The much often quoted dictum of Babasaheb Ambedkar about women’s liberation is: I measure the progress of the community by the progress made by women in the community. In the patriarchal society of India, the participation of women is made secondary and often relegated to the supportive or subordinate position in the movement dominated and led by men.
The ideal for the movement is to transcend the gender differences and forge a community that will seek unity of the human beings in their common endeavour to liberate one and all. That is why the study of life, mission, the intellect of Savitrimai Phule is important and imperative for the people who consider themselves the part of the social movement.
Savitrimai Phule was mostly self-educated, though her husband helped her with the knowledge of letters. The inspiration to get education came from her own being so that she can understand the world around her better. Her quest to learn at any cost is an ideal for all of us to imitate. Though she has a quest to learn, she also had a quest to teach others. She was ready to pay any cost to educate others. Stones and dung were hurled towards her by the Brahminical orthodoxy, she did not stop, she moved forward.
There is something magical in trying to teach others. Teaching others is deeper learning for oneself. One cannot simply teach others if one is not ready to learn. Teaching and learning is a mutually enforceable process. Her quest to teach others unleashed a vast amount of creative energy in her. She wrote books and also excelled in writing poetry. Her poems are stamped with her creative mind and her quest to change the world. This process of learning and teaching is the heart of the social movement. Without this process in the individuals and the groups, there is no scope for transforming the world.
One of the remarkable qualities of Savitrimai was independence. Most often we see her photograph with Jotiba as if both of them were inseparable. This alliance between the two broke apart when Jotiba died, and it was left to Savitrimai to carry on the movement without her partner. She did it, and she did it quite well. It shows that Savitrimai was the person of her own, she was an agency onto herself.
The way Savitrimai exemplified what she embodied and lived for in her death should be an ideal for all of us. She died in the service of others. When the plague broke in Pune, she took great care of people and carried children on her own shoulders to the hospitals and the funeral grounds. She caught plague and died. In the history of the social movements for liberation, she shines like the brightest star. She was an ideal for all. It is a great injustice to her person to reduce her to “mere” first women teacher of the masses. She was indeed the first teacher in this respect, but more than that she was the foremost social revolutionary whose life needs to be copied by all who are committed to the great vision of the peaceful and equal society.
Author – Mangesh Dahiwale, Human Rights Activist