Today, independent women in India are breaking all the age-old cultural, societal and traditional barriers. But this was not the case forever. If today girls are studying in schools and colleges or working in an organisation and are getting equal opportunities as males or at least being able to read this, is just because of ‘Mahatma Jyotirao Phule’, the pioneer of girls education in India. Mahatma and his wife Savitribai, spent their entire life for the upliftment of women, gender equality and caste discrimination. It’s high time we start respecting the real heroes and thank them for what we are today.
Jyotirao was born on April 11, 1827 to Govindrao and Chimnabai in Pune. Govindrao and his brothers were working as florists for the Peshwas and hence they were called ‘Phule’, ‘Phul’ means flowers in Marathi. Though he was born as lower caste he never faced caste discrimination, as the family was closely working for the Peshwas. Jyotirao had to stop his education for supporting his family. But taking in consideration his ability, his neighbours –a Muslim teacher and a Christian man –convinced his father for completing his education. This is how he completed his education from the Scottish Mission High School in 1847. As per ‘child-marriage’ practiced then, 13-year-old Jyotirao was married to 9-year-old Savitribai.
First caste discrimination
As mentioned earlier, due to Phule’s close relation with Peshwas, the family never faced caste discrimination. But everything has a first time. In 1848, he experienced caste discrimination for the first when he was attending his Brahmin friend’s marriage ceremony. He was insulted by the kin of groom for attending the ceremony.
Started school 100 years before independence
The ‘caste discrimination’ incident had a great impact on his mind and a school for untouchables and girls was started by him within a year. Jyotiba taught his wife to read and write and thus in 1848 she became the first female teacher. In his poems, he made people aware of the importance of education.
The initiative was accepted with open hands by the society. The couple was criticised and later had to leave their parents home for going against the society.
Home for upper caste widows
During the time, child marriage was practiced and young girls were made to older men. This resulted in the increase in the number of young widows. Upper caste widows mere made to live a pitiful life. They were asked to shave their head, abort their child, not allowed to enter kitchen and many such restrictions. The Phule couple started a home for upper caste widows where they could live their own life.
The kids of widows were also abandoned. So the couple started country’s first orphanage and later also adopted a child.
Advocated widow remarriage
The couple advocated for widow remarriage. Again for this initiative they were openly criticised but the couple didn’t pay any heed.
The title Mahatma
Vithalrao Krishnaji Vadekar, a social reformer, awarded him the title ‘Mahatma’ for his great contribution in the welfare of the society. Unfortunately, Mahatma passed away on November 28, 1890 but Savitribai continued the initiatives.
Mahatma has been felicitated several times in Maharashtra and other states of India. Several places including universities, museums and vegetable markets are named after the great person.