Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was a social reformer who worked against social evils like untouchability and caste system, and was a strong advocate of women empowerment and education of girl child. Phule was born on April 11, 1827 in present-day Maharashtra and belonged to the Mali caste of gardeners and vegetable farmers. He was bestowed with the title of Mahatma on May 11, 1888 by a Maharashtrian social activist Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar.
In 1848, when Jyotirao read Thomas Paine’s book Rights of Man (1791), he realised that social justice could only be possible with emancipation of women and downtrodden sections of society such as Dalits who were considered untouchables by the orthodox upper castes of that time. He and his wife Savitrirao Phule battled for the education of girl students and opened a school in 1848.
Phule along with his followers formed Satyashodhak Samaj in 1848 which meant ‘Seekers of Truth’ in order to attain equal social and economic benefits for the lower castes in Maharashtra. He wrote 16 books that contributed to the social awakening of the dowtrodden masses who were subject to the atrocities of the upper castes and the British administrators at that time.
Abolishment of untouchability and caste system in Maharshtra.
Jyotirao Phule was a propagator of rational thinking and encouraged education of Dalits and the girl child.
He dedicated his book Gulamgiri (slavery) to the African American movement to end slavery.
It is believed by many that it was Phule who first used the term ‘Dalit’ for the depiction of oppressed masses often placed outside the ‘varna system’.
The school started by him along with his wife Savitrirao initited a new wave of social reforms during the colonial times.
The Satyashodhak Samaj dedicated towards the removal of socio-economic backwardness of Dalits was even supported by Chhatrapati Shahu, the Maratha ruler of Kolhapur state.