls’ school at Bataal Peth, Pune. The subjects included grammar, maths, geography, and the history of the Marathas. The schools grew in size and stature and subsequently, Savitribai set up 18 such schools across the state. 

In November 1852, the education department of the British government felicitated the Phule couple and the following year publicly examined their educational institutions. They were also felicitated for their stupendous social work at the hands of Major Candy, an educationist and the then chairman of Pune University. Later, the Pune University was named after Savitribai Phule by the Maharashtra Government.

Savitribai fought against the issues like female infanticide, caste system, untouchability, tonsuring widows’ heads, and encouraged inter-caste marriages and also re-marriages of widows. She also set up a centre for the rehabilitation of unwed mothers and their children. 

Savitribai also set up the “Satyashodhak Samaj”, which focussed on educating backward communities about their rights as human beings and helping them liberate themselves from the ill effects of the caste system. The Samaj instituted a marriage ceremony with no Brahmin intermediary. This was a bold step that challenged the authority of Brahmins who had for ages presided over religious ceremonies.

The worldwide plague pandemic of 1897 badly affected Pune with hordes of people suffering from the disease. Savitribai’s son Yashwant set up a clinic on the outskirts of Pune to treat the patients. 

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 Mundhwa in Pune, Savitribai rushed to his side and carried him on her back to the hospital. In the process, she caught the plague and died on March 10, 1897.

Savitribai played an important role in improving women’s rights in India and is considered a  pioneer of India’s feminist movement. The third of January is observed as “Girl child education day” by the Maharashtra Government. It is also celebrated as “Mahila Shikshan Din” in different states.

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Author

  • Raju Vernekar

    Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

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