Savitribai Phule, revolutionary leader and the first woman teacher of India, was born on January 3, 1831, in the present state of Maharashtra. To celebrate her 187th birth anniversary a public lecture was organized by the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch (DSMM) on Sunday, January 7, 2018. The lecture, ‘The Relevance of Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule's Thoughts in Contemporary Times’ was delivered by Dr Subash Chandra, faculty of Kurukshetra University, Haryana.
The programme was chaired by Brahmjeet Singh president, DSMM Delhi. Nathu Prasad, Yashpal, Savita, Rampal were on the dais. The programme was attended by more than 150 people from different parts of Delhi. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Chandra said that the Savitribai Phule was a revolutionary activist who dedicated her life along with her husband Jyotirao Phule, lovingly called as Jyotiba, for the wellbeing of humanity.
Savitribai was educated by her husband, which was revolutionary for those times. It was believed that if women were educated whole of the culture would be destroyed. Jyotiba recognised the importance of women's education. So he, along with Savitribai, opened 18 schools around Pune. For that, they were thrown out of the house by Jyotiba's father.
Not only did they open schools for girls and untouchables, they also started a shelter home for widows. In those days widows were not allowed to remarry and in the Brahmin households, widows heads were shaved off. The widows, regardless of their age, were also forced to wear white sarees. Against this practice, Savitribai Phule led a protest, urging the barbers in Pune not to shave the heads of the widows.
The young widows were also sexually exploited during that period and if she became pregnant, she was either killed or left to fend for themselves in far-off places. To address this issue the Phule couple started a shelter home and 35 children were given birth in that home. They also adopted one such child of a Brahmin widow. They named him Yeshwantrao who later went on to become a doctor and helped the Phule couple with their social work.
With their firm belief in justice and truth, they started an organisation, Satyasodhak Samaj - Truthseekers Society, to address the issues of myths and falsehood prevalent in the society.
After Jyotiba Phule expired Savitribai performed the last rites of her husband. Dr Chandra, while addressing the students, said she was probably the first woman to do so in the present times. Even today, in many places women are not allowed to go to the cremation grounds. So a woman performing the rituals for her dead husband was an extraordinary feat in 19th Century in India.
She was also a poet and a writer who wrote on different issues from time to time. With the present controversy on the Bhima-Koregaon battle, Chandra read the poem Savitribai wrote on the Peshwa Rule:
“In Peshwai that ruled
the immoral practices scared the ati-shudras
a pot around the neck to spit
a broom tied to the back to clean their own footprints.
The shameless husband,
sends his wife to his master Bajirao,
the Brahman women are so exploited by this tyrannical rule,
they keep saying may the Peshwai burn down to ashes.”
After the death of Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai led the Satyasodhak Samaj. She was working in Pune for the plague victims and succumbed to that in 1897.
Taking a cue from the life of Savitribai and Jyotiba, Chandra said that not everything can be decided by agitations alone. They have to be addressed at the community level and in the realm of ideas. The thoughts of this revolutionary couple have to be taken forward and they should be made our role model, he added.