Savitribai Jyotirao Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897) was an Indian social reformer and poet. Along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule, she played an important role in improving women’s rights in India during British rule. Phule along with her husband founded the first women’s school at Bhide Wada in Pune in 1848. She worked very hard to abolish discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on caste and gender. She is regarded as an important figure of the Social Reform Movement in Maharashtra. The prestigious University of Pune was renamed to Savitribai Phule Pune University in 2014.
Savitribai Phule was born in 1831 in Naigaon, Maharashtra. Her family were farmers. At the age of nine, she was married to twelve-year-old Jyotirao Phule in 1840. Savitribai and Jyotirao had no children of their own. However, the couple adopted Yashavantrao, who was the son of a widowed Brahmin.
Savitribai worked as both an educational reformer and social reformer, especially for women.
Savitribai was taught to read and write by her husband, Jyotirao. As one of the very few indigenous literate women of the time, she played a full part in her husband’s social reform movement by becoming a teacher in the schools he started for girls and later for the so called untouchables in Pune. For this task, she had to endure a lot of abuse at the hands of the orthodox society of Pune. The couple were felicitated by the colonial government of Bombay Presidency in 1850s for this work.
During the 19th century, arranged marriages before the age of maturity was the norm in the Hindu society of Maharashtra. Since mortality rates were high, many young girls often became widows even before attaining maturity. Due to social and cultural practices of the times, widow remarriage was out of question in many upper castes and therefore prospects for the young widows from those castes were poor. The 1881 Kolhapur gazetteer records that widows at that time used to shave their heads, and wear simple red sarees and had to lead a very austere life with little joy.
Tiffany Wayne has described Phule as “one of the first-generation modern Indian feminists, and an important contributor to world feminism in general, as she was both addressing and challenging not simply the question of gender in isolation but also issues related to caste and casteist patriarchy.”
Savitribai Phule wrote many poems against discrimination and advised to get educated.
Go, Get Education
Be self-reliant, be industrious
Work, gather wisdom and riches,
All gets lost without knowledge
We become animal without wisdom,
Sit idle no more, go, get education
End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,
You’ve got a golden chance to learn
So learn and break the chains of caste.
Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.