Today in Dalit History, we honour the contribution of a Muslim woman, Fatima Sheikh, who stood steadfast in solidarity with the cause of educating Dalits, Adivasis, Shudras, and women at a time when many upper-Caste Hindus remained wary.
On seeing Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule’s efforts to teach women and the oppressed Castes, the locals actively threatened their families. Fearing violent retaliation, their families asked them to either stop all their activities or to leave home.
So even when their own family members, their own Caste brethren, and all of their larger community, didn’t stand up for their beliefs, it was Fatima Sheikh who offered them the very home she lived in. As a Muslim woman, especially someone going against Brahminical norms, the risk she took on to herself and her family cannot be understated. Fatima not only sheltered the Phule couple from dominant Caste abuse but also helped them set up the first girls’ school in her own house. Together they called the school, “Indigenous Library”.
Soon after, Fatima and Savitri enrolled in the same training institute to be trained as professional teachers. Fatima continued to teach and work alongside Savitri in their school until 1856. Fatima Sheikh is now widely regarded as the first Muslim woman teacher of the 19th century.
The friendship between Fatima and Savitri was one of respect, compassion and synergy. Throughout their time together, Savitri would often mention her in her letters to Jyotirao with affection and concern. Their friendship lives today in the form of the work they have done in creating both foundational will and actual structures for uplifting of the marginalized.
Relationships between Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Bahujans have a long history of struggle against Brahminical oppression that is often erased or misrepresented by today’s political agendas. It remains undeniable that the association of Savitribai, Jyotirao, Fatima and the Dalits, Adivasis and Bahujan they worked with, represents a line of solidarity continuing into the contemporary call for “Unity of The Oppressed”. A call that seeks to merge the struggles of SC/ST/OBC and Religious Minorities. ”
The shabby condition of Bhide Wada where first lady teacher of the nation Savitribai Phule taught along with Fatima Sheikh tells clearly how much Indian Brahminical governments remember and give credit to Dalit-Bahujans and minority communities. We have to preserve our history, we have to respect and honour our heroes.
From – Dalit History Month Collective