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192nd Birth Anniversary Savitribai Phule


On her 192nd birth anniversary, a look at the life of Savitribai Phule, India’s first woman teacher


GS I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Who was Savitribai Phule?
  2. The loud opposition to Phules’ schools
  3. Phule’s role as a social reformer, beyond education
  4. Savitribai’s literary works

Who was Savitribai Phule?

  • A Dalit woman from the Mali community, Savitribai was born on January 3, 1831, in Maharashtra’s Naigaon village.
  • Married off at the tender age of 10, her husband Jyotirao Phule is said to have educated her at home.
  • Later, Jyotirao admitted Savitribai to a teachers’ training institution in Pune.
  • Throughout their life, the couple supported each other and in doing so, broke many social barriers.
  • At a time when it was considered unacceptable for women to even attain education, the couple went on to open a school for girls in Bhidewada, Pune, in 1848.
    • This became the country’s first girls’ school.

The loud opposition to Phules’ schools

  • The Phules opened more such schools for girls, Shudras and Ati-Shudras (the backward castes and Dalits, respectively) in Pune, leading to discontent among Indian nationalists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
    • They opposed the setting up of schools for girls and non-Brahmins, citing a “loss of nationality”, and believing not following the caste rules would mean a loss of nationality itself.
  • The opposition to the couple was so hostile that eventually Jyotirao’s father Govindrao was forced to kick them out of his house.
  • Savitribai herself faced great animosity from the upper castes, including instances of physical violence.
  • But this would not deter the work and the schools came to be hailed as a success.

Phule’s role as a social reformer, beyond education

  • Savitribai Phule advocated inter-caste marriages, widow remarriage, and eradication of child marriage, sati and dowry systems, among other social issues.
  • The Phules also adopted Yashwantrao, the child of a widow, whom they educated to become a doctor.

Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha

  • Along with Jyotirao, Savitribai started the Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha (‘Home for the Prevention of Infanticide’) for pregnant widows facing discrimination.
  • This was inspired by a turn of events wherein a young Brahmin widow was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Andamans after she killed her newborn child.
  • The man who had raped the illiterate widow refused to take up any responsibility for the child, driving the widow to infanticide.

Satyashodhak Samaj:

  • In 1873, the Phules set up the Satyashodhak Samaj (‘Truth-seekers’ society’), a platform open to all, irrespective of their caste, religion or class hierarchies, with the sole aim of bringing social equity.
  • As an extension, they started ‘Satyashodhak Marriage’ – a rejection of Brahmanical rituals where the marrying couple takes a pledge to promote education and equality.

Balyata Pratibandak Gruha:

  • The couple also set up ‘Balyata Pratibandak Gruha’, a childcare centre for the protection of pregnant widows and rape victims.
  • Urging women to break free of caste barriers, Savitribai encouraged them to sit together at her meetings.

Husband’s funeral procession

  • At her husband’s funeral procession on November 28, 1890, Savitribai again defied convention and carried the titve (earthen pot).
  • Walking ahead of the procession, Savitribai was the one who consigned his body to the flames, a ritual which is still predominantly carried out by men.


  • Setting an extraordinary example of living a life of compassion, service and courage, Savitribai became involved in relief work during the 1896 famine in Maharashtra and the 1897 Bubonic plague.
  • She herself contracted the disease while taking a sick child to the hospital, and breathed her last on March 10, 1897.

Savitribai’s literary works

  • Savitribai Phule published her first collection of poems, called Kavya Phule (‘Poetry’s Blossoms’), at the age of 23 in 1854.
  • She published Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (‘The Ocean of Pure Gems’), in 1892.
  • Besides these works, Matushri Savitribai Phlenchi Bhashane va Gaani (S’avitribai Phule’s speeches and songs’), and her letters to her husband have also been published.

-Source:  Indian Express

February 2024