Jyotirao ‘Jyotiba’ Govindrao Phule was a prominent social reformer and thinker of the nineteenth century India. He led the movement against the prevailing caste-restrictions in India. He revolted against the domination of the Brahmins and struggled for the rights of peasants and other low-caste people. Mahatma Jyotiba Phule was also a pioneer for women education in India and fought for education of girls throughout his life. He is believed to be the first Hindu to start an orphanage for the unfortunate children.
Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was born in Satara district of Maharastra in 1827. His father, Govindrao was a vegetable-vendor at Poona. Jyotirao's family belonged to 'mali' caste and their original title was ‘Gorhay’. Malis were considered as an inferior caste by the Brahmins and were shunned socially. Jyotirao's father and uncles served as florists, so the family came to be known as `Phule'. Jyotirao's mother passed away when he was just nine months old.
In 1848, an incident sparked off Jyotiba’s quest against the social injustice of caste discrimination and incited a social revolution in the Indian society. Jyotirao was invited to attend the wedding of one of his friends who belonged to an upper cast Brahmin family. But at the wedding the relatives of the bridegroom insulted and abused Jyotiba when they came to know about his origins. Jyotirao left the ceremony and made up his mind to challenge the prevailing caste-system and social restrictions. He made it his life’s work to hammer away tirelessly at the helms of social majoritarian domination and aimed at emancipation of all human beings that were subjected to this social deprivation.
Efforts Towards Women Education
Jyotiba’s quest for providing women and girls with right to education was supported by his wife Savitribai Phule. One of the few literate women of the time, Savitribai was taught to read and write by her husband Jyotirao. In 1851, Jyotiba established a girls' school and asked his wife to teach the girls in the school. Later, he opened two more schools for the girls and an indigenous school for the lower castes, especially for the Mahars and Mangs.
Around his time, society was a patriarchal and the position of women was especially abysmal. Female infanticide was a common occurrence and so was child marriage, with children sometimes being married to men much older. These women often became widows before they even hit puberty and were left without any family support. Jyotiba was pained by their plight and established an orphanage in 1854 to shelter these unfortunate souls from perishing at the society’s cruel hands.
Satya Shodhak Samaj
In 1873, Jyotiba Phule formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth). He undertook a systematic deconstruction of existing beliefs and history, only to reconstruct an equality promoting version. Jyotirao vehemently condemned the Vedas, the ancient holy scriptures of the Hindus. He traced the history of Brahmanism through several other ancient texts and held the Brahmins responsible for framing the exploitative and inhuman laws in order to maintain their social superiority by suppressing the "shudras" and “atishudras” in the society. The purpose of the Satya Shodhak Samaj was to decontaminate the society from caste discrimination and liberate the oppressed lower-caste people from the stigmas inflicted by the Brahmins. Jyotirao Phule was the first person to coin the term ‘Dalits’ to apply to all people considered lower caste and untouchables by the Brahmins. Membership to the Samaj was open to all irrespective of caste and class. Some written records suggest that they even welcomed participation of Jews as members of the Samaj and by 1876 the 'Satya Shodhak Samaj' boasted of 316 members. In 1868, Jyotirao decided to construct a common bathing tank outside his house to exhibit his embracing attitude towards all human beings and wished to dine with everyone, regardless of their caste.
Mahadev Govind Ranade, (born Jan. 18, 1842, Niphad (India)—died Jan. 16, 1901, Poona , India, one of India’s Citpavan Brahmans of Maharashtra who was a judge of the High Court of Bombay, a noted historian, and an active participant in social and economic reform movements. During his seven years as a judge in Bombay (now Mumbai), Ranade worked for social reform in the areas of child marriage, widow remarriage, and women’s rights. After his appointment as instructor of history at Elphinstone College, Bombay (1866), he became interested in the history of the Marathas, a militaristic Hindu ethnic group that established the independent kingdom of Maharashtra (1674–1818). The publication of his Rise of the Maratha Power followed in 1900.
Ranade has been called the father of Indian economics for urging (unsuccessfully) the British government to initiate industrialization and state welfare programs. He was an early member of the Prarthana Samaj (“Prayer Society”), which sought to reform the social customs of orthodox Hinduism. He regularly voiced views on social and economic reform at the annual sessions of the Indian National Social Conference, which he founded in 1887. Ranade inspired many other Indian social reformers, most notably the educator and legislator Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who carried on Ranade’s reform work after his death.
Keshav Sitaram Thackeray (1885 – 1973), commonly known by his pen name Prabodhankar Thackeray, was an Indian social reformer who campaigned against superstitions and social evils in India such as Untouchability, Child marriage and Dowry. He was also a prolific author. He was one of the key leaders of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti which successfully campaigned for the linguistic state of Maharashtra. He was the father of Bal Thackeray, who founded Shiv Sena, a Marathi Hindu regionalist party. He is also the grandfather of Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray. There is a school in Pune named after him.
Keshav Thackeray's own CKP caste ranked just next to the Brahmins in the caste hierarchy, but he refused to accept this old social hierarchy. He is often described as a social activist or social reformer for his rejection of caste system.
When the prominent Marathi historian VK Rajwade the upper-caste Kshatriya status claimed by the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu (CKP) caste in a 1916 essay, Thackeray became one of his fiercest critics, and denounced his research as casteist. He wrote a text outlining the identity of the CKP caste, and its contributions to the Maratha empire. In this text, Gramanyachya Sadhyant Itihas, Thackeray talked about the discrimination suffered by other communities at the hands of the Brahmins during the Maratha rule. He was not much concerned about the ritual caste status, but sought to prove that many non-Brahmin communities (specifically the CKPs) had played a major role in the history of the Maratha empire. He wrote that the CKPs "provided the cement" for Shivaji's swaraj (self-rule) "with their blood", and supported him even before the Kshatriyas of Rajput origin joined him. Thackeray also replied to him in the Marathi book Kodandache Tanatkar (1918). Thackeray was supported in his defence by another writer Keshav Trimbak Gupte who replied to Rajwade in his sanskrit and Marathi book Rajwadyanchi Gagabhatti(1919) in which he produced verbatim the letters written by the Shankaracharya in 1830 formally endorsing the CKPs Kshatriya status by referring to them as Chandraseniya Kshatriyas and letters from Banares Brahmins (1779, 1801) and Pune Brahmins ratified by Bajirao II himself in 1796 that gave them privilege over the Vedas.
Keshav Thackeray played an important role in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement aimed at establishing the linguistic state of Maharashtra. He joined the movement in 1951, demanding the inclusion of the Dang district in Maharashtra instead of neighbouring Gujarat state. He was one of the founding members of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, which campaigned for the formation of Maharashtra and the inclusion of Belgaum and Mumbai in it.