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Monday, June 13, 2011

First female Teacher of the first Women's School in India


Savitribai Jotiba Phule (January 3, 1831- March 10, 1897)was a social reformer who along with her husband, Mahatma Jotiba Phule played an important role in improving women's rights in India during the British Rule.Savitribai was the first female teacher of the first women's school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry.In 1852 she opened a school for Untouchable girls.

Mahatma Jyotiba is regarded as one of the most important figures in social reform movement in Maharashtra and India. He is most known for his efforts to educate women and the lower castes. Jyotirao, then called as Jyotiba was Savitribai’s mentor and supporter. Under his influence Savitribai had taken women’s education and their liberation from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as mission of her life. She worked towards tackling some of the then major social problems including women’s liberation, widow remarriages and removal of untouchability.

However, apart from all these oppositions, Savitribai yet continued to teach the girls. Whenever Savitribai went out of her house, groups of orthodox men would follow her and abuse her in obscene language. They would throw rotten eggs, cow dung, tomatoes and stones at her. She would walk meekly and arrive at her school. Fed up with the treatment meted out to her, she even decided to give up. But it was because of her husband that she continued with her efforts. He told Savitribai Jyotiba who was working for women's education had started the first girl’s school and required women teachers to assist him. Jyotiba educated and trained Savitribai, his first and ideal candidate for this job of a teacher. Savitribai and Jyotiba faced fierce resistance from the orthodox elements of society for this. Jyotiba sent her to a training school from where she passed out with flying colours along with a Muslim lady Fatima Sheikh.When Savitribai completed her studies, she, along with her husband, started a school for girls in Pune in 1848. Nine girls, belonging to different castes enrolled themselves as students.

Slowly and steadily, she established herself. Jyotiba and Savitribai managed to open 5 more schools in the year 1848 itself. She was ultimately honoured by the British for her educational work. In 1852 Jyotiba and Savitribai were felicitated and presented with a shawl each by the government for their commendable efforts in Vishrambag Wada.The next step was equally revolutionary. During those days marriages were arranged between young girls and old men. Men used to die of old age or some sickness and the girls they had married were left widows. Thus, widows were not expected to use cosmetics or to look beautiful. Their heads were shaved and the widows were compelled by society to lead an ascetic life.

Savitribai and Jyotiba were moved by the plight of such widows and castigated the barbers. They organized a strike of barbers and persuaded them not to shave the heads of widows. This was the first strike of its kind. They also fought against all forms of social prejudices. They were moved to see the untouchables who were refused drinking water meant for the upper caste. Both Jyotiba and Savitribai opened up their reservoir of water to the untouchables in the precincts of their house.

Savitribai was not only involved in educational activities of Jyotirao but also in every social struggle that he launched. Once Jyotiba stopped a pregnant lady from committing suicide, promising her to give her child his name after it was born. Savitribai readily accepted the lady in her house and willingly assured to help her deliver the child. Savitribai and Jyotiba later on adopted this child who then grew up to become a doctor and after Jyotiba's death, lit his pyre and completed his duties as a rightful son. This incident opened new horizons for the couple. They thought of the plight of widows in Hindu society. Many women were driven to commit suicide by men who had exploited them to satisfy their lust and then deserted them. Therefore, Savitribai and Jyotiba put boards on streets about the "Delivery Home" for women on whom pregnancy had been forced. The delivery home was called "Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha".

Jyotiba and Savitribai were also opposed to idolatry and championed the cause of peasants and workers. They faced social isolation and vicious attacks from people whom they questioned. After his demise, Savitribai took over the responsibility of Satya Shodhak Samaj, founded by Jyotiba. She presided over meetings and guided workers.In 1868 she welcomed untouchables to take water from her well.She worked relentlessly for the victims of plague, where she organized camps for poor children. It is said that she used to feed two thousand children every day during the epidemic. By a strange irony, she herself was struck by the disease while nursing a sick child and died on 10 March 1897.

Savitribai's poems and other writings are still an inspiration to others. Two books of her poems were published, Kavya Phule in 1934 and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar in 1982. Recently the Maharashtra government started an award in her name for Women Who Work Social Causes.Jotiba and Savitribai opposed idolatry and championed the cause of peasants and workers. Both faced social isolation and vicious attacks from the people whom they questioned. Savitribai's letters give us a good idea about the experiences of women during this social movement. On her death anniversary, a postage stamp was released by the Department of Post and Telegraph. 

On March 10, 1998 a stamp was released by Indian post to honour Savitribai's contribution.Savitribai was a "Vidya Jyoti" for all those who want to do something in the field of education.

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