Born: 3 January 1831
Born In: Naigaon, Satara district of Maharashtra.
Also Known As: First lady teacher, Mother of Education, Savitri Phule.
Father: Khandoji Neveshe Patil
Mother: Lakshmi Khandoji Neveshe Patil
Spouse/Partner: Mahatma Jyotiba Phule
Children: Yashwantrao Phule (adopted son)
Nationality: Indian
Education: Teacher’s training at Ms. Farar’s institution in Ahmednagar, School of Ms. Mitchell in Pune.
Associations: Satyashodhak Samaj.
Religious Beliefs: Hinduism
Publications: Kavyaphule, Jyotirao’s Speeches(edited), Speeches of Matoshree Savitribai, avankashi Subodh Ratnakar.
Memorial: Phule Wada, Pune, Maharashtra
Died On: 10 March 1897
Died At Age: 66 years
Place Of Death: Pune / Poona, India

Women plays important role in the family and society as well. Their dual role is very important in every age. But women empowerment is the burning issue all over the world. Although women are not completely empowered in India but the process of women empowerment is started and that credit goes to Savitribai Phule in India. If she would have not taken the initiative to educate women then the condition of women would have been more worse. This paper highlights Savitribai Phule’s contribution to women empowerment as a pioneer of education, as a poet, as a woman liberator, as a social reformer, mother of modern education and as a pragmatist.

Savitribai Phule was born on 3rd January 1831 in a poor family in Naigaon, Satara district in Maharashtra. At the age of nine she married to Jyotiba Phule. She was inspired to read and write by her husband. He taught her and sent her for training in Mitchell’s school in Pune. She performed well in school and opened first school in Pune with 9 girls and become first woman teacher of India. Every educated woman in the society owes a debt to her. She was a revolutionary and versatile personality. The basic theme of her educational philosophy is: inculcating the values of liberty, equality, fraternity, justice and moral character among the boys and girls of all castes. Her impact on the liberation of women has been spectacular.

Today, Indian women are not behind men in any respect. They have proved themselves in each and every field like education, politics, sports, science. Medical, engineering, government sectors, social service etc. They made their names in the history and ruling the hearts of many people because of their education and wisdom. But all these women could take education because of the continuous efforts of Savitribai Phule who had taken initiative to start women education in India. She started first women school exclusively for girls in India at that time when no one could think about educating a girl. At that time many social issues were there. Women were not allowed to take education, widows were not allowed to remarry. Their heads were shaven and they were forced to live an ascetic life. She decided to stop all these practices.

Women were living miserable life. She thought that only the education could bring some good change in their life. She opened first school for girls in 1848 with the help of Jyotiba Phule. Initially only 9 girls took admission but all of them were from different castes. She had taken revolutionary step to educate women which was not liked by orthodox society. She was insulted, abused, threatened and harassed by these orthodox people. People used to throw mud, cow dung on her but she faced it courageously. Then she opened two more schools and one of them exclusively for dalit children. The British government honoured the Jyotiba Phule & Savitribai Phule for their efforts in the field of education. Savitribai was declared as the best teacher in 1852. When Revenue Commissioner went to school for inspection on February 12, 1853, where Savitri Bai was engaged in teaching, he praised her a lot and Savitri Bai also spoke to him in simple English.

Savitribai Phule was a good poet of Marathi and English. She was the first Indian woman whose poems got noticed in the British Empire. The name of her first poetry composition was ‘Kavya Phule’ which was published in 1854. ‘Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar’ was published in 1982. Theme of her poetry was centred at educational and social reforms. She is known as the pioneer of Marathi poetry. She was stressing the necessity of English and education through her poems.

Poem from Kavya Phule:

If you do not have knowledge or education
And do not have the thirst for it
Despite your intellect you don’t use,
Can you be called a human being?
All go through the cycle of life and death,
Whether birds, monkeys, animals or whatever
But if you don’t have any knowledge about this,
Can you be called a human being?

She used to write speeches as well. She had collection of Jyotiba Phule’s speeches, her speeches and letters written to Jyotibal phule.

Savitribai Phule was a first women social reformer in India. Those days dalits were not allowed to take water from public tanks & wells. Many times they used to remain thirsty. In 1868 Savitribai Phule & Jyotiba phule dug a well in their house and made open for people from every caste. It was a big challenge for upper caste society. But they took a daring step. Girls were forced to marry with old age men. After the death of her husband widows were not allowed to remarry. Their heads were shaven. Savitribai organized a strike of barbers to persuade them not to shave their heads. Particularly Brahmin women were sexually exploited by males. They were driven to commit suicide. Phule started shelter home in their own house by name Balhatya pratibadhak griha for Brahmin widows. For the awareness they put advertisement at pilgrimage places and all over the city.

After releasing the problem of caste discrimination prevailing among women she started organizing meetings of women. She was calling women for Tilgul festival. So women from different caste used to come together and share their problems. Because of all these things she came to know the reasons of women’s worse condition. The reasons were authority was in the hands of males of family and mindset of people. In 1852 she formed Mahila Mandal in Pune. This Mahila Mandal was working for the women empowerment and liberty of women.

Savitribai Phule was a first Indian woman who fought against oppression of women, dalits and religious minorities. She strongly believed that education can liberate women from the oppressive patriarchal structures. To make the people aware about her devoted work towards society Mountain Peak Publishers published a book in 2008 by the name ‘Forgotten Liberator -- The Life and Struggle of Savitribai Phule’. She is one of the much devoted person who fought against the totalitarianism of caste and social evils in India. She declared the war against casteism and Brahminic castes culture. Initially she was uneducated but Jyotiba Phule encouraged her to study. Later on she became first lady teacher of India. She had gone through lot of struggle. Orthodox people troubled her a lot but she faced it courageously and peacefully. She had adopted the child of Brahmin widow as her child whose name was Yashwant. Against the tradition of shaving the heads of widows she organized a strike of barbers.

We were all shocked when Taliban shot a young girl Malala Yousafzai for defending the right of young girls to education But today in India we found woman in each and every field. They walk freely, talk freely, participate in social activities because initially Savitribai Phule struggled, criticized a lot in past. She not only fought for right education for girls but also for the right to dignity for widows, unwed mothers and women with unwanted pregnancies. She understood the importance of women education, even she understood the importance of knowing English. In spite of continuous harassment, she did not stop with her efforts. Many revolutions took place in the world like agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, information revolution, bio revolution but all these revolutions could not end the problems and sufferings of human being. She worked for the women when women were objects to be used, education for them was considered as a crime. She spoke against all boundaries because she was the woman of modern thoughts. She ignited many lives for which today’s women should be grateful.

Today’s women tasting the fruit of that tree of education which was planted and nourished by Savitribal Phule. Education for her was not only literacy or knowing the words but for her education was igniting the minds and personality of everyone. She used to teach in simple language. Mostly participative and activity based teaching methods she used in her teaching. In today’s education Right to Education act, Mid day meal scheme, Earn and learn scheme are new concepts. But Savitribai Phule used all these concept in her education. She used to give stipend to students to prevent them from drop out of the school. She motivated students to ask for library rather than giving gifts to her. She used to conduct parent teachers meeting at regular intervals so parents can understand the importance of education and they can motivate their children for education. She was very well aware about the relation between education and malnutrition so she used to provide meal to students as well.

Savitri Bai said, “Work hard, study well, and do good” she constantly underscored the importance of education and physical work for knowledge and prosperity. She felt that women must receive an education as they were in no way inferior to men; they were not the slaves of men (Braj Rajan Mani and Pamela Sardar 1988: 66) Savitri Bai Phule emphasised that education is the key to self- reliance and further to the social reform. In her work, Kavyaphule, She went to the extent of calling the ignorant people as animals (Lalita Dhara 2012: 77).

For Savitribai Phule education was not only gaining knowledge and getting degrees. Her thought was that everyone should get education through free mind and free thought. She used to say that education is one of the basic need as like food, shelter and clothing. She realised the main reason for the backwardness of people which was none other than education. So she look towards the problem of educational upliftment of the masses as a pragmatist. Savitribai was a strong critic of the orthodox ideologies of the times. People used to take loans for marriages and festivals. She wrote an essay’Karz’ to discourage people against the debt trap. Savitri Bai also motivated her 11-year-old student Muktabai, to write an essay that became the cornerstone of ‘Dalit literature’.

Savitribai Phule’s poems and other writings continue to be an inspiration for many and remain pioneering in the struggle against India’s caste system. She has put together some very valuable writing.

  1. Kavyaphule- Collection of poems, 1854
  2. Jyotirao’s Speeches, Edited by Savitribai Phule, 25 December 1856
  3. Savitribai’s Letters to Jyotirao
  4. Speeches of Matoshree Savitribai, 1892
  5. Bavankashi Subodh Ratnakar, 1892

Since 1962, 5th September in India is observed as Teachers day in India. The significance of this day, as we all have been taught in schools, is that it is the birth anniversary of independent India’s first vice president and second president, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1988-1975). In our popular knowledge, the stereotypical understanding of educators, teachers and gurus is restricted and limited to upper caste Brahmin men like Radhakrishnan, Dronacharya, and Manu – to name a few. These and many other ‘meritorious’ men have shaped our history, which not only excludes the lower castes and bahujans from its discourse, but also reinforces that the right to education and especially the right to teach remains within the ambit of the ‘born meritorious’ upper castes.

To counter to this, a section of people have been raising their voice against this mainstream culture of commemoration by challenging and rejecting the celebration of Teachers’ Day on this day. They instead, are celebrating January 3rd, the birth day of Savitribai Phule, as Education Day/National Teachers Day.

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.

Savitribai was having unbreakable courage to face orthodox people. Due to faulty parentage of Yashwant, relatives didn’t allow him for funeral procession so Savitribai took funeral mud pot herself and let the procession. Devoted to social welfare, Savitribai, while taking care of patients during the third bubonic plague, herself got the disease and died in 10 March 1897.She was first woman to enter into male bastion society. She was not a conventional Indian devoted wife but she was a bread winner, inspiring teacher, courageous leader, brave social reformer, great thinker and critic writer. Through her thoughts and works she could bring about a complete change in all spheres of women’s lives.