(This story was first published on 3 January 2020 and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Savitribai Phule’s death anniversary.)
“Awake, arise and educate
Smash traditions - liberate
We’ll come together and learn
Slumber not but blow the trumpet
O Brahman, dare not you upset.
Give a war cry, rise fast
Rise, to learn and act.”
As India celebrates the 189th birth anniversary of its first woman teacher, Savitribai Phule’s words from her poem ‘Awake, Arise and Educate’ ring loud.
Who is Savitribai Phule?
Born on 3 January 1831 in Naigaon, Maharashtra, Savitribai was born into a family of the Mali community, now an Other Backward Caste (OBC). When she was nine, she was married to 13-year-old Jyotirao Phule.
Hailing from an oppressed caste and being a woman, she was denied any education before her marriage. Even her husband, Jyotirao, who also belonged to the Mali community, was forced to leave school by Brahmins. He later received his education from a Scottish missionary school, which used to be "open for all".
Savitribai, on the other hand, mostly taught herself with the help of her husband at home. In 1848, at the age of 17, Savitribai with her husband, opened a school for women in India. It was the country’s first school for women by Indians.
At a time when education was nothing but a dream for Indian women, Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule went on to open 17 more schools for girls' education.
Progressively ahead of her times, Savitribai didn’t just champion the cause of female literacy, but also made significant contributions towards abolishing caste- and gender-based discrimination.
At her school in Pune, Savitribai imparted education to women from all castes.
She also worked towards preventing female infanticide, child marriage, and the killing of widows.
She died on 10 March 1897, while she was treating patients during the third global pandemic of the bubonic plague. She was 66 years old.
Leaders Pay Tribute to India’s First Woman Teacher
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, 3 January, paid tribute to Savitribai Phule on her birth anniversary, saying she dedicated her life to social unity, education and women’s empowerment.
"I salute Savitribai Phule on her birth anniversary. She dedicated her life to social unity, education and women’s empowerment. Her struggle for social consciousness will always inspire the countrymen," Modi tweeted in Hindi.
The Congress party said she dedicated her life to abolishing gender- and caste-based discrimination.
"Savitribai Phule was the first female teacher in India and is also known as the mother of feminism in the country... Her contributions to the nation shall never be forgotten," the party tweeted.
(With IANS inputs)