Philosophical and social thoughts of Savitribai Phule
Savitribai Phule (3rd January 1831-10th March 1897) was a social reformer of nineteenth century India (Maharashtra), capable teacher, leader, thinker, writer, and committed companion to her husband. Savitribai Phule is credited with being the first native teacher of girls in Maharashtra.
Under his influence,Savitribai had taken women’s education and their liberation from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as mission of her life. On January 14th,1848,Jyotirao started a school for girls and Savitribai started teaching in this school and hence, she became the first woman teacher of India. However, teaching by a woman was not an easy task then because education for girls was considered as a sin.She was subjected to intense harassment everyday as she walked to the school because a group of orthodox men used to follow her and abuse her in obscene language. Stones, mud and dirt were flung at her as she passed. She started taking an extra sari with her to wear at school. But she faced all this very courageously. This couple kindled by passion for their goal did not stop their work of educating girls from all sections of society. She innovated many new ways of teaching like telling short stories to make learning more interesting, taking sport sessions, reciting her own-made poems in front of girls. Her first collection of poems-Kavya phule was published in 1854 stressing the necessity of English and Education. Looking at her passion for education, people started sending their girls to schools themselves. The number of girls increased from twenty five to seventy during 1849-50.Thus,it could be seen that Education for her was not merely alphabetical learning but a means of igniting the minds and the personality of women and others. Her way of teaching was very simple, participative and activity based.Today we talk of educational philosophies of Gandhiji’stalim, Zakirhussain’s committee report on education etc but none of our intellectuals has ever looked at the educational pattern adopted by the Phule couple in order to make education a universal reality.
During those days, widows, particularly the Brahmin widows were the easy targets for the males of the society in terms of sexual exploitation. Many women were driven to commit suicide by men who had exploited them to satisfy their lust and then deserted them. Most of the time, they happened to be pregnant due to lack of contraceptives or other measures. Saddened by this,Phule couple immediately started a shelter home-Balhatyapratibadhakgriha for such Brahmin widows in their own house. They put up advertisements all over the city and at places of pilgrimage announcing it as a “way to avoid kalepani(life imprisonment in the Andamans)” and thus, the information about the shelter home spread. By 1873,66 Brahmin widows had come to this shelter home from different places. They also adopted a child of a Brahman widow Kashibai who later grew up to continue the work started by them.
During those days marriages were arranged between young girls and old men. Men used to die of old age or some sickness and the girls they had married were left widows. They were forced to have their head shaved so that she could easily be identified as a widow.Savitribai was moved by the plight of such widows and organised a strike of barbers to persuade them not to shave the head of the widows. This was the first strike of its kind.
During those days, Untouchability was a common practice all over India. They were not allowed to take water from the wells situated in the upper caste colonies. Moved by this, Savitribai opened up their reservoir of water to the untouchables. After realising the Caste discrimination prevailing among women, she started organising meetings and Tilgur festivals. In these meetings and festivals women of all caste could participate. Thus she provided a platform where women of all castes could have a effective sharing of views and discuss their problems with each other. Later on Savitribai realised that coming of women together is not enough. She came to the conclusion that the plight and worse condition of women is due to patriarchal values and mindset of the people. Thus women should be organized in a manner that one should feel the power of collectiveness and could fight against the atrocities done to her in the society. It was due to her efforts that a Mahila Mandal was formed in Pune in 1852.This Mahila Mandal started working for the empowerment and liberty of the women.
Phule couple introduced a new image of religion which was known as universal religion. Phule taught the people to think of religion in terms of what is right and wrong and above all in terms of cause and effect. He placed before them an account of current customs and beliefs in terms of their validity. He attacked idol-worship and made the cause for monotheism. Phule‟s social thoughts are based on humanism. Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj as a socio-spiritual movement on September 24, 1871. It is based on the values like equality, Justice and tranquility. He spread value based system through his work and thought. His philosophy was human centric. Jyotiba Phule wanted lower castes to exploit the opportunity and get rid of the tyranny of Brahmins. Savitribai headed Satyashodhak Samaj after Mahatma Phule‟s death, and broke new ground in socio-cultural creativity. Moto of Satyashodhak Samaj was to Liberalize, Equalize and Modernalize not only member of society but every people of India. Savitribai headed the women‟s unity of the Satyashodhak Samaj. The objective of the society was “to give freedom to shudras and ati-shudras (Untouchable peoples) from the tyranny of the Brahmanical scriptures and tradition, teach them their human rights and liberate them from mental and religious slavery. In the draught of 1896, Savitribai worked ceaselessly, and brought pressure on the government to undertake relief measures.In1897, an epidemic of plague swept Pune. Savitribai once again engaged personally in the relief effort. Unfortunately, she caught the disease and died on 10th march, 1897.