Friday, November 11, 2011


Savitribai  Phule was the wife of the social reformer Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, and an activist in her own right. She was married to Jyotirao in 1840 at the age of nine. Her husband wished to educate her, a project which met with fierce resistance from his own family. Nothing daunted, they moved out of the ancestral home so that she could go to school unhindered. She and a Muslim, Fatima Sheikh, finished school together in 1847. Savitribai having completed her studies, she and her husband started a school for girls in Pune in 1848, with nine girls from different castes as the first batch of students. Every day as Savitribai walked to the school to teach, groups of orthodox men would follow her, jeer at her and pelt her with garbage and stones. She was severely discouraged, but her husband urged her to go on. He gave her two saris, telling her to wear the cheap one for society to dump its garbage on her on the road, and to change into the better one in school. Finally one day Savitribai’s patience evaporated and she slapped one of her tormentors. From the following day, she was left unmolested.

She and her husband continued to open schools. She also campaigned against the ill-treatment of widows and urged the barbers who shaved widows’ heads to go on ‘strike’. Wells were segregated by caste, so they threw open their water reservoir to the untouchables in the neighbourhood. Once Jyotirao stopped a pregnant woman from committing suicide, promising her to give her child his name after it was born. Savitribai and Jyotirao later on adopted this child who grew up to become a doctor. They also set up a shelter for pregnant women to be delivered where no questions would be asked about the antecedents of the child. This was called the ‘Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha’ or ‘place of prevention of child murder’. The couple continued to face intense prejudice and hostility from society for their reforms. Savitribai carried on her husband’s work after his death. In 1897 she threw herself into relief work during the Bombay plague, but caught the disease and died.

Savitribai was also a Marathi poet. She published two collections, Kavya Phule in 1934 and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar in 1982. In 1996 the Maharashtra government started an award in her name for women who work for social causes. On her death anniversary, a postage stamp was released by the Department of Post and Telegraph to commemorate her.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Biography of Mahatma Phule

Biography of Mahatma Phule: 
JYOTIRAO GOVINDRAO PHULE occupies a unique position among the social
reformers of Maharashtra in the nineteenth century. While other reformersconcentrated more on reforming the social institutions of amily and marriage with special emphasis on the status and right of women, Jotirao Phule revolted against the unjust caste system under which millions of people had suffered for centuries. In particular, he courageously upheld the cause of the untouchables and look up the cudgels for the poorer peasants. He was a militant advocate of their right. The story of his stormy life is an inspiring saga of a continuous struggle whih he waged relentlessly against the forces of reaction. Though some keen observers of the social scene in Maharashtra like Narayan Mahadeo Parmananda did acknowledge his greatness in his lifetime, it is only in is only in recent decades that there is increasing appreciation of his service and sacrifice in uplifting the masses.
           Jyotirao Phule was born in 1827. His father, Govindrao was a vegetable-vendor at Poona. Originally Jyotirao's family known as Gorhays, came from Katgun, a village in the Satara district of Maharashtra, His grandfather Shetiba Gorhay settled down in Poona. Since Jyotirao's father and two uncles served as florists under the last of the Peshwas, they came to be known as `Phule'. Jotirao's mother passed away when he was hardly one year old. After completing his primary education, Jyotirao had to leave the school and help his father by working on the family's farm. Jotirao's marriage was celebrated when he was not even thirteen.
             Impressed by Jyotirao's intelligence and his love of knowledge two of his neighbours,one a Muslim teachr and another a Christian gentleman persuaded his father Govindrao to allow him to study in a secondary school. In 1841, got admission in the Scottish Mission's High School at Poona. It was in his this school that he met Sadashiv Ballal Govande, a Brahmin, who remained a close friend throughout his life. Both Jotirao and Govande were greatly influenced by Thomas Paine's ideas and they read with great interest Paine's famous book 'The Rights of Man.' Moro Vithal Valvekar and Sakharam Yashwant Paranjapye were two other Brahmin friends of Jotirao who in later years stood by him in all his activities. After completing his secondary education in 1847 Jotirao decided not to accept a job under the Government.
             An incident in 1848 made him aware of the iniquities of the caste system, the predominant position of the Brahmin in the social setup. He was invited to attend a wedding of one of his Brahmin friends. As the bridegroom was taken in a procession, Jotirao accompanied him along with the relatives of his Brahmin friends. Knowing that Jotirao belonged to the Mil caste which was considered to be inferior by the Brahmins, the relatives of the bridegroom insulted and abused him. Jotirao left the procession and retuned home. With tears in his eyes, he narrated his experience to his father who tried to pacify him. After this incident Jotirao made up his mind to defy the caste-system and serve the Shudras and women who were deprived of all their rights as human beings under the caste-system. 
          Education of women and the lower castes, he believed, deserved priority, Hence he began educating his wife Savitribai and opened a girls' school in August 1848. The orthodox opponents of Jotirao were furious and they started a vicious campaign against him. He refused to be unnerved by their malicious propaganda. As no teacher dared to work in a which untouchable were admitted as students, Jotirao asked his
wife to teach the girls in his school. Stones and brickbats were thrown at her when she was on her way to the school. The reactionaries threatened Jotirao's father with dire consequences if he did not dissociate himself Yielding to the pressure, Jotirao's father asked his son and the daughter in-law to leave his house as both of them refused to give up their noble endeavor. 
       Though the school had to be closed for sometime due to lack of funds, Jotirao re-opened it with the help of his Brahmin friends Govande and Valvekar. On 3 July 1851, he founded a girls' school in which eight girls were admittedon the first day. Steadily the number of student increased. Savitribai taught in this school also and had to suffer a lot because of hostility of the orthodox people. Jotirao opened two more girl's schools during 1851-52 in a memorial addressed to the Education Commission (popularly known as the Hunter Commission ) in 1882, he described his activities in the field of education, ` A year after the institution of the female school I also established and indigenous mixed school for the lower classes, especially the Mahars and Mangs. Tow more school for these classes were subsequently added. I continued to work in them for nearly nine to ten years'. 
        Jotirao was aware that primary education among the masses in the Bombay Presidency was very much neglected. He argued that 'a good deal of their poverty,their want of self-reliance, their entire dependence upon the learned and intelligent classes' could be attribute to the British Government for spending profusely a larportion of revenue on the education of the higher classes. According to him. this policy resulted in the virtual monopoly of all the higher offices under the Government by the Brahmins.
         Jyotirao boldly attacked the stranglehold of the Brahmins, who prevented others from having access to all the avenues of Knowledge and influence. He denounced them as cheats and hypocrites. He asked the masses to resist the tyranny of the Brahmins. All his writings were variation on this theme. His critics made fun of his ignorance of grammar and philology, his inelegant language and far-fetched interpretation of Indian history and the ancient texts. They brushed his criticism aside by saying that he was merely echoing what the Christian missionaries had said about the Indian
society in general and Brahmin in particular. The established scholars in his time did not take Phule's arguments seriously. His critics did not realise that Jotirao's acrimonious criticism was basically a spontaneous outburst of a genuine concern for the equal rights of human beings Emotionally he was so deeply involved in his work that he could not make a dispassionate analysis and take a detached view of the social forces. Jotirao's deep sense of commitment to basic human values made it difficult for him to restrain himself when he witnessed injustice and atrocities committed in the name of religion by those who were supposed to be its custodians.
            Widow remarriages were banned and child-marriage was very common among the Brahmin and other upper castes in the then Hindu society. Many widows were young and not all of them could live in a manner in which the orthodox people expected them to live. Some of the delinquent widows resorted to abortion or left their illegitimate children to their fate by leaving them on the streets. Out of pity for the orphans, jotirao Phule established an orphanage, possible the first such institution founded by a Hindu. Jotirao gave protection to pregnant widows and assured them that the orphanage would take care of their children. It was in this orphanage run by Jotirao that a Brahmin widow gave birth to a boy in 1873 and Jotirao adopted him as his son.For sometime, Jotirao worked as a contractor for the government and supplied building material required for the construction of a huge barrage at Khadakvasala near Poona. He had a direct experience of working with the officials of the Public Works Department which was notorious as a hotbed of corruption. Except the British officers holding very high positions in the Department. the clerks and other officers were invariably Brahmin and they exploited the illiterate workers. Jotirao felt in necessary to explain to the workers how they were duped by the Brahmin officials . in one of the ballads composed by him, he described vividly the fraudulent practices resorted to by the Brahmin officials in the Public Works Department (printed at the end of `Slavery')In 1868, Jotirao decided to give access to the untouchables to small bathing tank mere his house. In his controversial book called Slavery published in June 1873, Jotirao included a manifesto which declared that he was willing to dine with all regardless of their caste, creed or country of origin. It is significant that several newspapers refused to give publicity to the manifesto because of its contents. His book Slavery was severely criticised for its `venomous propaganda' against the Brahmins. Jotio dedicated this book `to the good people of the United States as a token of admiration for their sublime, disinterested and self sacrificing devotion in the cause of Negro Slavery'. The book is written in the form of a dialogue. After tracing the history of the Brahmin domination in India, Jotirao examined the motives and objects of cruel and inhuman laws framed by the brahmins. Their main object in fabricating these fasehoods was to dupe the minds of the ignorant and rivet firmly on them the chains of perpetual bondage and slavery which their selfishness and cunning had forged, The severity of the laws as affecting the Sudras and the intense hatred with which they were regarded by the Brahmins can be explained on no other supposition but that there was, originally between the two, a deadly feud arising from the advent of the latter in to this land. Jotirao argued that the sudras were the sons of the soil while the Brahmins came from outside and usurped everything that was possessed by the `not one hundredth part of the rogueries' that were generally practsed on his `poor,illiterate and ignorant Sudra brethren'.
       On 24 September 1873 , Jotirao convened a meeting of his followers and admirers and it was decided to form the 'Satya Shodhak Samaj' (Society of Seekers of Truth) with Jotirao as its first president and treasurer. Every member had to take pledge of loyalty to the British Empire. The main objectives of the organisation were to liberate  the Shudras and Ati Shudras and to prevent their exploitation by the Brahmins. All the members of the Satya Shodhak Samaj were expected to treat all human being as children of God and worship the Creator without the help of any mediator. Membership was open to all and the available evidence proves that some Jews were admitted as members. In 1876.
         Jotirao refused to regard the Vedas as sacrosanct. He opposed idolatry and denounced the chaturvarnya. In his book Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Pustak published in 1891, his views on religious and social issues are given in the form of f dialogue.According to him,both men and women were entitled to enjoy equal rights and it was a sin to discriminate between human being on the basis of sex. He stressed the unity of man and envisaged a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. He was aware that religious bigotry and aggressive natioalism destroy the unity of man.
          In 1876 Jotirao was nominated as a member of the Poona Municipality, He tried to help the people in the famine-stricken areas of Maharashtra when a severe famine in 1877 forced people in the rural area to leave their villages. Some of them had to leave their children behind and appeal issued on 17 May 1877 by Jotirao indicates that the Victoria Orphanage was founded under the auspices of the Satya Shodhak Samaj to took after these unfortunate children. From the beginning of the year 1879 Krishnarao Bhalekar, one of his colleagues, edited a weekly called Deenbandhu which was the organ f the Satya Shodhak Samaj. The weekly articulated the grievances of the peasants and workers. Deenbandhu defended Jotirao when Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, a powerful spokesmen of the conservative nationalists, attacked Jotirao's writing in the most vitriolic style.
            Narayan Meghaji Lokhande was another prominent colleague of Jotirao, Lokhande is acclaimed as the Father of Trade Union Movement in India From 1880 onward, he look over the management of Deenbabdhu which published from Bombay. Along with Lokhande. Jotirao also addressed the meetings of the textile workers in Bombay. It is significant that before and his colleagues Bhalekar and Lokhande tried to organise the peasants and the workers, no such attempt was made by any organisation to redress their grievances.
            One of the charges levelled by Jotirao against the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj and the Prarthana Samaj, the Sarvajanik Sabha and the Indian National Congress was that despite their programmes, in reality, they did very little to improve the lot of the masses. He felt that these organisations were dominated by the Brahmins and were not truly representative in character. In his booklet called Satsara (The Essence of Truth) published in June 1885, he criticised the Brahmo Samaj and the Prarthana Samaj. Addressing their leaders he declared, 'We don't need the help of your organisations. Don't worry about us' In his book, Sarvajanik Sabha or the Indian National Congress. He warnhat the persistent demand made by these organisation for Indianisation of the administrative services, if accepted, would lead to Brahminisation of the service in India. He thought that it was difficult to create a sense of nationality so long as the restriction on dining and marrying outside the caste continued to observed by people belonging to different castes. Education of the masses would promote the process of nation-making.
              It should be remembered that just as Jotirao did not mince words when he criticised the leaders of tormist movement he was equally fearless in criticising the decision of the alien rulers which did not contribute to the welfare of the masses. When the government wanted to grant more licences for liquor-shop, Jotirao condemned this move as he believed that addiction to liquor would ruin many poor families. On 30 November 1880, the President of the Poona Municipality requested the members of approve his proposal of spending one thousand rupees on the occasion of the visit of Lord Lytton, the Governor-General of India. The official wanted to present him an address during his visit to Poona. Lytton had passed an Act which resulted in gagging
the press and Deenbandhu, the organ of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, had protested against the restriction on the right to freedom of the press. Jotirao did not like the idea of spending the money of the tax- payers in honouring a guest like Lytton. He boldly suggested that the amount could be very well spent on the education of the poor people in poona. He was the only member out of all the thirty-two nominated members of the Poona Municipality who voted against the official resolution.
           Another incident also revealed his attachment for the poor peasant and his courage in drawing the attention of member of the British royal family to the sufferings of the framers in rural areas, On 2 March 1888, Hari Raoji Chiplunkar, a friend of Jotirao, arranged a function in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught. Dressed like a peasant, Jotirao attended the function and made a speech,. He commented on the rich invitees who displayed their wealth by wearing diamond studded jewellery and warned the visiting dignitaries that the people who had gathered there did not represent India. If the Duke of Connaught was really interested in finding out the condition of the Indian subjects of Her Majesty the Queen of England, Jotirao suggested that the ought to visit some nearby village as well as the areas in the city occupied by the untouchables. He requested the Duke of Connaught who was a gandson of Queen Victoria to convey his message to her and made a strong plea to provide education to the poor people, Jotirao's speech created quit a stir.
       Throughout his life. Jotirao Phule fought for the emancipation of the downtrodden people and the struggle which he launched at a young age ended only when he died on 28 November 18 He was a pioneer in many fields and among his contemporaries he stands out as one who never wavered in his quest for trust for and justice, Thought he was often accused of fomenting hatred between the non Brahmins, very rarely an attempt was made to consider his scathing criticism in a broad perspective. The later generation also took considerable time to understand and appreciate the profound significance of his unflinching espousal of the rights of man remained till the end of his life a major theme of his writings and a goal of his actions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Criticism of the British Rule

Criticism of the British Rule:

Though Phule preferred British rule to the regime of the Brahmins, he was aware of the shortcomings of the former and he never hesitated to point them out openly. Since his mission was to bring about an egalitarian society where all men and women would enjoy liberty, Phule criticized the contemporary rulers if he felt that their policies went against this idea. He was mainly interested in
destroying forever the supremacy of Brahmins in social, economic and political fields. Therefore, he used to attack the British government whenever its policies favoured the Brahmins even indirectly.
  It was the educational policy of the British government which came under severe attack from Phule. He complained that the government was providing more funds and greater facilities to higher education and neglecting that of the masses. He bro&ht it to the notice of the government that the greater portion of the revenue of the Government was derived from the labour of masses. The higher and rich classes contribute very little to State's exchequer. The government, therefore, should spend a large portion of its income on the education of the masses and not of the higher classes. Due to the educational policy favouring the upper classes, the higher offices were virtually monopolized by them, If the government wished the welfare of the lower castes, i t was its duty to reduce the proportion of high castes in the administration and increase that of the lower castes. Phule's object in writing a book on slavery was to open the eyes of the government to the pernicious system of high class education. This system, Phule said, was keeping the masses in ignorance and poverty. The government used to collect a special cess for educational purposes but the funds so derived were not spent for education of the masses. He criticized the primary schools run by the government by saying
that the education imparted in these schools was not satisfactory. It did not prove practical or useful in the future career of the students. He also criticized on similar lines the higher secondary schools, colleges and system of scholarships. The scholarship system, he observed was unduly favorable to literary castes while there was a need to encourage the lower castes children. Moderate nationalists had always held high the liberal principles on which the, British government was founded and criticized the colonial bureaucracy for departure from them. Phule agreed with them on this point. However, he made a distinction between British officers and the Brahmin officers and preferred the i former. But he observed that the British officers were concerned about their own comfort and salaries. They did not find sufficient time to know about the real conditions of the peasants. They did not understand the language of the  peasants. The Brahmin officers thereby used to get an opportunity to mislead the British officers and exploit the poor and illiterate peasants. Phule probably did not realize that the colonial rule depended  upon the elites of the colony tomaintain its dominance and therefore recruited them to the bureaucracy.
His biographers tell us that when he was a member of the Poona Municipality he showed rare courage in opposing a move to spend one thousand rupees on I Viceroy's visit. In 1888 a dinner was organised in honour of the Duke of Conngught at Poona. Phule went there in the typical dress of a poor peasant and delivered a moving speech after the dinner. He told the audience that the people of the country were to be found in the villages. He had intentionally come in that dress so that the British guests would come to know how a common peasant lived: He also told them that it was the duty of the government to formulate policies for the welfare of these.peasants. In his writings also we come across a criticism of government's policies which went against the peasants. We will take
note of it while discussing his views on economic issues.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Welcoming the British Rule

Welcoming the British Rule
British rule had brought to an end the tyranny and chaos of the regime of the last Peshwa in Maharashtra. The colonial rulers had not only established law andorder but also the principle of equality before law. The earlier regime of Brahmin Peshwas had imposed strict limitations on education, occupation arid living standards of the lower castes and women. The new rulers opened the opportunities in education and mobility in occupation for the members of all castes. Missionary schools and government colleges were ready to admit any student irrespective of caste origins. New ideas of equality and liberty could reach the moderately educated sections of the lower caste. Phule was probably the best product of this process. High caste reformers and leaders also had welcomed the colonial rule. It is not surprising that Phule who was concerned with the slavery of the lower castes also favoured the british rule He hoped that the new government which believes in equality between man and man would emancipate lower castes, from the domination of the Brahmins. The British rule opened up new employment opportunities in the administration. The political power at local level was also being given to the Indians. Phule who had worked as a member of the Poona Municipality could visualise how lower castes wouid be able to acquire power at local level during
the period of British rule and also enter the colonial bureaucracy. He believed inthe benevolent attitude of the British rulers towards the lower castes and therefore asked for a number of things from them. He was not sure how long the British rule would continue. Therefore, he wanted lower castes to exploit the opportunity and get rid of the tyranny of Brahmins. Brahmin rulers used to collect huge wealth out of taxes levied on poor lower castes population, but never used to spend even a paisa for their welfare. On the contrary, the new regime was showing the signs of doing good things for the deprived people. Phule assured the colonial rulers that if the Shudras were made happy and contented, they need not worry about the loyalty of the subjects. He wanted the British government to abolish Brahmin Kulkarni's position, and a post of village headman (Patil) filled on the basis of merit. In fact, Phule would have liked the Qritish government to put an end to the balutedary system which was connected with caste specific occupations in the villages. He asked the government to make laws prohibiting customs and practices which gave subordinate status to women and untouchables. Phule wanted Brahmin bureaucracy to be replaced by non-Brahmin bureaucracy. But if the non-Brahmins were not available, the government should appoint, he thought, the British men to these posts. He believed that the British officers would take impartial view and were likely to side with lower castes. Phule  knew that education had not yet percolated to the lower castes. The masses had not yet become politically conscious. The high caste elites were claiming that they were the true representatives of the people and therefore we is demanding political rights. This process, Phule thought, would reestablish the political supremacy of the high castes. Phule advised his followers from the lower castes not to participate the-movement for political rights. He argued that the Indian National Congress or other polit~cal associations were not national in the true sense of the term because they represented only high castes. Phule warned his followers against the selfish and cunning motives of the Brahmins in forming these associations and advised them to keep themselves away from such associations. In his Satya Shodhak Samaj, he had made it a rule not to discuss politics. In fact, we find that he had expressed more than once a complete and total loyalty towards the new government. He firmly believed that the almighty God had dethroned the tyrannical rulers and had established in their place a just, enlightened and peaceful British rule for the welfare of the masses. It does not mean that Phule did not understand the significance of politics. Infact, he has said at one place that the conditions of lower castes had deteriorated because they were depr~ved of political power. His efforts to organise lower castes under the banner of Satya Shodhak Samaj should be seen as a political activity. It is true that he gave preference to social reform rather than political reform in the 19th century. But that does not suggest that he would have continued to hold the educated, they would become conscious of their political rights vis-a-vis I same views in the changed circumstances. He knew that if the lower castes were Brahmins and not only demand a share in political power, but would dethrone the Brahmins and establish their own supremacy. His writings were directed towards that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Phule was born in a "Mali" (Gardner) family of Poona in 1827. The Malis belonged to' Shudra Varna and were placed immediately below peasant caste of Maratha-kunbis of Maharashtra. He was educated at a Marathi school with a three year break at a mission school in Poona. In 1848 Phule began his work as a social reformer interested in education of low caste boys and girls, when he started a school for girls of low and untouchable castes. Since no female teacher was available, Phule asked his wife Savitribai to teach in the school. He opened two more schools for girls in 1851. He was honoured by the Board of education for the work he did for girls' education in 1852. Phule established a school for untouchables and a night school in 1852. By 1858, he gradually retired from the management of these schools and entered into a broader field of social reform. He supported the movement for widow remarriage in 1860 and in 1863 established a Home for the prevention of infanticide. Phule and his wife Savitribai adopted one orphan child from the Home because tney bad no child of their own. In 1865 he published a book on caste system written by one of his friends Padval. he organisation with which Phule's name is associated and for which he is remembered even today is the Satya Shodhak Samaj. It was established in 1873 by him and his colleagues to organise the lower castes against the Hindu social order based on varna and caste system. One of his colleagues started the first newspaper of the Movement, Din Bandhu,in 1877. The government appointed him a member of the Poona Municipality in 1876. He continued as a member till 1882 and fought for the cause of downtrodden

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Savitribai Phule

Savitribai Jotiba Phule

(January 3, 1831- March 10, 1897) was a social reformer who along with her husband, Mahatma Jotiba Phule played an important role in improving women's rights in India during the British Rule.
Savitribai was the first female teacher of the first women's school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852 she opened a school for Untouchable girls.

Women education and social reformer

Mahatma Jyotiba is regarded as one of the most important figures in social reform movement in Maharashtra and India. He is most known for his efforts to educate women and the lower castes. Jyotirao, then called as Jyotiba was Savitribai’s mentor and supporter. Under his influence Savitribai had taken women’s education and their liberation from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as mission of her life. She worked towards tackling some of the then major social problems including women’s liberation, widow remarriages and removal of untouchability.

 Women’s education

However, apart from all these oppositions, Savitribai yet continued to teach the girls. Whenever Savitribai went out of her house, groups of orthodox men would follow her and abuse her in obscene language. They would throw rotten eggs, cow dung, tomatoes and stones at her. She would walk meekly and arrive at her school. Fed up with the treatment meted out to her, she even decided to give up. But it was because of her husband that she continued with her efforts. He told Savitribai Jyotiba who was working for women's education had started the first girl’s school and required women teachers to assist him. Jyotiba educated and trained Savitribai, his first and ideal candidate for this job of a teacher. Savitribai and Jyotiba faced fierce resistance from the orthodox elements of society for this. Jyotiba sent her to a training school from where she passed out with flying colours along with a Muslim lady Fatima Sheikh. When Savitribai completed her studies, she, along with her husband, started a school for girls in Pune in 1848. Nine girls, belonging to different castes enrolled themselves as students.
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