Life Sketch of Savitribai Phule – Timeline
“Savitribai Phule (1831-97), struggled and suffered with her revolutionary husband in an equal measure, but remains obscured due to casteist and sexist negligence. Apart from her identity as Jotirao Phule’s wife, she is little known even in academia. Modern India’s first woman teacher, a radical exponent of mass and female education, a champion of women’s liberation, a pioneer of engaged poetry, a courageous mass leader who took on the forces of caste and patriarchy certainly had her independent identity and contribution. It is indeed a measure of the ruthlessness of elite-controlled knowledge-production that a figure as important as Savitribai Phule fails to find any mention in the history of modern India. Her life and struggle deserves to be appreciated by a wider spectrum, and made known to non-Marathi people as well,” writes Braj Ranjan Mani.
Here we present life-sketch of Savitribai Phule. In case we have missed any important event from the life of Savitribai Phule or have made any mistake while recording any event, let us know in the comments section and we will try to update the timeline. Alternatively, you can submit further information here. If you like this timeline, share it with your friends!
Country’s first school for girls was started at Bhide Wada in Pune. On 1st Jan. 1848, India’s first school for girls was started at Bhide Wada in Pune by Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule. The present condition of that first school for girls is miserable because of the lack of interest from subsequent governments in preserving the Dalit-Bahujan heritage.
Life of Savitribai Phule as a teacher in the school at the time when upper caste orthodox people used to look down wasn’t easy and many times they used to pelt stones and throw dung on her. The young couple faced severe opposition from almost all sections. Savitribai was subject to intense harassment every day as she walked to the school. Stones, mud and dirt were flung at her as she passed but Savitribai Phule faced everything courageously.
Savitribai Phule is also said to have inspired a young student to ask for a library for the school at an award ceremony instead of gifts for herself. She inspired the young girls to take up painting, writing, and other activities. An essay written by a young girl, Mukta Salve, at that time became the face of Dalit literature and Dalit Feminism. Parent-teacher meeting was conducted at regular intervals to aware the parents about the importance of education and to encourage their children to attend the schools regularly.
You might wonder the Right to Education Act, midday meal schemes are a modern-day concept but Savitribai Phule and Jotiba Phule set the stage for it almost 170 years back by giving stipends to children to reduce the dropout rate in schools. They took initiatives to reduce malnutrition in children by taking care of the health of each and every child in school.
By 1851, Savitribai Phule along with her husband was running three schools with around 150 female students. For her, education was not simply alphabetical learning, but rather, an evolution of the mind itself. Her innovative methods of teaching slowly attracted the common people, as the number of girls increased.
Savitribai Phule started Mahila Seva Mandal in 1852, which worked for raising women’s consciousness about their human rights, the dignity of life and other social issues. She went on to organise a successful barbers strike in Mumbai and Pune against the prevailing practice of shaving of widows’ heads.
On 28 January 1853, the first-ever infanticide prohibition home of India was started by Savitribai Phule. Due to the Brahminical Social Order, those were the days when women irrespective of their caste and class were very much oppressed in all fields of life. There were many patriarchal and Brahminical traditions, values and rituals which were against women. There were a large number of widows in the Pune City and the nearby villages during days. Adolescents and young girls happened to more among in the widows. These widows were boycotted publicly and with the meagre financial support, they were clandestine subjects to sexual exploitation.
Savitribai Phule wrote many poems against discrimination and advised people to get educated. Savitribai Phule was the first Dalit women, in fact, the first Indian woman whose poems got noticed in the British empire. Savitribai Phule was the mother of modern poetry stressing the necessity of English and education through her poems. “Kavya Phule”- the first collection of poems was published in 1854. Read a few of her poems from “Kavyaphule” from here.
At a time when even the shadow of untouchables was considered impure when the people were unwilling to offer water to thirsty untouchables, Savitribai Phule and Mahatma Jotiba Phule opened the well in their house for the use of untouchables. It was a challenge thrown at the Brahmins to change their mindset towards untouchables (But unfortunately, the sick mindset of so-called upper castes have not changed even after almost 200 years, Dalit (untouchables) still strive for water rights).
When Jotiba Phule established the Satya Shodhak Samaj, Savitribai became the head of the women’s section which included ninety female members. Moreover, she worked tirelessly as a school teacher for girls. After Jotiba Phule’s death, she was the chairperson of Satya Shodhak Samaj and carried his work ahead. Savitribai Phule acted as a Chairperson of Satya Shodhak Samaj Conference at Saswad in 1893. Its purpose was to liberate the Shudra and Untouchable castes from exploitation and oppression.
In 1874, Phule couple adopted the son of Kashibai, a Brahmin widow. When Infanticide Prohibition Home started by Savitribai Phule working as a hospital, Savitribai did not remain as one who served to widows but she went further in this regard. She adopted a child from a Brahmin widow (Kashibai) and thereby gave a message to the progressive people of the society. This adopted child was named Yashwant Rao, who later became a doctor.
Savitribai and her adopted son, Yashwant, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Nallasopara in 1897. Savitribai Phule personally took patients to the clinic where her son served them. While caring for the patients, she contracted the disease herself. She died from it on 10 March 1897 while serving a plague patient.
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