All of us know about feminism, but few know the name “Savitribai Phule”. She is known as the Mother of Indian Feminism.

Savitribai Phule
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Savitribai Phule was born on January 3, 1831, into a poor Dalit family in Maharashtra. She was not only a poet and social reformer but also played a significant role, alongside her husband Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, in Maharashtra’s social reform movements. Her own struggles inspired her to fight for others, and she became India’s first feminist.

She did not have any formal education before her marriage. At the time of her marriage, she was just 9 years old. When her husband learned about her love for books and desire to learn, he started to teach her. He taught her Hindi with his elder sister, Shagunbai Phule. Later, she trained in Ahmednagar and Pune as a teacher and became very efficient. Along with her husband, she started a school for girls in Maharashtra in 1848, during British rule. At that time, there were only nine students, and she taught them as a teacher there. She also conducted parent-teacher meetings, which we now think of as a modern concept. Additionally, she offered stipends to her students to prevent them from dropping out and provided vocational training. Some people used to throw cow dung and mud at her on her way to school, which is why she always kept a spare saree with her.

In the time of British Rule, when women were subjected to oppression, Savitribai fought against injustice towards women. She was the first woman to stand up for women’s rights and actively protested the ritual of shaving widows’ heads.

She dedicated most of her life to fighting for women’s empowerment and supporting victims. She opened a center for raped women who became pregnant and helped deliver their babies. The center also cared for widows of Brahmins who delivered babies after their husband’s death, which was considered sinful at the time. The care center was called “Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha”.

When the bubonic plague pandemic started in Pune, Savitribai and her adopted son, whose name was Yashwant, opened a clinic. Yashwant was a doctor, and his mother was a Brahmin widow rescued by Savitribai while attempting suicide. Later, she adopted the baby as her son. In that clinic, they provided treatment and care for those affected by the plague. Savitribai herself was affected by the plague while serving a 10-year-old boy who died on March 10, 1897.

Savitribai was regarded as the first woman teacher in India. She was also the founder of India’s first girls’ school. She wrote many poems against discrimination and fought against patriarchy and casteism. She actively spoke about the need for education, child marriage, Sati Pratha, untouchability, and Parda Pratha. Savitribai is regarded as “India’s first feminist icon”. She was the first lady who broke the stereotypes in the time of colonial rule in India when ‘Women’s Rights’ were not a matter of discussion.

Her husband stood beside her in every step she took for women’s rights. Savitribai’s efforts and struggles laid the main foundation for women’s empowerment and challenged the gender inequalities in society. In 1998, the Indian Government released a postal stamp in honor of Savitribai. The Government of Maharashtra named an award “Kranti Jyoti Savitribai Phule Award” for the women teacher of the state. Additionally, the fellowship award named “Savitribai Jyotirao Phule Fellowship for Single Girl Child”, sponsored by UGC grants a fellowship to a single girl child in a family.

Savitribai Phule’s works, writings, speeches, and activism influenced the feminist movement in India. She strongly challenged traditional gender roles and supported women’s rights and education. Her legacy continues to inspire many feminists and social reformers. Her works and struggles against social injustice have made her the icon of women’s empowerment in India.

-Mridusha Goswami, a passionate writer and poet since college, now freelances, specializing in customer experience.

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