Mukta Salve – First Voice of Dalit Feminism


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Jotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, the social revolutionary couple started first girls’ school at Budhawar Peth in Pune in 1848. While working to educate women and lower castes, they both taught and percolated the knowledge which created conscious of social equality; it was anti caste-patriarchal among students. In 1852, they started third girls’ school, at Vetal Peth. Mukta Salve, a fourteen years girl of an untouchable caste who learnt from the school, expresses consciousness of anti caste-patriarchal in her writing.

Mukta Salve wrote an autobiographical essay and in which she presents Dalit’s and women liberal consciousness. Here it seems the beginning of women liberation in the history of modern India. Today, the only essay written by Mukta Salve is available. This essay for the first time shows that the problems of Indian caste-patriarchy and women’s liberation in the view of a Dalit woman which is concerned with castes. That’s way her essay is to treat on the first voice of Dalit Feminism in the History of Modern Indian Feminist Literature.

Phule’s did not restrict themselves to educational field only. They fought for human liberation. While fighting against caste and gender inequalities they also worked for enlightenment and empowerment of peasants and artisans castes (Shudras), Untouchables or Dalit castes (Atishudras) and women. This attitude was expressed in Phule’s talks, deeds, and behaviour. As a result of this teaching, a Mang (an untouchable caste in Maharashtra) girl student wrote the essay “An essays on the plight of Mangs and Maharas” at the age of fourteen.

The first part of the essay was published on 15 Feb. 1855 and the second part on 1 March 1855 in the periodical run by the Christian missionaries named “Dnyanodaya”. Two letters were published as a critical reply to this essay in a later issue of the periodical. Some part of this essay was published in N.V.Joshi’s book ‘Description of Pune city’ in 1868. The editor of ‘Dnyanodya’, in his editorial note, informed that Mukta Salve, 14 years girl at Jotiba Mali’s (Phule) school learning for nearly three years wrote the essay without any fear after listening misery of her parents.

Read – Dalit History Month – Remembering Mukta Salve, First Dalit Woman Writer

Dnyanodaya published her essay as it was written by her with minor editorial changes. The importance of this essay is that it was published before Phule’s writing. This essay reflects her genius and motivational force of Phule’s work. It shows the revolutionary impact Phule’s work on the caste based society. She only studies for three years but her educational progress was surprising. She came from the untouchable society which was denied knowledge for thousands of years and exploit by Brahminical society. But she develops learning in short period effectively as well as with independent thinking. At her early age and a short span of education, she acquires knowledge of society and self-conscience. This fact has to be called very crucial in the History of Modern India. But the researchers ignored Mukta Salve’s contribution under the influence of brahminical culture.

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She observed misery and plight of Dalit, downtrodden women of such castes that were prohibited entering village. As they were untouchable, they were supposed to live outside the village. Mukta Salve belongs to the downtrodden and the untouchable and the lowest caste in Maharashtra. She says that they were treated as outsiders in Hindu – Brahminical religion. She wanted to suggest that Hindu – Brahminical religion is not the religion of untouchables. The misery of women of the lowest castes is different from the women of upper castes society and it is more frightening. So her essay shows that the misery and exploitation of Dalit women are based on caste and patriarchal society. She wanted to say that the misery and exploitation are not same across India. It differs on the basis of caste, gender etc.

Read – Grief of the Mangs and the Mahars – First Ever Writing By a Dalit Woman – Mukta Salve

The contribution of Mukta Salve is the first voice of Dalit women in Modern India. She started her reflective and thought provoking writing before Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai. The consciousness about Dalit literature and Dalit feminism was provoked by a school girl like Mukta Salve. But the basic question that comes in mind is that what happened of Mukta Salve in a later time? Where she went? Had she produced any further literature? If she had produced, Where is her literature? If she could not produce what were the reasons for this? Today she is remembered for her only essay and nothing else.

This is the tragedy of caste-patriarchy.

 References :-

  • Joshi, N.V. (Ed.G.D.Khanolkar) Pune Shaharache Varnan, Sahitya Sahakar Sanga Prakashan, Mumbai,1971 (in Marathi).
  • Phadke, Y.D. (Ed.) Mahatma Phule Samagra Wangmaya, Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Ani Sanskriti Mandal, Mumbai, 1991 (in Marathi).
  • Narke, Hari (Ed.) Amhi Pahilele Phule, Mahatma Phule Charitra Sadhane Prakashan Samiti, Mumbai, 1993 (in Marathi).
  • Lele,R.K.,Marathi Vruttaptrancha Itihas, Continental Prakashan, Pune, 1984 (in Marathi).
  • Keer Dhananjay, Mahatma Jotirao Phooley: Father Of Our Social Revolution, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1964.
  • O’hanlon Rosalind, Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1985.

Author – Asst. Prof. S.R.Garud (History), K.B.P.College, Islampur.(Dist-Sangli)

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