If we go back to the history of ancient India, we could find numerous women who were considered to be highly literate. They contributed to various fields such as literature, poetry, science, astronomy, and philosophy. However, women’s education took an exponential dip downwards during British rule. Conservative society became the biggest impediment in the way of women’s literacy. In a country like India with a booming populace where women account for more than two-thirds of the population, the rate of women literacy is still criminally low.
There were only a handful of eminent personalities who took the initiative for women’s education. Savitribai Phule was a distinguished educationist, the woman who started women’s education in India.
Savitribai Phule – The Voice of Backward Class
Savitribai Phule was the better half of the pioneer educationist Jyotirao Phule. Jyotirao Phule hailed from a Dalit background. In nineteenth-century India, the caste system was so rigid that the backward classes were deprived of basic human rights, let alone education. Savitribai Phule worked alongside her husband to promote women’s education in India. The first girls’ school in India was established by Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule in August 1848. The school commenced its journey with nine girls from various social and economic backgrounds. Between 1848 and 1852, they established eighteen schools in and around Pune. Savitribai Phule took charge of the women’s schools.
The Mother of Indian Feminism
We often talk about gender equality in a developing country and it is an important factor too. Historically, India is a patriarchal society. Women had to fight for their rights and they are still fighting. Savitribai Phule, the woman who started women’s education in India, raised her voice for gender equality. She deciphered that education is a fundamental right and like men, women are entitled to the right. She devoted her entire life to abolishing discrimination based on the stern caste system and gender inequality. Without her efforts, women would not be able to come a long way and stand where they are standing today.
The Author in Pursuit of Women Literacy
Apart from social activism and philanthropic works, Savitribai Phule was a prolific writer. As the woman who started women’s education in India, she excelled in poetry too. She published her debut poetry collection, ‘Kavya Phule’ in 1854. Proofs of her flair for writing are spread in various letters that she wrote to Jyotirao Phule and others. In 1892, she published ‘Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar’. One of her famous poems is ‘Go, Get Education.
Social Activism and Philanthropic Works
Savitribai Phule established the Mahila Seva Mandal which raised awareness for women’s rights. Women were oppressed not only in the lower classes but in the higher stratum of society also. Infanticide (mainly female children) was a common issue back then and is still rampant in distant rural areas. She opened Home for the Prevention of Infanticide where women could safely deliver. Even Brahmin women used to go to Home for the Prevention of Infanticide to deliver children. She was against child marriage and worked on widow remarriage like Iswarchandra Vidyasagar.
Breathed Her Last for the Cause
SAvitribai Phule is considered to be the woman who started women’s education in India. Apart from that, she was an active social worker. During the third pandemic of the Bubonic Plague, she opened a clinic to treat the patients affected by the plague. On such an occasion, she rushed to the outskirts of Pune to bring a patient to the clinic for treatment.
She carried the son of Pandurang Babaji Gaekwad on her back. In the process, she contracted the plague and breathed her last on 10th March 1897.