A crusader for women empowerment, Savitribai Phule’s contribution in the field of education has left an evergreen mark on India’s historical pages. At a time when India was plagued with women’s outraged modesty, she acted as a messiah for all those women who were living a life of servitude. Today, January 3, on her 187th birth anniversary, let us remember India’s first female teacher who worked for the upliftment of women in terms of education and literacy.
Born on January 3, 1831, in Naigaon Maharashtra, Savitribai was married off to activist and social-reformer Jyotirao Phule, at a very young age. But with her husband’s support and motivation, she learned to read and write. He not only helped her in attaining good education but also supported her in achieving her dream of an India where women can live with their heads held high.
She set up India’s first women’s school. As female education was not given importance that time, people were not in favour of her running a school for girls. Especially, the upper castes strongly opposed Dalits education. To discourage her, they threw cow dung and mud at her while she walks towards the school. But even after bearing such atrocities, she was never deterred by failure and carried two sarees. Later on, she also built 18 such schools in the region.
Education was considered to be a privileged only meant for the higher castes, but Savitribai emphasised on secular education. She believed that the need for proper education was as basic as that of the requirement of food, water and shelter. She preached the importance of getting an education for both boys and girls. She was the reason thousands of women liberated and started living to fulfil their dreams.
She vigorously fought and raised her voice against society’s ignorant, archaic and barbaric views with regards to women.
Along with her husband, she also worked towards preventing female infanticide and set up a home, Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha, to prevent the killing of widows. She also campaigned against child marriage and sati pratha, which undermined the existence of women. Rape victims were often ostracised during those times, but the couple not only helped them in delivering their children but also taught them to begin a new life.
In order to control the school drop out rate, she gave stipends to children for attending school. She believed that parents played a significant role in making their child understand the importance of education and therefore used to conduct parent-teacher meetings, making parents understand the need for the same.
Later on, to honour her contribution, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University.